Classy Cycles plans to appeal the decision.
PANAMA CITY BEACH — Unless the appeals court again comes to their aid, the era of scooter rental businesses in Panama City Beach could now be puttering to an end.
Classy Cycles Inc., a local scooter rental business, was dealt a death blow Monday in its trial court case against the City of Panama City Beach when Circuit Judge James Fensom issued a final judgment to its lawsuit. The scooter business had argued that laws prohibiting rentals after 7 p.m. and the eventual phasing out of the business completely in 2020 were a violation of its rights. After more than a year of contested hearings, though, the scooter business agreed to dismiss the pending counts of their lawsuit, settling the case in the circuit court in favor of Panama City Beach.
However, the judgment explicitly leaves open the opportunity to appeal all six of the lawsuit’s allegations, which both sides see as a positive. And Classy Cycles announced its notice of appeal Thursday.
Cole Davis, attorney for Panama City Beach, said the decision draws an end to litigation in the trial courts, effectively naming Panama City Beach the victor. And when that chapter of a lawsuit is over, the case most of the time doesn’t stand much of a chance of going the other way in the appellate courts, he said.
“We feel optimistic it’s over,” Davis said. “The appellate court has discretion to overturn any circuit court decision. It is a much steeper hill to climb, though, and we certainly feel Judge Fensom got it right.”
On the other hand, Classy Cycles previously has won a separate lawsuit on appeal from a decision by Fensom. He ruled in favor of the City of Panama City Beach after Classy Cycles sued over laws that required scooter operators to wear fluorescent safety vests and for companies to have insurance in the event operators hit a person or vehicle. That ruling was overturned on appeal last year, forcing the city to repeal its law.
George Reeves, lawyer for Classy Cycles, said the scooter business’ decision to dismiss the remaining counts of their lawsuit against the prohibition of scooters was to focus on the fight to come in appellate court. Reeves said that while this lawsuit is a continuation of its predecessor, this time around it will differ in the scope of the argument.
“Since they couldn’t regulate the operation of scooters, the city wanted to exclude a legal business from operating,” Reeves said. “My clients have been in business for 30 years, and we’re going to vigorously contest this in appellate court.”
The lawsuit has taken several turns since being filed June 2017 about a week after the Beach City Council enacted the two laws that prohibit rental scooters to be operated after 7 p.m. and put a date of Sept. 8, 2020, to ban scooter rentals in the city. Only a few months earlier in October 2016, the appeal court overturned the vest and insurance laws passed by the council.
Despite approving the rental cutoff time, Beach authorities did not enforce the curfew law for months because the lawsuit included a request for an injunction. During that time, a serious scooter crash on Back Beach Road sent a teenager to a hospital with critical injuries, a man to jail on DUI charges and the issue fueled heated debates in the public.
The first blow dealt to the lawsuit against scooter prohibition came December 2017, when Fensom issued a partial summary judgment against the counts of the complaint that both sides considered essential to the survival of the scooter rental business. Fensom wrote that just because state law allows and regulates scooters does not mean the city has to accommodate scooter rentals; that while state law allows licensed driver to operate scooters does not mean their rights are being infringed upon if rentals are not available; and that the same applies to scooter rental businesses. Classy Cycles appealed the decision.
In January, authorities began enforcing the scooter curfews as the remaining counts were pending in the circuit court. After a June ruling by Fensom in favor of the Beach on another count of the lawsuit, both sides began working toward an agreement to dismiss the rest of Classy Cycles’ complaint, which was settled in favor of Beach without prejudice.
“This final judgment is not intended to make any substantive rulings and therefore by requesting the court enter this final judgment the parties are not waiving the right to appeal any matter ruled upon by this court,” Fensom wrote.