Newly-Enacted Ordinance That Forced Local Businessman To Permanently Close Down, Lose Premises To Foreclosure Found Unconstitutional; City Now On Major 'Damages' Hook For Passing & Enforcing Crappy Law
In Jeannette, Pennsylvania, the Pittsburgh Tribune Review reports:
- Cash-strapped Jeannette could be forced to pay a city businessman more than $500,000 in damages from real estate and business losses sustained because of an unconstitutional ordinance enforced in 2005.
Businessman Frank Trigona testified Monday during a nonjury trial before Westmoreland County Judge Richard E. McCormick Jr. that his restaurant was forced to close permanently and a building he leased to a day care center underwent foreclosure as a result of the Jeannette law that prevented occupancy of either structure.
The restaurant, which had been in operation on Clay Avenue for more than a century, was closed in May 2005 when city officials used a newly enacted ordinance to refuse to issue Trigona health permits because he owed taxes on the building. That same ordinance was used to prevent Trigona from occupying and making storm damage repairs to a building on Fourth Street that was being leased by a day care center.
In 2009, Westmoreland County Judge Daniel J. Ackerman ruled the Jeannette ordinance was unconstitutional. The state Supreme Court later upheld that finding.(1)
McCormick is now being asked to decide just how much money Trigona is due because of the faulty law.
“The city of Jeannette enforced an improper ordinance. Under the Constitution and the laws of the commonwealth, Mr. Trigona is entitled to damages,” said his attorney, William Lightcap.
Lightcap said Trigona sustained about $500,000 in damages.
- Trigona testified that he did not have the financial means to reopen the restaurant after the ordinance was overturned. “I was just not able to reopen,” Trigona said.
Trigona said he sustained lost rent payments from Seton Hill Child Services, which rented the Fourth Street building since 1999 for the day care center. Trigona told the judge he was in the process of negotiating a new five-year deal when Jeannette enforced its illegal ordinance.
(1) For the court ruling, see Trigona v. Lender, 926 A. 2d 1226 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2007); appeal denied Trigona v. Lender, 944 A. 2d 760 (Pa. 2008).