By Peter White
NASHVILLE, TN – The Nashville Court of Appeals is sending the MLS stadium case back to the Chancery Court. In an opinion released last week, the three-person panel of appellate judges unanimously dismissed the appeal “for lack of subject matter jurisdiction”.
That sounds ominous but it was actually the good news flea market vendors were hoping for. Now the case will go to trial and if the vendors don’t prevail they can appeal again to the Appeals Court. In any case, the soccer stadium will not break ground for months at the Fairgrounds, if it ever does.
“That’s exactly what we wanted and that’s exactly what we argued,” said Jim Roberts, attorney for Save Our Fairgrounds and the vendors.
Their original lawsuit sued Metro under two different sections of the Metro Charter. Metro lawyers filed a motion for summary judgement on only one section. Chancellor Ellen H. Lyle granted Metro a summary judgment resolving all of the issues in January. That left Roberts an opening.
In the appeal Roberts argued Metro has to meet certain criteria before it can even begin to enter into a lease under Article 2, Sections 8 and 10 of the charter, which Metro lawyer Lora Fox did not address.
“Metro can’t meet any of those. That’s why they didn’t address it in their motion for summary judgment. They were trying to get around it,” Roberts said.
He said his appeal brief was really long and he made a huge part of it addressing that issue. “I thought it was extremely important and apparently the Court of Appeals did, too.” he said.
“The whole point of what they’re doing really is indefensible. There is no person from Metro, certainly no person from MLS or Market Street or any of the other crooked people who can defend what they’re doing. They can’t justify it. They cannot defend it. Every bit of it’s crooked,” he said.
The Mayor’s office said Lyle’s ruling supported Metro’s claim that if the stadium is built the existing uses at the Fairground will be protected. “The Court of Appeals expressly did not address the merits of the case,” said Briley spokesperson Thomas Mulgrew.
The plaintiffs claim a soccer stadium will harm existing uses and that the deal violates the City Charter’s prohibition on giving away public land to a private enterprise. Now they will get to present their evidence in court and depose witnesses.
Roberts said the reason Metro pushed for a summary judgment with Chancellor Lyle was because they didn’t want to have to defend the mixed development on 10 acres Metro gave to Nashville SC team owner John Ingram.
Now they’re going to have to. As a legal matter, Roberts argued Lyle’s ruling was not a final order and the Appeals Court agreed with him. So the case is headed for a full blown trial in Chancery Court.
“I’m totally ecstatic,” Roberts said. He claimed Metro’s legal team can’t defend the deal and they will be forced to restructure it so it meets the charter requirements.
“We’re happy that we’re going to have our day in court. This is a step in the right direction towards there being justice for the citizens of Nashville and against this land grab that has been proposed at the Fairgrounds,” said Shane Smiley. Smiley represents the Fairground flea market vendors, most of whom say the soccer deal is not good for them.
If Roberts is the Perry Mason in this case, Smiley is his trusted associate, Della Street.
Rick Williams, Board Chairman of Save Our Fairgrounds is a plaintiff in the case and handles the press. Those three have fought the stadium deal for months and have now knocked City Hall back on its heels.
“I’m not whistling by the graveyard here. This is exactly what we wanted to happen and it’s not what Metro wanted to have happen. They are back to square one,” Roberts said.
Roberts is mild-mannered but claims the stadium deal was never all about soccer but really about “robbing Nashville”. He said if Ingram can’t get the mixed development, the deal will fall apart just like the one proposed at Fort Negley.
Mulgrew doesn’t think the ruling will impact the construction and financing timelines for the stadium. But the lawsuit already has. Mulgrew also said that work on the stadium design will continue. But the final stadium plans were supposed to be submitted to MLS in February. And stadium agreements signed last July called for the site to be delivered and for construction to begin by June 30, 2019 and that has not happened.
Meanwhile, the old Expo buildings (see photo) have not been torn down on the hilltop where Metro is planning to build the soccer stadium, no bonds have been issued to pay for building the stadium, and a new trial will delay construction indefinitely. The final stadium contracts have not been signed and construction will not begin until, and if, they are.
“MLS is not going to put up with a bunch of yahoos screwing around like this. They’re going to get tired of Nashville. They’re not going to put up with it and they’re going to want definite solutions or they’re going to award that franchise to somebody else and everybody knows it,” said Roberts.
“I have believed all along there wouldn’t be a stadium built there,” Smiley said.