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Insurer paid $50K to settle food truck case

It was a case that began two years ago, in Sept. 2019, when
Ashley Grieg and her Bacon Me Crazy food truck went to court to allege that the
city had wronged her as to how it processed her application to be permitted to

It ended up being settled in February by the city’s insurer
for $50,000.

And in between that it drove the city commissioners crazy,
and resulted in some loosening of the city’s food truck ordinance, much of
which had been dictated by a change in Florida statute.

The first shock came in the first executive session, Dec. 3,
2019, a little more than two months after Grieg had filed her lawsuit in
circuit court.

It was then Bill Graham, from Carr Allison in
Tallahassee, representing the city’s insurer, informed commissioners Grieg’s lawyers had asked for $300,000 to settle the case.

“It is a question of the cost of litigation, a business
decision, frankly, and that’s present in every piece of litigation I’m involved
in,” he told them. “Many, many cases get settled without either side admitting
that they did anything wrong.”

In the end, the city would not admit wrongdoing, but even
the thought of settling had at least one commissioner, Anita Grove, bristling.

“We have a problem, a perception
about whether we enforce our laws or not and this was the one case that was
actually enforced,” she said. “All protocol was followed, all of our laws were
I just feel like there was no guilt on the
part of the city, and we need to stand by our laws, and by
a settlement it undermines our ability to keep making our
decisions and enforce our decisions.”

In the end, the
insurer didn’t need the city’s permission to settle, only the go-ahead to pursue

In his initial review of the case, Graham said he found
that because food trucks weren’t addressed in the city’s ordinances, it had
been new territory for city staff, who advised Grieg she would have to secure a business permit and then proceed to the issue
of whether where she operated was properly zoned for her activity.

“It was staff’s impression that she
agreed with staff that we should come up with
a new ordinance for the food truck and that process commenced,” he said. “Then
there was a commission meeting in February and it kind of blindsided some of
the staff with the suggestion that (planning director Cindy) Clark had not
processed the application sufficiently.

In March, after a
draft food truck ordinance came out and several local restaurateurs weighed in, Grieg opened her business prior to getting zoning authorization,
Graham said, which led to a code enforcement stance that she was operating without a

While some ordinance supporters were willing to
extend the times of operation from three to six days per week, and allow them on
a permanent basis, the matter was put on hold once Grieg filed suit.
Commissioner Adriane Elliott was among those who advocated for lenient rules on
allowing food truck operations.

When Graham shared that Grieg was asking for $300,000, Mayor
Kevin Begos echoed commissioners’ feeling that it was an outlandish offer.

“I hate to use the word offer because it’s so preposterous,”
he said. “I don’t think we have any restaurant people who make $300,000 a year
working seven days a week, so that just sort of flabbergasts me and makes me
question what either Ms. Grieg’s or her attorney’s ultimate
strategy is. She’s aware of what people make or don’t make generally in
restaurants and food trucks.”

Graham agreed that even when attorney’s fees and all other considerations were added up, and with the fact she still would have had at the most three
or four days per week of lost revenue, “that works out to about 30 grand. There’s
no way I can come up with anything that even approaches $100,000.”

Begos continued to move the discussion away from reiterating
the many arguments pro and con on the legislative process, and sought to keep
it squarely focused on the issue of settlement.

Graham offered a brief overview of Grieg’s allegations, and
suggested the city would
likely prevail on most, and perhaps all, of them. He secured permission by the commissioners
to reject the offer .

In July 2020, the commission held a second executive
session, via Zoom, and while Graham could not report any progress in settlement
talks, he said the Florida Legislature had passed a bill that removed many
impediments to certain business activities, including food trucks.

“The new law probably requires an amendment to your food
truck ordinance or at least would require that the city not enforce all of the
ordinance as it’s currently written,” he said.

Graham noted that in that light, Grieg’s lawyers had dropped
their offer to $100,000.

“I think it’s safe to say they don’t expect to be paid 100,
but it’s a much more viable starting point for a settlement discussion,” he

The lawyer said Grieg insisted she be paid
some damages, and be allowed to operate her food truck on a nearly
permanent basis, at a particular location, rather than only for three days in a

Begos sought a consensus on whether to
enter mediation knowing the issue of more days per week would be debated.

That rankled Despina George, who said she was uncomfortable
putting the cart before the horse, so to speak.

“I feel uncomfortable at this point disclosing to a party of
a lawsuit whether or not we are going to change a city ordinance. I don’t think
that’s appropriate,” she said.

And, she continued. “my concern is that even if we settle a
lawsuit like this for $30,000, even if it doesn’t cost the city very much, but
it cost the insurance company, is everybody going to be able to come to the city
of Apalachicola, with some flimsy lawsuit and get 30 grand? We’ll be tied up in
lawsuits forever.”

Graham said the insurance company would not settle easily. “But
anytime you go to trial, it always has the possibility of going against you,
and in a case like this where it’s a small community, there have been I think
some strong passions among the potential jurors about food truck ordinances …
and if we end up going to trial, there is absolutely a risk associated with

After the commissioners evidenced a willingness to extend
the hours a food truck could operate, the city moved forward with mediation.

On Sept. 10, 2020, during a brief Zoom meeting, Graham
secured the go-ahead to offer up to $50,000, and then on Feb. 9, 2021, he told commissioners this had been the agreed-on sum.

“At the mediation, (Grieg) was not reasonable or realistic. We were unable to reach a resolution and mediation
ended at an impasse,” he said. “About a month after the mediation ended unsuccessfully,
Ms. Grieg’s attorney reached out to us and indicated (she) had had a change
of heart and was willing to settle the case for the amount that we offered, which
was $50,000.”

This amount includes all of her legal fees for the two years,
“which is going to constitute a substantial portion of that money,” Graham said.

He said most of the changes to the ordinance would be to bring
it into compliance with the recent Florida statute as well as the Florida Department
of Business and Professional Regulation.

Begos reminded his colleagues many of Grieg’s demands
were not granted, with the major change being that food trucks could operate at
a single private property for up to seven days per week. He said flood zone
ordinances would still have to be met, weight restrictions, parking and sign
rules upheld, and that the city retained its right to regulate the number of
trucks that could operate on a commercial lot.

George remained concerned about a settlement that stipulated
what the city planned to do legislatively.

“I’m concerned about going into an ordinance revision process
with an end result in mind based on the input of one citizen. It sort of makes a
mockery of the ordinance setting process if you have a predetermined goal and that’s
what bothers me,” she said. “It would seem that the better course would be to go
through the ordinance amendment process and see what we end up with and then enter
into settlement negotiations with the plaintiff.”

In the end, the insurance company decided to settle, and the updated ordnance stipulated that whether on public or private property, each
mobile food truck must be removed for 24 hours at least once every six months.

“If something changes six, eight months, a year down the line,
there’s dozens or hundreds of food trucks overrunning the city, we can amend the
ordinance,” said Begos.

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Meet the Editor

David Adlerstein, The Apalachicola Times’ digital editor, started with the news outlet in January 2002 as a reporter.

Prior to then, David Adlerstein began as a newspaperman with a small Boston weekly, after graduating magna cum laude from Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts. He later edited the weekly Bellville Times, and as business reporter for the daily Marion Star, both not far from his hometown of Columbus, Ohio.

In 1995, he moved to South Florida, and worked as a business reporter and editor of Medical Business newspaper. In Jan. 2002, he began with the Apalachicola Times, first as reporter and later as editor, and in Oct. 2020, also began editing the Port St. Joe Star.

Wendy Weitzel The Star Digital Editor

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