Judge dismisses discrimination lawsuit against Fort Deposit

Published 10:40 am Monday, August 28, 2023

A federal judge has dismissed a racial discrimination lawsuit filed by Keith and Shenika Bailey against the Town of Fort Deposit and the town’s mayor, Jaqueline Boone.

In the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Alabama, Judge Keith Watkins dismissed the lawsuit finding in favor of the defendants’ motion for summary judgment on July 31.

A complaint filed by the Baileys on Aug. 24, 2022, alleges the town and Boone discriminated against the couple by revoking a business license in 2017 that had been issued for the Baileys to operate The Sky Boxx Bar and Grill. 

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Keith Bailey said he plans to appeal the court’s decision.

“[The lawsuit] should never have been dismissed because my [original lawyer] didn’t file an appeal [to the license revocation],” Keith said. “We never went to court [in 2017]. The judge told us to go back to the city council and that’s why we didn’t file an appeal.”

Arlene Richardson, attorney for the defendants, said the town had been “at odds” with the Baileys since around 2015 when the couple applied for and received a business license to operate a sports bar but ended up operating a nightclub instead.

“There were people shooting outside the club,” Richardson said. “There were people invading the gas station on the other side of the interstate. People were standing on their cars naked and urinating, so we shut them down.” 

Keith however, alleges that the town has no problem with nightclubs, but seeks only to limit those operated by Black owners.

“[The town] passed a law that says no bars or clubs can ever be in Fort Deposit again,” Keith said. “How are the white folks over here running a club every weekend without a license, got a sign beside the road and that’s fine. But, when a Black person asks for a license, they say, ‘No.’”

According to the complaint, the Baileys alleged Boone and the town’s council orchestrated the license revocation to create an entertainment industry monopoly in Fort Deposit. The court’s findings to dismiss the suit were based on four factors related to the case. 

The court’s order cites evidence showing the suit was barred by the statute of limitations, having passed the applicable two-year timeframe for filing a case.

Claims seeking relief on the allegation that business license revocation was “arbitrary and capricious” were deemed as barred by res judicata, the principle that a cause of action may not be relitigated once it has been judged on its merits. The findings resulted from a state court’s judgment on the merits of an identical claim in 2017, which the plaintiffs chose not to appeal.

The Baileys’ complaint brought claims against Boone in her official capacity as mayor, but those claims were found to be duplicative of claims against the town. The court also found claims against Boone were time-barred and thus not available for relief because the mayor cannot order the town to rescind its 2017 decision to revoke the business license.

“We held a hearing at Town Hall,” Richardson said. “We had people come in and testify they saw people shooting, heard gunshots, and saw women [naked] there. We had evidence of 100 people in a building with a capacity for 50.”

The court ultimately found the Baileys failed to support their claims.

“The court will not do that work for Plaintiffs in this opinion,” Watkins wrote in the order. “But even if the court did, it cannot identify a single viable claim based on the complaint’s allegations or the evidence in the record when viewed in the light most favorable to the plaintiffs.”