Leon Batie was, for a while, among the sole successes heralded by the South Dallas/Fair Park Trust Fund: With a low-interest $50,000 loan, Batie opened in 2002 a Subway franchise in the heart of the Fair Park neighborhood, on Grand Avenue and Meadow Street, that became so successful he eventually opened a second location on Gaston Avenue and received $25,000 more for a third spot. Whenever critics started damning the embattled trust fund for losing a small fortune in taxpayers' dough, fund administrators and board members always pointed to Batie as The Reason the Fund Exists -- as someone willing to set up shop in a neighborhood more dead than alive.
But two years ago, Batie's Subways were gone -- and the fund's administrator didn't even know till Unfair Park told him. Turned out Batie's brother Chris and another franchisee named Travis Brown, who were charged with maintaining the stores till Leon's return, made scattered rent payments. Indeed, Subway was likely owed only a few thousand dollars in back payments when the company moved to evict Batie, who was spending "a year in Afghanistan living in a mud hut with limited electricity," says Franchise Times magazine, which this month chronicles Subway's efforts to foreclose on the soldier who tried like hell to plant something worth a damn in the Fair Park area.
"When I came home," Batie tells the magazine, "all my hopes and dreams were destroyed."
Batie, who's in a predicament familiar to other servicemen and women called up while trying to maintain small businesses, has spent the better part of the year trying to repair the damage: In August 2007, he filed in U.S. District Court a federal suit against Subway Real Estate Corporation and Travis Brown, claiming Subway made no effort to contact him about a failure to pay rent or its intentions of foreclosing on the property.
Indeed, he says that in February 2006, Subway started lease termination proceedings and had the Dallas County Justice of the Peace evict Batie from the premises -- even though he was in Afghanistan, as part of Operation Enduring Freedom. You can read the complaint in its entirety here.
Batie also wants to go after Brown for breach of contract, as he failed "to notify Leon Batie about the operation and financial problems affecting the Grand Avenue and Gaston Restaurants." And for putting him in that spot in the first place. Alas, the suit was dismissed by U.S. District Judge Barbara Lynn, who ruled that Batie had filed in the wrong jurisdiction.
Batie, who received a bronze star for his service in Afghanistan, was not done fighting: Last month, Lynn actually changed her mind, allowing that Batie actually has a legit claim under the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act, which provides "protection of servicemembers against default judgments," amongst other things.
Subway Real Estate Corporation filed another motion to dismiss on Wednesday, and the case has been moved to U.S. Magistrate Judge Irma Ramirez's court. Batie's Richardson-based attorney, Cheryl Mullin, will file her response to Subway's motion by the end of next week. Then Subway has 15 more days to reply, after which Ramirez will rule on whether or not the suit will move forward.
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Batie's is not in Dallas, and it's unlikely he will ever return. At the moment, he's stationed at Scott Air Force Base in Illinois, where he is pursuing his PhD in computer science. He decided to go on active duty, full time, once the shops were shuttered by Subway.
"One of the problems he faces is he can't get the necessary security clearances if he has bad credit," Mullin tells Unfair Park. "One of the points of the suit is to clear up his credit so he can advance in the military."
But it's much more than that. Because, see, just a few years ago, Leon Batie was a success story -- a hero, really, in a neighborhood that's all but begged national chains to set up shop. But he "was really destroyed over this, personally," says Amanda Scoggins, a paralegal in Mullin's office. "It rocked his personal life and his world. He had to start from zero when he returned from Afghanistan."
Says Mullin: "He wants to repair his credibility. When he left Dallas, he had a lot of respect from his peers. But after he returned, people now think he's a deadbeat -- and he was just out serving his country." --Robert Wilonsky