A Howard Avenue barís legal battle against the city of Tampa moved to federal court this week.
The Soho Saloon, 410 S. Howard Avenue, filed a lawsuit against the city on March 11 after the city council voted to deny the ownerís request to expand its liquor license.
Saloon owner Michael Disser in February asked to change the barís liquor license to allow hard liquor sales in addition to the wine and beer he now serves. At an initial public hearing on Jan. 24, the council voted to approve the license.
On Feb. 7, days before the council was scheduled to make its second and final vote on the license request, Tampa police officers reported finding three, underage University of Tampa students drinking liquor in the saloon. At the subsequent hearing, Disser denied serving alcohol to the underage students and said the liquor on the property was left over from Gasparilla festivities in late January, when the bar had a temporary license to serve it.
Council member Mary Mulhern, who opposed the expanded license during the first hearing, moved to deny Disserís request based on an existing parking code violation and the existence of 17 other venues that sell hard liquor in the area. The motion passed with a 4-3 vote.
In the lawsuit, Disser stipulates the city council based its denial on the police allegations, after city attorneys repeatedly warned council members they could not. He also maintains the city violated his rights under the U.S. Constitution when it denied his request at the second hearing.
Disser is seeking at least $15,000 in damages, court records show.
Because Disser asserts the councilís decision violated his constitutional rights, the city moved the case to federal court on April 9. Chief Assistant City Attorney Jerry Gewirtz declined to comment on the pending litigation.
Eric Page, Disserís attorney, said he is aware the case has moved to federal court, and is evaluating the move and working on a response.