A federal judge on Thursday overturned a $1.3 million jury award to the former owner of an Oyster Bay cafe, calling the amount “excessive.”
Last month the jury in the civil case brought in U.S. Eastern District Court in Central Islip found that the Town of Oyster Bay, former planning and development commissioner Frederick Ippolito, and a building inspector had denied Cafe Al Dente owner Philip Morizio his 14th Amendment right to due process when the town padlocked his restaurant in 2013. The jury awarded Morizio $650,000 for compensatory damages and $650,000 for punitive damages.
The town had alleged that Morizio had failed to resolve building and health violations at the restaurant in the hamlet of Oyster Bay for 18 months, Newsday has previously reported.
District Judge Leonard D. Wexler overturned the verdict on one claim and the jury awards on both claims.
“I’m going to recommend that the defendant pay $450,000 to the plaintiff, which will include all expenses and attorney’s fees,” Wexler said, according to a transcript of the proceeding.
The parties are due back in court on Aug. 8 to let Wexler know if they’ve reached a settlement. If they have not, a new trial to determine the award is scheduled to begin on Sept. 19.
Wexler said the award for compensatory damages was too high because the plaintiff’s expert witness had testified that the value of the cafe when the town closed it was $485,000. He also said that amount was based on a greater seating capacity than was legally permitted at the time, “and couldn’t be a basis.”
Wexler admonished the town’s outside legal counsel, Christopher Kendric, of Garden City-based Kendric Law Group PC, calling his behavior toward the court “unacceptable.” Wexler said his behavior contributed to the jury awarding Morizio too much money.
“You were obnoxious throughout the entire trial, counsel,” Wexler said, according to the transcript. “And I think the jury showed it in their verdict, which of course I thought was excessive.”
Kendric apologized to the judge.
In an interview Kendric said the important issue was the judge’s decision on the award.
“The judge recognized that the award was legally incorrect . . . and that it could not be permitted to stand,” Kendric said.
Morizio’s attorney, John Palmer of Mineola, said they were reviewing their options and might appeal the judge’s decision.
Palmer said Wexler still recognized that his client had been wronged.
“He sustained the jury’s verdict that the defendants violated the 14th Amendment by engaging in abusive conduct that shocks the conscience of the court and the jury,” Palmer said.