Michael Kunzelman / The Associated Press
NEW ORLEANS -- A federal judge's ruling Friday hasn't resolved a family's bitter struggle for control of Brennan's, one of New Orleans' best-known restaurants.
U.S. District Judge Susie Morgan ruled that Owen "Pip" Brennan, a son of the restaurant's late founder, is a shareholder in Brennan's Inc. She upheld his right to vote those shares even though he agreed to sell them in 2010 in a settlement with a competing faction of family members.
But Morgan also ruled that Pip isn't an officer or director in Brennan's Inc. "at this time" and didn't properly call or conduct a shareholder meeting last month to vote on ousting two of his relatives.
Pip's brother, Ted, and Ted's daughter, Bridget Brennan Tyrrell, sued him after he called the April 26 meeting to vote on removing them as directors of Brennan's.
Morgan agreed with Ted and his daughter that the meeting was "invalid, unlawful, and of no force and effect" but rejected their argument that Pip is no longer a shareholder and doesn't have the right to vote his 196 shares.
Morgan also refused to bar Pip and two sons, Blake and Clark, from entering the restaurant.
Vic Welsh, a lawyer for Pip, said his client plans to call another shareholder meeting or ask Morgan to order one, setting the stage for another vote on removing Ted and Bridget.
"I think everyone knows we have the votes," Welsh said. "We don't anticipate that the votes will be any different at a subsequent meeting."
"Bring it on," countered Phil Wittmann, an attorney for Ted and Bridget.
Wittmann said the ruling confirms that his clients are the only valid directors and officers of the restaurant.
"It's going to be run by the current officers and directors until somebody gets rid of us," he added.
Famous for inventing the Bananas Foster dessert in 1951, the restaurant already had a prominent place on the city's culinary landscape when its founder, Owen Edward Brennan, died in 1955 at age 45.
In the 1960s, the family opened restaurants in Houston and Dallas and purchased Commander's Palace, another upscale New Orleans restaurant. The expansion, however, led to a decline in the original restaurant's quality and fueled a schism between some family members.
Blake and Clark Brennan started managing the restaurant in 1995 and were making plans to expand when Hurricane Katrina struck in 2005, leaving the building heavily damaged.
Ted and Bridget accused the brothers of abandoning their positions without notice before repairs could be completed in 2006. Blake and Clark, however, claim Ted had informed them just before Katrina that they would never be anything but employees of the restaurant and should leave if they weren't satisfied.
Ted and Bridget claim they have been solely in control of Brennan's since Pip sold his shares more than two years. Pip, however, claims he is entitled to keep control over his shares because Brennan's Inc. hasn't fully compensated him for the stock sale.
After the April 26 shareholder meeting adjourned, Pip and his sons allegedly entered the closed restaurant without permission and tried to call a staff meeting, prompting Bridget to call the police. The confrontation ended with an agreement to let Ted's son, Teddy, and Pip's son, Blake, temporarily co-manage the restaurant while the dispute shifted to court.