Politics

Joe Carollo Asks U.S. Supreme Court to Reverse Ruling in Ball & Chain Owner's 2018 Lawsuit

Joe Carollo has brought his legal dispute with Ball & Chain owners Bill Fuller and Martin Pinilla to the highest court in the land.
Joe Carollo has brought his legal dispute with Ball & Chain owners Bill Fuller and Martin Pinilla to the highest court in the land. Screenshot via Commissioner Joe Carollo on Facebook/Flickr via Christina B Castro
In October 2018, Ball & Chain owners Bill Fuller and Martin Pinilla filed a federal lawsuit against City of Miami Commissioner Joe Carollo in the latter's personal capacity, alleging that he engaged in targeted harassment by stalking Fuller's businesses and siccing code enforcement and city employees on them in retaliation after Fuller supported Carollo's opponent in the 2017 run-off election for city commission.

The lawsuit stalled in court for three years while Carollo's attorneys attempted to have the case dismissed, arguing that their client was protected by qualified and legislative immunity — the legal principles that protect police and elected officials from being sued personally for actions on the job. But the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit ruled against Carollo in February, clearing the way for a trial.

As New Times previously reported, Carollo's last hope would be to petition the U.S. Supreme Court.

In a petition filed on June 29, Carollo asked the high court to review the February ruling and provide clarity on the scope of legislative and qualified immunity "in order to free elected officials from the unwieldy demands of having to mount a defense for actions that are compliant with public official duties and responsibilities."

The Supreme Court filing notes that a timely petition for a rehearing on the case had been denied in April.
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A May 26 amendment to the City of Miami's emergency order blocked Ball & Chain's reopening plans.
"The decision by the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals so narrowly construed and applied the legislative and qualified immunity privileges as to effectively truncate and exclude from protection legislative conduct in furtherance of official duties," Carollo claims in his petition (embedded at the end of this story).

One of Carollo's attorneys, Benedict Kuehne, tells New Times via email that they filed the petition because the legal issue of legislative immunity is "essential" in order to allow public officials to do their work without fear of being sued.

"This lawsuit presents exactly that concern," Kuehne, who is representing Carollo alongside attorney Thomas Scott, writes. "The question is one that calls for Supreme Court review and is in need of clarity."

Reached by phone for comment, Carollo inquired as to whether New Times was bankrolled by Fuller and called the publication a "hit piece" paper before hanging up.

Attorney Jeff Gutchess of AXS Law Group, who's representing Fuller and Pinilla, sent New Times a written statement:

"At least five federal judges have been involved in this case over the past four years, and they have all agreed that Commissioner Joe Carollo does not enjoy immunity to retaliate against two local residents for exercising their core First Amendment rights, as alleged in our clients’ complaint. We do not expect Carollo to fare any better in the Supreme Court — which grants review in only the smallest fraction of cases — and hope that he will be encouraged to focus on improving the lives of his constituents rather than picking fights with them in their communities and battling them in court."

Fuller and Pinilla allege that Carollo was acting outside of his official duties when he vengefully directed city employees (over whom he has no administrative authority) to target their businesses Ball & Chain, a lounge and restaurant; Union Beer Store, a craft beer bar; and Sanguich de Miami, an eatery that serves Cuban sandwiches. The appellate court agreed, finding that “Carollo exceeded the bounds of his legislative responsibilities by repeatedly harassing" the plaintiffs' businesses.

In 2018, Fuller alleged in a complaint filed with the Miami-Dade County Commission on Ethics & Public Trust that an employee once spotted Carollo casing a valet parking lot from his car around 1:30 a.m. while accompanied by an unidentified woman who snapped photos. When the employee recognized Carollo and confronted him, the commissioner allegedly responded by shouting, "I am the law!" (The complaint was later withdrawn.)

According to the Supreme Court docket for Carollo's case, a response to the commissioner's petition is due by August 1.

(Editor's note: The 2018 lawsuit referenced in this story should not be confused with a subsequent and separate federal complaint against the City of Miami that Ball & Chain and another business owned by Fuller and partners Zack and Ben Bush filed in federal district court in September 2021, alleging that the city's targeted those business with unlawful raids and inspections by police, fire, legal, finance, and code-enforcement departments in an effort to close and destroy those businesses. In that case, the plaintiffs are seeking $27.9 million in damages from the city.)
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Alex DeLuca is a staff writer at Miami New Times.
Contact: Alex DeLuca