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The Parking Guys, Inc. v. Metropolitan Government of Nashville

Court of Appeals of Tennessee, Nashville

July 29, 2019

THE PARKING GUYS, INC.
v.
METROPOLITAN GOVERNMENT OF NASHVILLE & DAVIDSON COUNTY, TENNESSEE EX REL TRAFFIC & PARKING COMMISSION

         Session: June 4, 2019

          Appeal from the Chancery Court for Davidson County No. 17-970-II William E. Young, Chancellor

         This appeal concerns the denial of a valet parking permit. The Parking Guys, Inc. ("Parking Guys") sought a permit for valet parking from the Traffic and Parking Commission ("the Commission") of the Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County ("Metro"). Despite a study reflecting no traffic problems caused by Parking Guys' activities, the Commission denied the permit. Parking Guys then filed a petition for common-law writ of certiorari in the Chancery Court for Davidson County ("the Trial Court"). The Trial Court found that, notwithstanding the study, the Commission's decision was supported by material evidence including the firsthand observations of local business owners. The Trial Court also denied a petition to intervene filed by Linda Schipani ("Schipani"), an individual sued by Parking Guys in federal court for allegedly conspiring to deny the permit. Parking Guys appeals to this Court, as does Schipani still seeking to intervene. Parking Guys argues that the Commission's decision was based on politics rather than material evidence. Schipani, for her part, argues she has a special interest in this case warranting her intervention because of the federal suit filed against her even though it has been dismissed. We hold that the Commission's decision was supported by material evidence. We further find no reversible error in the Trial Court's decision to deny Schipani's motion to intervene. We affirm the judgment of the Trial Court.

         Tenn. R. App. P. 3 Appeal as of Right; Judgment of the Chancery Court Affirmed; Case Remanded

          Bob Lynch, Jr., Nashville, Tennessee, and Matthew J. Hoffer, Lansing, Michigan (appearing pro hac vice), for the appellant, The Parking Guys, Inc.

          Jon Cooper, Director of Law, the Department of Law of the Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County; Lora Barkenbus Fox, Catherine J. Pham, Metropolitan attorneys, for the appellee, the Metropolitan Government of Nashville & Davidson County, Tennessee, by and through its Traffic and Parking Commission.

          Daniel A. Horwitz, Nashville, Tennessee, for the appellee/intervening-defendant, Linda Schipani.

          D. Michael Swiney, C.J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which Andy D. Bennett and W. Neal McBrayer, JJ., joined.

          OPINION

          D. MICHAEL SWINEY, CHIEF JUDGE.

         Background

         Parking Guys is a company that provides valet parking services. This litigation stems from Parking Guys' application to obtain a permit to perform valet parking service for patrons of Déjà Vu, an adult club located in Nashville. Valet service is conducted on 15th Avenue North, although the club's address is 1418 Church Street. Parking Guys is licensed to conduct valet parking operations but needed to obtain a permit to legally conduct operations at this specific location. Metro Code § 12.41.030, "Valet location permit required," provides:

In addition to the licensing requirements of Section 12.41.020 of this chapter, the department shall issue parking permits to valet parking operators to conduct their operations on public streets as a commercial enterprise or in furtherance of a commercial enterprise. A separate permit is required for each location where valet parking services are provided. Permits will be issued only for locations where valet parking would not be detrimental to the public safety, health and welfare of the inhabitants of Nashville and Davidson County and only after approval of the commission.

         In May 2017, Parking Guys applied to Metro's Public Works Department for a valet parking permit. The application was denied. Parking Guys was, however, able to obtain temporary lane closure permits pending appeal. A hearing was held before the Commission on July 10, 2017. Parking Guys owner Craig Martin gave his input, as did several neighboring business owners. Parking Guys' application for a valet permit faced strong opposition from locals who asserted that Parking Guys' activities obstructed traffic, caused problems with parking, and created a hazard to pedestrians. One such opposing perspective came from Schipani, President of Clinical Research Associates located across the street from Déjà Vu, who stated:

MS. LINDA SCHIPANI: The white building is ours. And the parking lot behind there is ours. I will tell you that we have "No Trespassing" and -- signs, and "No Parking." But despite that we have had -- we've had parking there.
Particularly we've had parking from -- the valet parkers themselves are parking there. We have had -- there's traffic up and down the street. They are parking between my -- my exit, or entrance, right there from the alley to -- to my parking lot. And you can hardly get out of there. It's constantly there.
On the other side they're parking between our -- our parking lot so that you can't get out of our parking lot safely without going into the other lane of traffic. I will assure you that with -- with what we're seeing, there's so much traffic down there, there's traffic up and down the street. And the police have been called multiple times.

