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  1. Pinellas

North Redington Beach, Sweet Sage Cafe settle legal battle

NORTH REDINGTON BEACH — The town recently reached a settlement with John Messmore, the owner of Sweet Sage Café, regarding the last unresolved segment of Messmore's ongoing lawsuits.

Messmore filed his first lawsuit against the town in 2015, over signage, the next four over seating, and this last one just settled before it was scheduled to go to a jury trial in June.

PREVIOUS COVERAGE: When is a seat not a seat? Restaurant takes beach town to court for answers

The disputes began when Messmore was ordered to remove decals of flip-flops from the exterior walls of his restaurant as well as a sign promoting cancer awareness that were in violation of the town's sign ordinance. Messmore argued that the town's sign ordinance was in violation of the First Amendment. The judge agreed and Messmore won in 2017.

The next series of lawsuits Messmore brought had to do with his restaurant being in violation of the town's seating ordinance. This began in April 2018.

A magistrate recommended that the town clarify its 2009 ordinance, which the town did at its August 2018 meeting by passing a new ordinance that detailed the methods for counting seats in bars, lounges, and restaurants.

According to Messmore, the problem with the new detailed method for counting seats was not in the counting of the seats, but in the counting of the tables that identified all tables as having at least four seats even when the table was only a two-top. Messmore further complained that his restaurant was being targeted for code violations in retaliation for his previous lawsuit.

Judge William F. Jung handed down a mixed ruling on March 29, 2019. The judge found in favor of the town regarding three of the suits, issued a decision in support of Messmore on another, and ordered a jury trial on the retaliation allegation.

The town decided to settle rather than risk the jury trial.

The settlement stipulates that the town will pay Messmore's lawyers $75,000 for legal fees.

All Messmore's cases against the town will be dropped. The town will be allowed one annual inspection of Sweet Sage Café with 30 days' notice (for its business license), and Sweet Sage will be allowed 138 seats in its restaurant seating areas, according to a specific diagram attached to the settlement documents.

North Redington Beach has insurance through the Florida League of Cities that will pay for the $75,000 settlement