SHEFFIELD — Unless the city's insurance carrier decides to satisfy Joseph Mitchum's claim against the city in the next week, attorney Bennett Pugh said he will file a lawsuit in Colbert County Circuit Court.
Pugh addressed the City Council on Monday about a claim he filed last week on behalf of Mitchum, who says some members of the council assured him the smoking ordinance wouldn't impede his plans to open a cigar lounge downtown.
While he could open the business, Mitchum could not allow patrons to smoke inside the building due to restrictions contained in the ordinance passed in October.
Pugh filed a claim against the city seeking repayment of the $50,000 Mitchum has spent on the building, architects and attorney fees, and property taxes. A claim must be filed before a suit is filed against a municipality, Pugh said.
Pugh said the council had the option of rescinding the existing ordinance, adopting a more "business friendly" ordinance, or satisfy his client's claim.
They did neither, so next week a lawsuit will be filed unless something happens before then.
Pugh said he went through a chronological order of the events that led to the claim — from the time Mitchum and his wife moved to Sheffield.
Mayor Ian Sanford said he asked council members if they would like to meet in executive session after the meeting to discuss the claim and potential litigation. He said no action was taken after the executive session.
He said some council members exhibited a "nonchalant" attitude toward the claim and potential lawsuit.
Sanford said Pugh questioned Councilman Steve Stanley about statements he made about the claim, but city attorney Keith Worsham recommended Stanley not comment due to the likelihood of litigation.
Sanford said he did not ask for a vote on his alternative ordinance as he has in past council meetings. The alternative ordinance is similar to the one adopted in Florence, which allows a business to be smoke free or allow smoking, but not both.
City Clerk Clayton Kelly said the claim was turned over to the city's insurance carrier, but attorneys for the company have not been in contact with city officials. Pugh said he has not been contacted by the insurance company's attorneys.
"We have not heard from them," Sanford said.
Since the claim involves an "intentional act" on the part of the council, Pugh doesn't expect the insurance carrier to settle the claim.
Kelly said the insurance carrier's attorney will likely contact the city at some point, whether they settle the claim or not. Either way, he said the council has the last word on whether or not to go with their attorney's recommendation.
Pugh said he's in contact with other potential plaintiffs who could be filing similar complaints against the city.