LYNN HAVEN, Fla. (WMBB) — Last week, after he was acquitted of federal bribery charges, a local business owner promised to file civil lawsuits stemming from the case.
The first of these was filed on Thursday. James Finch, the owner of Phoenix Construction, is suing the City of Lynn Haven and City Manager Vickie Gainer for tortious interference and breach of contract.
The lawsuit states that Phoenix was excluded from bidding on Lynn Haven projects after Finch and Gainer had a “heated argument” in the summer of 2019. Finch’s attorneys wrote that the confrontation stemmed from multiple checks being sent to Phoenix from Lynn Haven for the same work.
“Finch accused Gainer of being negligent with City funds,” the lawsuit states.
One year after that confrontation the City Commission voted against a property development that Finch planned to build for 90 units, the lawsuit states. Finch annexed the Jakes Landing project into the city after speaking with Gainer about the plan, the lawsuit states. Then, after the commission voted against the plan he attempted to de-annex the property back into Bay County. The commission denied this request. Finch sued over the issue, according to the lawsuit, and Finch was eventually permitted to build the project as requested.
“However, following this dispute, Finch and his companies began to experience retribution and retaliation from the defendant LH,” the lawsuit states.
On June 28, 2021, the city threw out all the bids for a project known as the Legislative Roadway Repairs. Phoenix was the lowest bidder on the project with a $2.7 million bid. The next closest bid was Roberts & Roberts with a $3 million bid.
After these bids were thrown out, new restrictions were put in place by the city’s engineering firm, Panhandle Engineering, on the companies making bids on the projects. The City now required the bidder to perform all paving activities with its own labor and equipment.
“There is only one bidder from the original bid who could not satisfy this requirement: Phoenix,” the lawsuit states.
Finch’s lawyers argue that this change meant Lynn Haven taxpayers paid more money for the project (which now included less work) and that the city broke a contract with Phoenix that required the city to award the company with all of its Half Cent Sales Tax funded projects.
“The plaintiff has suffered irreparable injury by being excluded from projects it was capable of performing, and additionally by being discriminated against by the city of LH without just cause,” the lawsuit states. “The plaintiff will continue to suffer said irreparable injury if an injunction is not granted.”
The lawsuit is asking the judge in the case to end Lynn Haven’s current bidding system and award damages and attorney’s fees to Phoenix.
Gainer declined to comment Thursday, citing the ongoing lawsuit.