A bizarre dispute over who could sit under a sunshade at a youth league football game involving Gulf Shores, city employees, families, coaches and kids in 2016 has resulted in a lawsuit that was apparently settled late last month.
The original lawsuit sought $1.25 billion — yep, billion — from defendants including the city of Gulf Shores and three city employees.
Although a jury trial was scheduled to begin Oct. 7, Circuit Court Judge J. Clark Stankoski signed an order Sept. 23 indicating the parties had reached a settlement. Lagniappe left multiple messages for comment with the parties involved, but as of press time, none had responded. No details of the alleged settlement have been disclosed.
Wherever it stands, the details of the case are worth noting. Jessica and Robert Breland and their minor child sued two of the football team’s coaches, another parent, the city and three recreation department employees from Gulf Shores. Chris Callaghan of Gulf Shores is listed as the attorney for the Brelands. The city and related defendants are being represented by Andrew Rutens and the Galloway, Wettermark & Rutens law firm.
In a Sept. 24, 2016 incident in Robertsdale, the suit alleges Jessica Breland set up a sunshade in the stands for a pregnant mom and elderly spectators, who were expected to attend. Rebecca Walker’s children moved under the shade, but Jessica Breland says she told them they would have to move when the others arrived.
“In the middle of the football game, Walker came over to Mrs. Breland and verbally assaulted her by getting within inches of Mrs. Breland’s face and calling her a ‘f*****g b***h’ and telling her, ‘You wanna go G*****n ghetto, we’ll go G*****n ghetto,’” the lawsuit states. “Ms. Walker’s unwarranted and iniquitous reason for attacking Mrs. Breland was because Mrs. Breland asked Ms. Walker’s daughters to give up the seats where they were sitting under Mrs. Breland’s canopy so that a pregnant woman and some elderly spectators could sit under the canopy.”
As the incident escalated, the football game had to be halted and the referees told Gulf Shores Coach Jason Byrd to either settle Walker down or the entire Gulf Shores team would be ejected from the stadium. At first, he refused because Walker is the wife of assistant coach and fellow defendant Dequinton Clark.
“It was not until the referees threatened to end the game and eject the entire Gulf Shores little league football team from the stadium that Coach Byrd finally went over to Walker and told her to ‘shut up,’” the lawsuit states.
The Brelands claim the incident at the football game in Robertsdale was part of a pattern of bad behavior by Walker that city officials failed to address and correct.
“As could be expected from her past behavior, on or about Oct. 3, 2016, Walker was allowed to walk onto the practice field during practice where she once again began screaming and cursing in front of the coaches, players and parents, saying, ‘I’ve got to get the f**k out of here before I blow my G*****n stack,” the filing states. “‘I’m so sick of this b***h.’”
Continued complaints to city Athletics Coordinator Mark Perkins and his supervisor, Ralph Perada, about Walker and Coach Byrd went unheeded, the Brelands claim, while Walker’s behavior continued, according to the complaint.
“At the Gulf Shores little league football practices, and in addition to Walker’s outrageous outbursts, Coach Byrd regularly cursed in front of his players, and even made derogatory comments in the huddle about Mrs. Breland in front of … Mrs. Breland’s son and one of the young players who played football for Coach Byrd,” the suit says.
In the end, the suit claims officials kicked the Brelands’ son off the team but failed to inform the Brelands until they arrived in Fairhope for a game. They were told by recreation department employee David Dryer not only could their son not play, but he also had to surrender his football equipment to Dryer on the spot.
“They were met by Dryer, who told them both that they were banned from all further games and practices,” the lawsuit states. “Dryer also told them that he needed [their son’s] uniform and pads immediately … Breland offered to bring the pads and equipment to the Gulf Shores Recreation Center so that [their son] would not have to strip down to his underwear in front of his entire team. Dryer refused and demanded [their son’s] pads and uniform, publicly humiliating him. Dryer forced [their son] to strip down to his underwear and [their son] had to ride all the way home in his underwear.”
In one cause of action, the Brelands sought $250 million for outrage against all defendants.
“The defendants’ actions and omissions as outlined in the facts preceding were so outrageous in character and extreme in degree as to go beyond all possible bounds of decency, and are to be regarded as atrocious and utterly intolerable in a civilized society,” the suit says.
In a motion to dismiss filed in November 2017, the defendants denied the allegations. They admitted the dispute arose because of the Brelands’ actions after Jessica Breland was denied an appointment as “team mom.” Their son was not kicked off the team, but banned from participating in the season’s remaining two games.
Regarding the Brelands’ first claim, the defendants argued “shocking conduct is often deemed by Alabama courts to be insufficient to create a jury question” and “assuming that the allegations of plaintiffs’ complaint are accurate, the defendants’ conduct is not so extreme in degree as to go beyond all possible bounds of decency to constitute the tort of outrage.”
Other claims that sought money allege harassment of Jessica Breland by Walker, slander against Robert Breland by Coach Byrd and Gulf Shores employee Dryer, a libel claim against Gulf Shores employee Perkins for a letter he wrote to his supervisors about Robert Breland and another charges wantonness against all defendants. The Brelands sought $250 million on each of those charges for a total of $1.25 billion.
The city sought further dismissal of the slander and libel allegations based on the fact that the alleged statements against the Brelands were not published, but rather “communication between corporation employees, within the line and scope of the employees’ duties with the corporation” and “good faith (privileged) communication.”
Other charges not seeking monetary damage included negligence against the city of Gulf Shores, employees Ralph Pereda, Perkins and Dryer and Coach Byrd, negligent supervision, hiring and training practices by the city and negligence by the city in continuing to employ Pereda, Perkins and Dryer. Because of the actions of the defendants, the suit claims, the Brelands had to seek professional help to cope with the incidents.
Among other defenses, the city argued that Byrd and Clark are immune from liability because they are volunteers.
“The facts as alleged in the plaintiffs’ complaint do not evidence reckless or conscious disregard for the rights or safety of others as it concerns these defendants. These claims are due to be dismissed.”
Gabriel Tynes contributed to this story.
Correction: Lagniappe originally published a version of this story online Oct. 4 that did not contain information about the order saying the suit was being settled. We regret the error.
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