Brookhaven will appeal a jury decision that would have the city and city officials pay over $6 million in damages.

“The city believes that the actions taken by the city in the Ardent development matter in recent litigation were proper and in the city’s best interest,” Brookhaven City Councilmember Linley Jones said at a Tuesday meeting. “Thus, the city disagrees with the verdict and supports its officials and employees. Ardent did not and does not have the right to make any city sell it a street. The city is appealing and otherwise challenging this verdict.”

On March 7, a jury found that the city purposefully obstructed the progress of a redevelopment project from Atlanta-based real estate firm Ardent Companies along Buford Highway. The company had been planning a buyout of a neighborhood on Bramblewood Drive where they planned to build a gated townhome community, but alleged the city purposefully tried to kill the project. 

At the March 22 meeting, the city council also approved a resolution adopting a policy for the indemnification and defense of elected officials, appointed officials, and city employees. City Attorney Chris Balch said the introduction of this policy was not due to the Ardent verdict. However, the jury also ordered Brookhaven Mayor John Ernst and City Manager Christian Sigman to pay $200,000 each in punitive damages. Ernst and Sigman were not present at the meeting, which Balch said he advised to “avoid any appearance of impropriety.” 

“The policy will provide for indemnification and defense for any amount of a claim or a claim that is not itself covered by insurance,” Balch said. 

According to the resolution, the policy will apply to any employee who at the time of the alleged actions was working on behalf of the city within “established policies, procedures, or guidelines,” and was not acting for their own personal gain. 

“We shouldn’t be in this position,” Jones said. “But now that we are, it is our responsibility to protect those who have dedicated so much to their public service.”

Other council members also said they thought the Ardent verdict was incorrect and defended the actions of Ernst and Sigman. 

“I stand in support of my colleagues, past members of this board, and our employees who faithfully perform their obligations and duties,” said Councilmember John Funny. “I, along with my fellow council members, disagree with the verdict and welcome the appeal of the verdict.”

A press release from the city said that comments on the case would be limited while the litigation is pending. In an emailed statement, a lawyer for Ardent Companies said they were confident the court would uphold the verdict.

“Judge Barrie was thoughtful and deliberate in all of her rulings throughout the trial, and the jury’s verdict is well-supported by the overwhelming evidence of the City’s wrongdoing, orchestrated and assisted by Mr. Sigman and Mr. Ernst,” said attorney Shannan Oliver.

Update: this article has been updated with a comment from a lawyer for Ardent Companies.

Sammie Purcell

Sammie Purcell is Associate Editor at Rough Draft Atlanta.