An effort by a member of the Daniele Family to sue opponents of the Whole Foods Plaza Project has backfired, resulting in claims against him.
Mario Daniele sued nine opponents of the Project, seeking multimillion dollar damages from them. The nine opponents are among the hundreds of Brighton citizens who joined opposition groups concerned over the Daniele Family’s supersized strip plaza on Monroe Avenue, in a notoriously congested and accident–prone corridor.
The court agreed with the project opponents that Mr. Daniele’s recent lawsuit was meritless, and dismissed it out-of-hand. However, because of the nature of Mr. Daniele’s claims, the opponents countersued, alleging he violated New York’s Anti-SLAPP laws. These laws are designed to protect opponents of projects under consideration by a government body. In particular, these laws deter developers from filing baseless lawsuits that are intended to intimidate or harass project opponents into silence, which is what the Daniele Family is accused of doing here. Mr. Daniele asked the court to dismiss the opponents’ counterclaims, but the court refused and ruled that they have merit and will continue.
“It seems to me that the Danieles believed they could file a quick lawsuit to scare these people and bully them into abandoning their opposition to the Project,” said attorney Charles W. Malcomb, who represents some of the opponents, as well as the group Save Monroe Ave. “Unfortunately for Mr. Daniele, he made a huge mistake. Not only did he fail to intimidate my clients, but he also now must defend against claims that he violated New York’s Anti-SLAPP laws, and faces potentially very large damages. And we’ve already won the first round in court.”
The head of another opposition group, Brighton Grassroots, called the Daniele’s conduct “disgraceful.”
“I’m glad people are finally starting to see the Daniele Family’s true colors,” said Howie Jacobson. “Just look at the contrast here. We’ve been peacefully protesting and appropriately going to court to address our concerns with the Project, while the Danieles, in my opinion, are resorting to thuggish intimidation of regular citizens. It’s disgraceful.”
If the opponents are successful, they could receive an award of “punitive” damages against Mr. Daniele, the amount of which will be decided by a jury and is meant to be sufficiently large to “punish” the Developer and deter such conduct. Mr. Daniele also may be required to reimburse them for their legal fees.
The court also recently warned the Developer that any construction it performs at the project site is done at its “own risk.” , If the opposition groups prevail in their many legal challenges to the Project approvals, any non-conforming portions of the Project would have to be torn down.
The Project, consisting of a Whole Foods Grocery Store, a Starbucks, and 22 other retailers, was approved pursuant to a special “incentive zoning” deal that allowed the Developer to bypass over 50 permits, approvals and protections that are otherwise required under the Town’s standard zoning regulations.