A Few Good Cases

Chef Nick Elmi of the award-winning restaurant Laurel and his business partner Jonathan M. Cohen, Esq., had a problem. When a small café closed next door to Laurel on East Passyunk Ave., the vacant space opened up an opportunity to expand to meet the high demand to get into Laurel, where reservations were booked months in advance. Laurel had purchased a Liquor License and sought to compliment Chef Elmi’s artistic creations with an unparalleled wine selection. But facilitating the expansion, including breaking through the party wall, would require variances from the Philadelphia Zoning and Building Codes, which raised the risk of denial. In order to minimize risk and taking his client’s particular needs into account, Matt
negotiated and coordinated a consolidation of the properties that allowed Laurel to expand – without going to community meetings, to the Zoning Board of Adjustment or the Board of Building Standards. The result is the wildly popular ITV Wine Bar, where you can get wines you can’t get anywhere else in Philadelphia. You might even meet Chef Elmi.

When an expediter filed an erroneous zoning permit application for an apartment building in West Philadelphia, the owner’s plans to maintain 138 units and to reactivate dormant ground-floor commercial spaces was put at risk. (Expediters are hired to obtain permits and licenses for businesses and individuals). Without notifying or consulting with Matt, who was the owner’s longtime zoning attorney, the expediter prepared an application with fewer apartments than planned and sought to convert all of the ground floor spaces to restaurants – which was just one of many types of tenants the owner was attracting. The expediter filed to take the matter to the Zoning Board of Adjustment (again, without consulting with Matt). Making matters worse, the owner was planning to concurrently build a new structure on the same lot and was not permitted to pull a second zoning permit while the first zoning appeal was pending. The error would have required the owner to return to the zoning board multiple times and threatened the viability of the entire project.

It was time to put the toothpaste back in the tube. Upon learning of the expediter’s error, Matt dropped everything and called an emergency meeting of all parties: the developer/owner, their architects and key project leads to come up with a plan. Matt worked with the architects to ensure the new proposed building conformed to the dimensions of the Zoning Code and obtained permission from the zoning board to correct the application. It worked. Matt effectively represented his client at the registered community organization and zoning board and obtained the right permits for the project, which is well under way and leasing up to include a bank, a laundromat and, yes, a few restaurants. Matt’s expert knowledge of the Zoning Code and the city’s appellate procedures solved a paperwork error that threatened the viability of a multi-million- dollar redevelopment project.

The high-rise commercial contractor called because he got sued. Sometime around New Year’s Eve, a steel cable broke through the concrete floorplate of a condominium unit, damaging the bathroom floor. The contractor, a trade union employer with a 50-year history in Philadelphia, was confounded because the condominium delivered, and sold out, nearly 10 years before. Wouldn’t Pennsylvania’s two-year statute of limitations for negligence keep this out of court? Not necessarily. Construction defects, if they are latent and cannot be discovered, may extend the statute of limitations until they can be reasonably discovered. In this case, the developer had opted to simply cut the condominium association and the unit owner a check for the cost of repairs and then demand payment from the contractor, Matt’s client, who the developer wanted to blame. Thus, the case was “indemnification,” an agreement, or judicial finding, that shifts the liability to pay for a claim from one party to another. In this case, the Condominium Developer wanted the contractor to cover a settlement it had not been a party to. After weighing their risks and rejecting a demand to settle, the contractor opted to go to trial. Without the benefit of discovery, Matt and a colleague took the case to trial and, arguing that the law of indemnification required the developer to prove its own liability in order to be entitled to recover from Matt’s client, Matt won a partial victory at the conclusion of the trial.

Then, on post-trial motions, the presiding judge entered an order finding that the Plaintiff was entitled to no compensation – a total victory.

The Plaintiff appealed. On Nov. 3, 2017, the Superior Court of Pennsylvania affirmed Matt Monroe’s trial court win in Jeffrey M. Brown v. Carson Concrete Corp. (Case Nos. 2177 & 2181 EDA 2016).