Monday, June 30, 2014

City Officials Should Cease Doing Business With Legal Bully Browning

On this blog, I have written several times about SLAPP lawsuits, litigation filed usually by deep-pocketed corporations for the purpose of driving up legal costs for small litigants who dare publicly criticize those corporations.  (See links at bottom of page.)   The purpose of the lawsuit is not to win on the merits but to drive up litigation costs for the underfunded party, so much so that the party and others are intimidated into silence.

It turns out local, politically-connected developer Browning Investments isn't above such bully tactics. The Indianapolis Business Journal reports:
The developer of a $30 million apartment-and-retail project in Broad Ripple wants the development’s most vocal opponents to pay nearly $1 million in damages related to construction delays.
Browning Investments Inc. is asking that Good Earth Natural Foods and resident Patrick Skowronek pay the money for appealing the Metropolitan Development Commission’s decision to award Browning zoning variances to proceed with the project.
They lost the appeal in Marion Superior Court in March on a technicality, but are asking the Indiana Court of Appeals to overturn Superior Court Judge Michael D. Keele’s decision to dismiss the appeal.
On Wednesday, representatives of Browning Investments and opponents of the project appeared again before Keele, who admitted that Browning’s request for damages is “unique and different.”
The $1 million Browning Investments wants Good Earth and Skowronek to pay is an estimate of how much project costs could rise due to delays in construction, which might not start for another year depending upon how long the appeal process takes. 
Browning Investments is seeking $5.7 million of a $7.7 million city bond used to help finance the project along the Central Canal. The bonds would be paid off over time from property-tax proceeds in the North Midtown tax-increment financing district. The district, created in January 2013, includes the Browning project, which would be called Canal Pointe.
While the legal maneuver does not precisely fit the definition of a SLAPP lawsuit,  like a SLAPP lawsuit it is an attempt to use the legal process to bully someone.  All Good Earth and Skowronek is doing is using the legal process for challenging a zoning board decision.  But apparently the folks at Browning Investment believes they have an absolute right to our tax dollars for their private developments and that anyone who dares question that right or challenge it in court will be punished.  Make no mistake about it.  Bully Browning is attempting to send a message to every taxpayer in Marion County that if you get in the way of the politically-connected developer, you could find yourself in court having to at the very least paying thousands of dollars for your own defense.

There is a way of shutting down Bully Browning.  City officials, in particular members of the city county council, can simply declare that they won't approve any future tax subsidies for Browning because of the developer's tactics in bullying members of the public.  Problem solved.  Do our city officials have the guts to take such a stand for the public against a politically-connected developer?  Unfortunately, I'm not convinced they do.

See also: 

Thursday, December 13, 2012, Cooley Law School Attempts to Silence Critics with SLAPP Defamation Lawsuits

Tuesday, December 7, 2010, St. Francis Hospital SLAPP Lawsuit: Free Speech Wins Round As Hospital's Request for Emergency Injunction to Silence Critic is Denied

Saturday, November 8, 2008, Legislative Recommendation: Time for Indiana General Assembly to Slap Down SLAPP lawsuits


Anonymous said...

It's absolutely correct that absolutely anyone ought to have the right to shut down any project in the City for whatever amount of time it can be delayed and irrespective of the basis of their claim. That's progress, and that's the way the legal system ought to operate.

Sean Shepard said...

People should not be able to use the legal system as an anti-competition tactic or to stop others from doing business just because they don't like someone.

Our legal system is very, very expensive and in Indiana there is no "loser pays" law. You get sued by someone, spend tens of thousands of dollars just to get out of it and the aggressor doesn't have to pay your expenses. Ridiculous.

Pete Boggs said...

Isn't the developer demonstrating, contempt for and / or ignorance of, due process & exorbitant / frivolous expenditure in circumvention of same; thereby undermining any claim of cost concern?

Anonymous said...

well said Sean, well said

Unknown said...

From what I've observed this is all part of the process of getting any project approved. It can be expected just like weather delays.

This is a bullying tactic designed to intimidate and silence any dissent of their projects.

I suggest goodneighborsam is a Browning plant but I'll give you Four Stars for picking a good alias and no balls for using one.

Lets hear an official Browning response.

At the very least I'd like to hear someone defend this practice without deflecting blame.

Thanks for exposing this clear attempt to intimidate citizens from exercising their rights.

Anonymous said...

Sure Rick, I can defend why it exists in the law. Ralph is involved in a business deal. Ralph also thinks it's pretty time dependent - the deal could fall apart. Norton files a law suit against Ralph (maybe Norton's a competitor trying to get in the same deal, or maybe he just doesn't like the deal), and since the law suit makes the deal unsure, Ralph can't go ahead with his deal till it's over. Ralph thinks Norton's lawsuit doesn't have any merit - maybe there's no law on Norton's side, maybe Ralph thinks Norton is alleging facts that never existed. Maybe Norton keeps trying to drag out the case, but for whatever reason, Norton loses in the trial court. Ralph berths a sigh of relief, but low and behold, Norton appeals the trial court. Ralph's lawyers tell him Norton's appeal is even more worthless that the original suit, but also tell him that Appellate Courts usually take a lot more time than trial courts. Here's where the concept of an appeal bond steps in. Ralph's lawyers tell him that they can ask the court to make Norton put up a bond, roughly equal to what Ralph will lose if the deal falls through, and Ralph still ends up wing the appeal. For he Court to grant the bond, Ralph has to prove that the appeal is 99.9% garbage - that's it's there mostly to take time - all stuff Ralph believes anyway. If the Court agrees with Ralph, it requires Norton to put his money where his mouth is and post a bond. If the Court doesn't agree, the appeal goes on without the bond. The Court is balancing Norton's absolute right to an appeal against the potential injury to Ralph, and the Court's own interest in having it's time wasted. Bullying tactic? Sure, but in Ralph's mind, Norton is the bully, while in Norton's mind, Ralph is. It's not unusual for courts to be asked to decide stuff like this.

Paul K. Ogden said...
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