         The Commission did not reach a decision at this hearing. Instead, it deferred ruling on the permit so that Public Works could conduct a study on the traffic effects of Parking Guys' activities. A group called Collier Engineering carried out the study, which was the basis for a written report. The Collier Report stated, in part:

As shown in the table, approximately 49 valet maneuvers were counted on Friday, July 28th evening and Saturday July 29th early morning, which results in approximately 25 valeted vehicles, and was the busiest day observed. It should be noted that rideshare, taxi, and pedicab drop-off and pick-up activities were also observed occurring along the 15th Avenue North block frontage. The observations also showed that there were five (5) vehicles that experienced delay on 15th Avenue North due to congestion at the valet stand and curb face. One instance was observed during the 9:00 PM hour on Friday evening, one instance during the 1:00 AM hour of Saturday morning, and three vehicles were affected during the 2:00 AM hour on Saturday morning. When this occurred, the street operated with slow "Yield-Flow" conditions.
During the observations, northbound traffic on 15th Avenue North backed up into the crosswalk at its intersection with Church Street on two occasions both during the 2:00 AM hour. One instance lasted approximately 10 seconds and the second lasted approximately 30 seconds. Both involved one vehicle turning onto 15th Avenue North from Church Street and did not extend beyond the crosswalk. The busiest time period for the valet stand and rideshare/occurred around closing time (3:00 AM) on Friday evening/Saturday morning when through traffic on 15th Avenue North and Church Street is fairly low. Parking and standing was observed on the west side of 15th Avenue North within 20-30 feet of the stop line for southbound 15th Avenue North traffic at Church Street during portions of the observations. A couple of vehicles were observed making U-turns from the valet stand to go south on 15th Avenue North and access the traffic signal; however, it is not clear from the data whether those were made by valet staff or the customers/vehicle owners. The traffic signal goes into Flash Mode at 3:00 AM.
It should be noted that the observations were conducted over one weekend, and it is not known how it compares to typical operations and number of customers.

         At this juncture, we deem it helpful to provide the reader some visual context. The following photograph contained in the administrative record, although not illustrative of Parking Guys' alleged dangerous activities, shows the site in question:

         (Image Omitted)

         On August 14, 2017, the Commission took up the matter of Parking Guys' application for a valet parking permit once more. Local business owners again registered their objections. For instance, Eric Steer stated as follows:

MR. ERIC STEER: So I'm Eric Steer. I'm the plant manager of Country Delite, which is on Church Street across from the establishment. We use the streets, you'll see in the pictures attached.
I would like to start by saying one clarification. We are a 24/7 operation. So I know the study was done and -- and they did say that the businesses were closing. We are a very old, very well established Nashville pure milk company, Sealtest, Truly Pure (Unintelligible) and now Country Delite.
CHAIRPERSON GREEN: Okay.
MR. ERIC STEER: So we are a long-term business. As you can see, it impacts us both because we have 86 to 100 employees. So we have employees that are trying to walk to a parking lot. And we also have tractor trailer traffic that is trying to move. So this is both a safety and an operational thing because we have both people that are trying to walk to their parking, and we have tractor trailers that are going on during this.
There has been a numerous operational -- our trucks are actually wanting to circumvent this neighborhood. And being dairy operations we load our trucks early in the morning so we can get out to our establishments before significant traffic.
So I think the pictures speak for themselves. I left letters also. Many, many, many of the business owners -- or all the business owners that are here are having side effects both from their employees, from their people that are coming from both a safety and a business ...

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