Attorneys for Granger, Tarrant water district take Oktoberfest dispute to appeals court
Shanna Granger alleges personal conflicts between Tarrant Regional Water District leadership and the Grangers are central to her lawsuit over a 2022 Oktoberfest event that went all the way to the district appeals court this week.
With two Oktoberfests in her rearview mirror, Granger still wants the water district to pay up for the expenses she incurred when it terminated an agreement for her to use Panther Island Pavilion for the event.
That’s why attorneys for Granger and the water district were back in court Dec. 5, arguing in front of the Second Court of Appeals at Fort Worth. Justices Dana Womack, Mike Wallach and J. Wade Birdwell will decide whether Granger’s claims against the water district will move forward to trial court.
The Oktoberfest permit — and whether it constitutes a lease agreement — are at the center of thedispute between Granger and the water district, her former employer. Before leaving her job in November 2021, Granger served as an event planner for the water district and oversaw previous Fort Worth Oktoberfests.
In a June 2022 lawsuit, Granger accused the water district of violating her constitutional property rights, breaching contract, interfering with business relationships and violating the Texas Open Meetings Act by terminating a permit to host her own Oktoberfest event at Panther Island Pavilion. She seeks up to $1 million in damages, citing costs and hardship from being forced to move the event to Trinity Park.
The water district’s “motivation was clearly personal, and you can tell by their arguments, they are trying to hide from that by using technicalities with the lease agreement,” Granger said following oral arguments. “They’re clearly dodging the true issue that they terminated the permit without a valid reason.”
Tarrant County Judge Chris Taylor dismissed most of Granger’s claims in May, but he ruled that the property rights claims could move forward to trial. Granger’s lawyers would be allowed to make their argument that her Texas constitutional rights, protected under the takings and due process clauses, were violated when the water district revoked a short-term lease.
Joel Geary, an attorney for the water district, asked the appeals court to overrule that decision. He argues that the water district’s agreement with Shanna Granger, the wife of former Panther Island head J.D. Granger, was a permit rather than a lease and therefore not eligible for protection under the takings clause.
“The permit conferred no vested property right in Granger,” Geary wrote in a Nov. 1 brief submitted to the judges. “Accordingly, her Takings and Due Course of Law claims fail as a matter of law.”
What are the takings clause and the due course of law clause?
Violation of Takings Clause: “No person’s property shall be taken, damaged or destroyed for or applied to public use without adequate compensation being made, unless by the consent of such person.”
Violation of Due Course of Law Clause: “No citizen of this State shall be deprived of life, liberty, property, privileges or immunities, or in any manner disfranchised, except by the due course of the law of the land.”
Granger expects a ruling on the appeal in the next six weeks to two months.
“We appreciated the opportunity to present our arguments to the court of appeals and look forward to their opinion,” Stephen Tatum, general counsel at the Tarrant Regional Water District, said in a statement following oral arguments.
‘They didn’t like the Grangers’
Granger’s attorney Peter Rusek argued the water district’s agreement with Granger and her company, Prost Production, has all the qualities of a short-term lease.
The agreement allowed Granger to occupy a portion of the water district’s property from Sept. 7 to Oct. 1, 2022, in exchange for $6,000. Rusek also points to insurance requirements and language in the agreement preventing Granger from “subletting” the permit without consent from the water district.
This language makes the agreement a short-term lease, Rusek argued. Granger should be allowed to collect the market value of the lease from the water district, he said, and appropriate damages should be decided by a trial court.
Justice Birdwell questioned Rusek on why terms like lessor or lessee were not included in the agreement. Geary, the water district’s lawyer, called Rusek’s argument “aspirational semantic nonsense.”
“The District sought only to ensure that the person it issued the permit to would be the person holding the Oktoberfest festival — and not some stranger,” Geary wrote in the Nov. 1 brief. “The use of the word sublet in a true license agreement does not transform the license into a lease.”
Rusek argued that Granger’s lease was wrongly revoked because of a personal conflict between the Grangers and board member James Hill, who advised general manager Dan Buhman to reevaluate the permit.
Under the terms of the agreement, the agency could rescind use of the property for reasons related to “its function as a water control and improvement district.” That was not the case here, Rusek said.
“They didn’t like the Grangers,” Rusek said, citing depositions where Buhman and Hill said they were concerned about the perception of giving a valuable event like Oktoberfest to the Grangers.
If the takings clause claim does not fall under the jurisdiction of the court, as the water district argues, then the agency’s motivation for terminating the permit is irrelevant, Geary said.
In her 18 years of experience at the water district, the agency never terminated an agreement for use of Panther Island Pavilion, she said. Water district attorneys were trying to make it seem like the personal conflicts were not “relevant” because they know they messed up, Granger said.
“I know that the lease agreement was a lease, and we absolutely have the right to utilize that property for the festival,” she said.
Haley Samsel is the environmental reporter for the Fort Worth Report. You can reach them at email@example.com.
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