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Oyster Bay settles civil suit with Café Al Dente owner Philip Morizio

Philip Morizio stands by what was once the

Philip Morizio stands by what was once the location of his restaurant Cafe Al Dente in Oyster Bay on June 23, 2016. Credit: Raychel Brightman

Oyster Bay and its insurance provider will pay $400,000 to settle a civil suit brought by the former owner of an Oyster Bay cafe under an agreement reached Tuesday, the plaintiff’s lawyer said.

The amount is less than both the $1.3 million a jury awarded former Café Al Dente owner Philip Morizio in June and the $450,000 that U.S. District Judge Leonard D. Wexler recommended in July when he overturned the jury verdict as “excessive.”

Morizio’s attorney, John Palmer of Mineola, said that his client was “relieved” to end a three-year legal battle.

“He has a chance, a pathway to reconstruct his life,” Palmer said. “It felt like a big weight was on his chest,” Palmer said of the lawsuit.

The original jury in the civil case brought in U.S. Eastern District Court in Central Islip had found that the town, former planning and development Commissioner Frederick Ippolito, and a building inspector had denied Morizio his 14th Amendment right to due process when the town padlocked his restaurant in 2013.

In July, Wexler vacated the jury decision on the punitive damages and vacated the amount on the award of $650,000 in compensatory damages. Wexler said in court that the compensatory damages were too high because the restaurant valuation at trial had been based on seating capacity that was more than legally allowed.

A second trial began on Monday in U.S. District Court in Central Islip to decide damages after the two sides had been unable to reach a settlement after Wexler overturned the jury’s decision.

Palmer said that under the stipulation, the town will pay half the amount and the town’s insurance company will pay the remainder. Late Tuesday afternoon, the town board approved $200,000 for the settlement.

Town officials and the town’s outside counsel, Christopher Kendric of Garden City-based Kendric Law Group PC, did not respond to requests for comment Wednesday.

The settlement means that Ippolito, who was sentenced on Wednesday by Wexler to 27 months in federal prison and required to pay $550,000 in restitution in an unrelated tax evasion case, will not be liable for the damages in the Al Dente case.

On Thursday, town spokeswoman Marta Kane said in an email that under the settlement, none of the defendants are responsible for any alleged wrongdoing.

“The settlement brings the matter to a close, without the town incurring further costs and expenses such as legal fees,” Kane said.

Al Dente’s former landlords, Sandra Leung and Hsiao Chun Wu, sued the town in U.S. District Court last month for $6 million in damages, alleging that the closure caused them financial damage. That case is pending.


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