The former landlords of an Oyster Bay cafe have sued the town for $6 million in damages in U.S. District Court alleging that they were denied their civil right to due process when the business was padlocked by code enforcement officers.
The former property owners, Sandra Leung and Hsiao Chun Wu, alleged in the civil suit filed in the U.S. Eastern District Court in Central Islip on Thursday that the town’s closure of Café Al Dente in 2013 was improper. They say that the closure caused them financial damage in lost rent, physical damage to the building when the pipes froze and burst, legal fees and lower property value.
“Up until the actions of the defendant, it had been a successful restaurant for years,” plaintiff’s attorney David Antwork of Merrick said. “It was an investment property and they basically lost their investment.”
In June, in a separate legal action over the closure of the restaurant, a federal jury awarded the owner of Café Al Dente, Philip Morizio, $1.3 million in damages for denial of due process. That award was overturned by District Judge Leonard D. Wexler, who said the amount was “excessive.”
Wexler told Morizio and the town to reach a settlement by this week or return to court in September for a new trial to determine the damage award.
The town’s outside legal counsel, Christopher Kendric of Garden City-based Kendric Law Group PC, called Leung and Wu’s lawsuit “opportunistic.”
“If plaintiffs had actually done their homework instead of cribbing from an earlier case brought against the town, they would know that much of what they are alleging is utterly, provably false,” Kendric said in a statement.
The former landlords’ suit alleges that after padlocking the restaurant based on “false allegations,” the town refused to give the plaintiffs access to the building for 1 1⁄2 years despite pleas to winterize the building and failed to hold a hearing. The resulting flooding after pipes burst damaged the building and equipment, the suit alleges.
When Leung and Wu tried to find new tenants after Al Dente was closed, the suit alleges that they were told by potential restaurant tenants that the town was not going to give them the approvals needed to reopen.
In March 2015 they decided to sell but the town’s designation of the building as “dangerous” forced them to accept a $740,000 price, which they said was well below its $1.2 million market value, the suit alleges.