County to argue for immunity in courthouse cafe case

David Yates Jan. 26, 2009, 7:12am

Another Level Eatery in the Jefferson County Courthouse has been closed since Sept. 9.

Jefferson County courthouse employees and visitors who were salivating in anticipation of Another Level Eatery reopening soon might want to put down their forks.

In November, the Record reported that Mary Gardiner-Andrews -- the owner of the restaurant inside the courthouse -- filed suit against Jefferson County, alleging the restaurant lost nearly $40,000 after the county reneged on its promise to use the restaurant's food during the Hurricane Ike evacuation.

The restaurant has been closed since Sept. 9.

On Jan. 30, 60th District Judge Gary Sanderson will hold a hearing to the plea of jurisdiction. The county argues that it has governmental immunity and will ask the judge during the hearing to recognize its sue-free status.

Gardiner-Andrews claims she was contacted by the Jefferson County Sheriff's Office about providing emergency food to workers during Hurricane Ike and Hurricane Gustav clean-up and evacuation, according to the complaint filed Nov. 3.

Jefferson County Judge Ron Walker ordered a mandatory evacuation in advance of Hurricane Gustav on Aug. 31. The storm missed Southeast Texas and the evacuation was lifted on Sept. 2.

As Hurricane Ike approached a week later, a mandatory evacuation was ordered for Jefferson County on Sept. 11. The storm made landfall on Sept. 13 near Galveston and caused extensive damage in parts of the Golden Triangle. The evacuation order was not lifted until Sept. 24.

Gardiner-Andrews claims Jefferson County Chief Deputy Zina Stephens took the keys to the restaurant and asked that the staff of Another Level Eatery stay behind to help feed people.

In her suit, she says the county did not use her cafeteria in the sub-level of the courthouse and instead went to another restaurant.

In addition, "the county failed to secure the inventory and facility in the wake of the evacuation," the suit states.

Gardiner-Andrews was not informed of the changed plans until after $3,000 worth of her food inventory was spoiled, according to the complaint.

She also claims she has not been able to pay her employees for staying behind and has been unable to reopen.

At the time the suit was filed, Gardiner-Andrews claimed she had lost more than $39,000 in income, the suit states.

She is suing Jefferson County for detrimental reliance, breach of an oral contract, negligence and misrepresentation.

Gardiner-Andrews is seeking unspecified actual and consequential damages, attorney's fees and other relief the court deems just.

John S. Morgan of Lindsay and Morgan in Beaumont will be representing her.

The county is represented by Assistant District Attorney Tom Rugg.

Case No. B182-654

More News