Evidence dispute in 20 Fed case heats up


Staff writer

YOUNGSTOWN — The city disputes claims in a court filing from Carrier Services Group, the last tenant at 20 Federal Place, that it is withholding evidence in an eviction lawsuit.

CSG, a technology company, is seeking more than $500,000 from the city saying its property and equipment were damaged during the eviction.

The city states it properly evicted CSG after a judge ruled it was permitted to do so and any damage that occurred was the responsibility of the company because it refused to remove items while a $7.65 million remediation project occurs at the downtown building at 20 W. Federal St.

Stephen Pruneski, CSG’s attorney, asked Judge Maureen Sweeney and Magistrate Dennis J. Sarisky of Mahoning County Common Pleas Court to intervene in the case “and order the city of Youngstown and its employees to properly respond to the discovery requests served upon them in this matter. The city has purposely avoided” provided valid requests.

Pruneski also claimed the city “purposely and intentionally dumped spam emails on CSG to force them to incur additional time and expense to review the production.”

CSG is seeking an order from the court to compel the city to respond to the request for evidence as well as attorney fees “incurred to correct the city and its employees’ improper conduct.”

Adam Buente, the city’s deputy law director, asked the court to deny CSG’s motion.

“Through this voluminous, unduly burdensome and often irrelevant discovery, Carrier is attempting to make a federal case out of what is otherwise straightforward breach of contract action,” he wrote. “The city should not be compelled to bow to Carrier’s whims.”

Sweeney on Dec. 6 upheld the Aug. 23 decision of Sarisky that Youngstown could evict Carrier as long as it gave the company 30 days’ notice as required under its expired lease. The eviction notice has since been given.

CSG sought all correspondence between itself and the city regarding 20 Federal Place with Buente writing that it already has that in its possession.

“The city should not be compelled to expand resourcing in reproducing them,” he wrote.

As for the spam email complaint, Buente wrote: “Carrier made extensive requests regarding written communications. In the spirit of full transparency, the city law department asked its IT department to search the entire city email database for any email containing the word ‘Carrier.’ This produced an unremarkable 1,295 pages of emails.” He acknowledged some of the pages “were not relevant.”

Buente added: “Assuming it took five seconds per page to realize each of the irrelevant emails were not responsive, that’s approximately 40 minutes of review. Carrier has already done this and thus has approximately 600 pages of relevant documents at its disposal.”

A jury trial in this case is set for Oct. 29 with an Aug. 23 mediation scheduled in an effort to resolve the dispute before the trial.

The city-owned building is undergoing an asbestos abatement and partial demolition project, estimated to cost $7.65 million with $6.96 million coming from a state grant.

The city also provided $2.32 million to pay for the remaining cost of the project, architectural fees, project management and costs related to trying to seek additional grants for the building.

The project started in April 2023 and has been repeatedly delayed.

The project’s “substantial completion” date is Monday, Charles Shasho, the city’s deputy director of public works, recently said.

Demolition work to the rear of the building requires masonry work to close that space and that won’t be done until May 31, Shasho said.

Because of the work, the city removed and damaged CSG’s fiber optic lines, computer servers and equipment when the company wouldn’t remove them.

City officials said the fiber optic line and the power were cut and Carrier didn’t notice either for about two weeks and it was more than a week after the equipment was moved to the city’s traffic engineering building on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard before the company realized that occurred.

Sarisky denied Carrier’s request for a temporary restraining order to restore possession of its office at 20 Federal Place because the city didn’t violate the lease agreement and to have the company return to its space “is an impossibility” because it “no longer exists due to constructions and renovations by the city.”

Sarisky wrote Carrier’s “remedy is damages, at this point, for the destruction of the leased premises.”

Carrier hasn’t had a valid lease since Sept. 30, 2020, when an old contract expired, and the company failed to renew on a timely basis, Sarisky ruled Aug. 23 and Sweeney upheld Dec. 6.

Pruneski argued the city accepted payments from the company for renewals for 2021 and 2022 and that Carrier paid yearly and not monthly for nine years.

Invoices for 2021, 2022 and 2023 were given to Carrier by Joyce Gorsky, who worked for the city as an independent contractor assisting with 20 Federal Place tenants.

Sarisky agreed with city officials that only the three-member board of control can renew leases and that wasn’t done with Carrier.

The city filed the Carrier lawsuit May 11 after the company refused to leave.

There were 19 tenants, taking up about 20% of the 332,000-square-foot building before eviction notices were sent in July 2022. Some of the tenants received extensions.

The city permitted Carrier to remain the longest of any of the tenants but sought to evict it Jan. 3, 2023.

The city purchased the building in November 2004 after Phar-Mor, a national retail store company, went out of business. The property was the Phar-Mor Centre, the company’s corporate headquarters. Before that, it was the flagship location of Strouss’ department store for several decades.

The city has unsuccessfully tried to sell the building in the past and is seeking a redeveloper for it now.

Have an interesting story? Contact David Skolnick by email at dskolnick@vindy.com. Follow him on X, formerly Twitter, @dskolnick.


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