A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit against the city of Bay St. Louis and a former city councilman which claimed he used his authority on the council to “destroy” a maritime contractor and his business.
Gulfport attorney Patrick W. Kirby filed the suit in federal court in April 2018 on behalf of Keith Marquar and L&L Marine Construction, LLC. The defendants were former Bay Councilman Lonnie Falgout, Mayor Mike Favre – both of whom were named individually and in their official capacities as city officials -- and the city of Bay St. Louis.
Later that same year, Marquar dropped Favre’s name from the suit.
U.S. District Judge Sul Ozerden ruled in June that Marquar’s claims against the city be dismissed without prejudice. Then last month, he dismissed Marquar’s claims against Falgout, as well, leaving Marquar with the option to refile the suit in state court.
According to the suit, Wayne McCants hired Marquar and L&L Construction to build a bulkhead and pier at 144 Elaine Dr. and that then-Ward 6 Councilman Falgout, who owns the adjacent property at 146 Elaine Dr., opposed the project and filed objections with the Mississippi Department of Marine Resources and Army Corps of Engineers to halt it.
“When these efforts failed, Mr. Falgout changed tactics,” according to the suit. “Initially, he invited Mr. Marquar to lunch and tried to strong-arm (him) into abandoning the project. Mr. Marquar refused to be intimidated, informing Falgout that he would continue. Lonnie Falgout became angry and threatened that he would use his position as city councilman to destroy Mr. Marquar and his business.”
The suit alleged that Falgout “intentionally” interfered with the business relationships of Marquar and L&L by contacting clients and urging them to fire L&L and file complaints with the city’s building department.
The suit further alleged that Marquar and L&L were slandered, claiming that Falgout published “numerous emails and Facebook posts falsely stating that there are numerous complaints against Marquar and L&L filed with the city building department,” although “no complaints have been filed.”
Marquar sought a trial and a total of $4.5 million in compensatory and punitive damages, plus attorney’s fees, plus “any other further relief” the judge may deem appropriate.
Later in 2018, former clients in both Hancock and Harrison counties filed criminal charges against Marquar, alleging he had not fulfilled contractual obligations for which he had been paid.
Marquar said at the time that Falgout was using his influence with the authorities to get those charges filed.
Marquar said Friday that "as there was no evidence of wrongdoing," in one of the cases, "a No True Bill was issued," meaning a grand jury refused to indict him.
Falgout said last week he felt vindicated by the judge’s dismissal of the civil case.
“In 2013, I was elected to the Bay St. Louis City Council to represent the citizens, property owners, weekenders of Ward 6 plus all concerned (on) city issues throughout my term,” Falgout said. “Since the filing of this federal lawsuit against the city of Bay St. Louis and myself, I’ve maintained a wait and see attitude. This dismissal by the federal court after three long years proves physical pieces of evidence were not produced to assure that this case should proceed to trial.
“I represented all areas of Bay St. Louis during my tenure to the best of my ability, but I firmly believe to this day that this was nothing more than a political vendetta to oust me and to truly deflect the unfortunate circumstances that these individuals were experiencing.
“As a councilman I was called and approached by numerous individuals, citizens and weekenders from many surrounding areas seeking … help on their dissatisfaction of service and monetary concerns by L & L Construction Services and Keith Marquar. As a councilman and civil servant, I informed, furnished and instructed them accordingly to different areas of relief through proper governmental agencies. It is my current understanding that some of these concerns (have been) and are still presently being addressed.”
Falgout said he was still reviewing his “civil options” in the case.
Marquar said Friday he intends to take the matter to state court.
"The federal court did not rule on the merits of the case," he said. "Therefore, this matter shall proceed to the state court with all haste."
"It is disheartening that Mr. Falgout continues to target me and my business in such a slanderous fashion," he said.