Nashville at law: Lawyers sue after Virago tussle

Former State House candidate alleges tow-truck personnel roughed him up outside trendy sushi bar [From our print edition featured in Monday's City Paper]

A pair of parking-lot confrontations last month outside a chic Nashville nightspot have led two attorneys and a property owner to sue the operators of a local towing service, as well as the restaurant itself, Virago.

Allen Woods and Eric Stansell, who each practice law in Nashville, filed suit on June 25 against Mark Wayman, proprietor of Able Towing, and several persons said to be associated with Able, as well as the companies that own Virago and its general manager, Ali Grimsley.

Stansell was a candidate in the 2008 Democratic primary for the District 52 seat in the State Legislature ultimately won by Mike Stewart.

Also listed as plaintiffs in the case, filed at Davidson County Circuit Court, are Woodstrust LLC and Jennifer Joe of Nashville. Woodstrust is a family company that owns the building at 707 18th Ave. S., abutting Virago's property, where Allen Woods and his father, well-known liberal political activist Larry Woods, have their law offices. Joe had her car towed by Able the night before the confrontation took place.

The plaintiffs and Virago differ markedly in how they describe Able Towing's relationship to the restaurant. Repeated efforts to reach the defendants that the lawsuit names as being associated with the towing company have been unsuccessful.

The complaint – available here – says Larry Woods asked Able Towing in the past to remove warning signs it had placed without permission on the back of his building, facing the entrance to Virago across an alley, but that Able refused to take them down. On June 10, it says, a tow-truck driver named William Newell Allen, who was towing a car from the adjoining lot leased by Virago, confronted Woods as he was standing in the parking lot of his property.

The lawsuit says Allen came onto the Woods property, "positioned his face two inches away" from Woods' face, and shouted at him "in a threatening manner." It quotes Allen as telling Woods: "I have the f***ing contract to tow here, and I have towed cars from both these lots every night for 11 years!" And it says that although Wayman later denied employing Allen, Allen demanded payment from Wayman during the altercation that took place the next day.

Peter Curry, attorney for the restaurant, said in an interview that "there is no contract" between Virago and any towing service. He called Allen's reported claim "absolutely untrue."

"We don't even know who the man is," Curry said. When the restaurant's manager decided to have cars towed, he said, she "simply called the first name in the phone book" and ended up summoning Able Towing.

"Virago had never towed before," Curry said, "but the situation got so bad in Midtown that they had to do something. They would open the restaurant at 5 o'clock, and there would be all these cars in the parking lot. They gave notice as best they could to the neighbors in buildings around them."

The Woods-Allen tiff of June 10 was a mere warm-up round for what transpired the following afternoon at about 5:30 p.m. Stansell had parked his car in the lot leased by Virago and, according to the complaint, "had not seen any signage indicating the ownership of the parking lot nor that cars would be towed from there." While attending a meeting in the Woods building, he and Allen Woods learned that cars were being towed next door.

Stansell found his car with its rear wheels on the lift of the tow truck but not yet secured. The truck's driver, Robert Flowers, told him he would have to pay $85 in cash to get the vehicle back. Stansell was low on folding money.

"Fearing that Defendant Robert Flowers would simply abscond with his vehicle if he left the parking lot in search of an ATM, Plaintiff Stansell walked around his vehicle, got into the driver's seat, and drove his vehicle off the tow truck lift," the complaint states.

"Within ten seconds," it continues, "Defendant Allen, whom neither Plaintiff Stansell nor Plaintiff Woods had seen up until that moment, ran toward the driver's side of Plaintiff Stansell's vehicle shouting, 'I'll beat the f*** out of you, you p***y!' along with other threatening obscenities. Allen then pulled open the driver's side door of Plaintiff Stansell's vehicle and forced himself inside."

At the same time, Flowers allegedly ran toward Stansell's car carrying a strap with metal buckles and shouting "I'll beat the hell out of you with this strap, motherf****r!"

As Woods called the police, Allen struck Stansell in the face, neck and hands while wresting control of the car from him, the lawsuit claims. It says Flowers then put the truck in reverse and rammed into the rear of Stansell's vehicle. Ultimately, Stansell borrowed cash from Woods and paid to get back his auto.

Public records indicate that Stansell holds a Tennessee handgun carry permit. Asked last week whether he was armed at the time of the confrontation, Stansell declined to answer. "There's a criminal proceeding as well, and I don't want to jeopardize that," he said.

Police made no arrests at the scene, and no charges have been filed against anyone in connection with the incident — although William Allen was pulled over a few days later and charged with driving on a suspended license and criminal impersonation after he showed the driver's license of Robert Flowers to police.

Curry said the plaintiffs sent a letter to Virago two or three days after the incident, asking for what he called "an exorbitant amount" of money in compensation. "We couldn't understand why they were sending us the demand letter," Curry said. "We had nothing to do with it. Our people were not part of the altercation."

The lawsuit seeks a total of $610,000 in compensatory damages as well as unspecified punitive damages. Patrick Thurman of the Woods & Woods firm represents the plaintiffs.

Way to go Larry Woods! Anyone by