The city of Brookhaven has won an appeal in a lawsuit over a controversial land deal.

The Georgia Court of Appeals decided the Ardent Companies and residents Jon and Courtney Wheeler failed to prove essential elements of their claims against the city of Brookhaven. 

“I am grateful for this ruling by the Appeals Court as it paves the way for total vindication in this matter,” said Mayor John Ernst.

Brookhaven Mayor John Ernst.

Ardent failed to build a mixed-use development in 2018, claiming the city of Brookhaven tried to make them “pay to play” for land. 

Ardent accused the city of obstructing the rezoning and putting a $3 million price tag on the land despite never having it appraised. The real estate company claimed Brookhaven tried to get three acres out of the deal for its public safety building. The city later chose a different parcel for the public safety building. 

Then, on March 7, 2022, a jury found the city purposefully obstructed the progress of the redevelopment project, ordering Brookhaven to pay an estimated $6.7 million to Ardent and the Wheelers. Brookhaven Mayor John Ernst and City Manager Christian Sigman were also ordered to pay $200,000 each in punitive damages, according to the AJC. 

After this week’s announcement of the appeal, Brookhaven is off the hook. The case is going back to DeKalb County Superior Court. A subsequent request by the plaintiffs for the Court of Appeals to reconsider its decision was denied, the city said. 

“We said all along, that while we respect the jury’s hard work on this complex case, it should not have been allowed to come to trial in the first place,” said City Attorney Chris Balch. “While pleased with that decision, we know several issues remain for determination in this case.”

City Manager Christian Sigman said he hopes the ruling “dispels some of the rumors and innuendo in the community that we were doing anything other than what we are supposed to be doing, which is protecting the interests and assets of the taxpayers.” 

Logan C. RitchieStaff Writer

Logan C. Ritchie writes features and covers Brookhaven for Rough Draft Atlanta.