Alabama Fire Department Sues Florida Cleaner Over Damage to Santa Apparel

There are all sorts of fire departments, and there are all sorts of fire service-related lawsuits. Fire Law Blog seeks to provide a balance of the lawsuits and legal proceedings involving fire departments and firefighters. While most of the suits we cover are large, there are plenty of smaller suits, as evidenced by the following:

An Alabama fire department has filed suit against a Florida-based dry cleaner claiming that the cleaning process damaged seven Santa costumes. The Lillian Volunteer Fire Department filed the small claims action against Modern Dry Cleaning, of Pensacola, Florida, seeking $1618.12 in damages and $225 in costs.

The suit was filed in the Small Claims Division of Escambia County Court, in Florida, alleging negligence. Quoting from the complaint:

  • We the firefighters of Lillian Volunteer Fire Department, AL – are filing claim against Modern Dry Cleaning of Pensacola FL for damages to department owned property and who, through the negligence of Modern Dry Cleaning and/or its employees and/or process of cleaning, failed to follow proper cleaning techniques with seasonal specialized apparel resulting in all 7 sets and 4 hats being discolored and will requiring full replacement.
  • A total of 7 full size Adult Santa Suit costumes, red with a white fur trim, were damaged while in the possession of the defendant and due to an improper cleaning process performed by the defendant, all 7 suits were discolored and altered.
  • LVFD did not want the suits to be altered or discolored in anyway and contracted a dry cleaning service to clean and return the suits intact.
  • All 7 sets and 4 hats are now discolored and are permanently damaged by the negligent process used by the defendant resulting in the costumes being permanently altered in appearance.
  • December 9, 2022 FF Moll, brought 7 full sets (hat, jacket, pants) of Santa Suits and 4 additional Santa hats, property of LVFD, to Modern Dry Cleaners 2500 W. Cervantes St. Pensacola FL. All suits were in serviceable and good condition, although they had been stored in a manner that allowed cob webs and debris to collect – the suits were intact, undamaged and were brought to the defendants business with the promise of a quick turnaround and a complete cleaning.
  • December 16, 2022 FF Moll retrieved the suits from defendant, found to be damaged/color stained by the defendant as the result of a process performed by other than dry cleaning leaving all white fur trim items with a red/pink discoloration consequently altering their appearance.
  • December 20, 2022 FF Moll made contact with the defendant to set up a return trip with the suits in an effort to rectify the cleaning error. The defendant informed FF Moll the suits would be shipped out to their alternate facility in Mobile AL for a process that would revert the discoloration to their original color.
  • December 27, 2022 FF Cantrell returned suits to be re-cleaned. Was advised it would be a few weeks.
  • [Despite numerous phone calls and visits, the matter remained unresolved].
  • March 7, 2023 0700, Fire Chief Nicholas Dewhurst and Deputy Fire Chief Todd Mullane went to defendant’s location with the intent of resolving the situation with Mike and seeking they reimburse the value of the suits x7 sets and refunding the charges incurred the department. Defendant stated he would determine the value of the suits based on his research and devalue the suits we had given him by their respective age.
  • Following some discussion between Chief Dewhurst and the defendant it was determined this was not how the transaction was going to occur. At this time, Deputy Chief Mullane requested the suits hanging in the closet be turned over to him, defendant declined stating he needed those to determine value, Deputy Chief Mullane restated he needed to turn the property over as we had paid for them and wanted them back – defendant flatly refused to return our property a second time and after a heated verbal discussion, Mike followed by making the statement ‘take me to court’.
  • Chief, Dewhurst and Deputy Chief Mullane left the building, Pensacola Police were contacted (0730) to defuse the situation and provide some legal recourse to the business owner that he can’t refuse to return personal property that was paid for. Defendant provided a hand written note to the officer for Chief Dewhurst to sign with the statement, items returned with no reimbursement. Chief Dewhurst signed the document in order to recover department property, but stated we would be processing legal means and filing suit against the defendant.

Here is a copy of the complaint:

About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 45 years of fire service experience and 35 as a practicing attorney licensed in both Rhode Island and Maine. His background includes 29 years as a career firefighter in Providence (retiring as a Deputy Assistant Chief), as well as volunteer and paid on call experience. He is the author of two books: Legal Considerations for Fire and Emergency Services, (2006, 2nd ed. 2011, 3rd ed. 2014, 4th ed. 2022) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.
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