City, strip club reps to battle it out in court

Matt Algarin

The legal wrangling continues between city attorneys and attorneys from The Runway, as the two sides are set to present oral arguments in front of a federal judge in Pensacola Feb. 6.

"The judge typically will review all the briefs and documents and listen to the oral arguments, then render a decision," City Manager Maryann Ustick told The Log. "It could be weeks or longer; we just don't know."

City leaders and attorneys met behind closed doors in an executive session Monday to discuss pending litigation as it relates to The Runway — the city's first proposed strip club.

Both sides have filed litigation in the courts, as the city of Destin has asked a judge to determine whether or not representatives from The Runway have the legal right to open the strip club under the city's 2010 federal settlement agreement with the late Terry Stephenson.

Representatives from the club have asked a federal court to issue a preliminary injunction against the city, which alleges certain "ordinances and practices" of the city to be unconstitutional under the First and Fourteenth Amendment, in addition to other allegations. An amended complaint was filed recently, which included two new counts — retaliation for exercise of First Amendment rights and breach of contract.

The city has subsequently filed a motion to dismiss the new complaint, saying it's "premature," adding that the "plaintiffs have not exhausted their administrative or state remedies."

One of the main points the city's attorneys make in their motion to dismiss is that this case is not of federal matter, but merely a state law concern.

"The entire case revolves solely around state law questions of the proper interpretation of the settlement agreement, and whether entity claiming ownership of Trident-Operations had status as the owner to direct that company to make an application under the settlement agreement," the document reads. "The resolution of the state action will likely resolve or moot any federal questions and thus avoid further involvement of this court."

Since developers first submitted their application for a development order, there has been outrage in the community. Citizens have banded together to form an anti-strip club group called Citizens for a Greater Destin, which has been circulating a petition for those against the club.

The citizens group is even named in the formal complaint by strip club representatives.

"The city, its land use attorney, Scott Shirley, and the Citizens for a Greater Destin, have conspired together in an effort to deprive plaintiffs of their constitutional rights," the compliant reads. "In particular, an attorney representing Citizens for a Greater Destin was the first to propose that the city demand that plaintiff provide corporate disclosures and business records as a means of slowing down and ultimately denying plaintiff's applications."

A final development order, with conditions, for the proposed 5,550-square foot club was issued by the city Nov. 8. The club's developers own the property at 908 Airport Road.