Judge ends Chill-Can court saga

YOUNGSTOWN — A judge made it official: closing Youngstown’s case against the owners of the idled Chill-Can plant location after awarding the city $2.23 million in sanctions and damages.

The city doesn’t believe it can collect the money owed by M.J. Joseph Development Corp., which owns the Chill-Can property, Deputy Law Director Lou D’Apolito said after a magistrate determined May 2 that the case was essentially over.

The city is focusing on a foreclosure case seeking to obtain the 21 acres owned by the company, D’Apolito said.

Mitchell Joseph, the head of M.J. Joseph and affiliated companies, claimed when the project broke ground in November 2016 on the city’s lower East Side that the facility would cost about $18.8 million and be in full operation by 2018 to produce the world’s only self-chilling beverage can.

The city paid property owners to leave their homes on the land needed for the supposed plant, demolished structures and gave $1.5 million in water and wastewater grants to M.J. Joseph as well as a tax abatement.

M.J. Joseph was required under an agreement with the city to construct four buildings and create 237 jobs by Aug. 31. 2021.

There are three unfinished buildings at the undeveloped site.

Judge Maureen Sweeney of Mahoning County Common Pleas Court was waiting to close the case until after the city chose not to seek attorney fees. D’Apolito said like the $2.23 million already owed to the city, M.J. Joseph wasn’t going to pay the attorney fees.

In a Wednesday judgment entry, Sweeney wrote: “This case is resolved and closed” after the city chose “not to go forward on seeking any additional relief above and beyond” the $1.5 million in damages that M.J. Joseph owes the city for the grants and a $733,481 sanction. The sanction is $414,948 the city spent on acquiring 15 properties bought for the failed project, which included relocation expenses, and $318,533 in demolition and abatement costs.

Sweeney wrote: “All claims and counterclaims in this case are fully resolved. Court costs are to be assessed against (M.J. Joseph). There is no just cause for delay.”

Since M.J. Joseph’s attorneys, Brian Kopp and Justin Markota, requested Sept. 11 in three different lawsuits that they be permitted to withdraw from the cases, likely over nonpayment of fees, the company hasn’t hired new legal counsel and has ignored court deadlines and hearings.

The foreclosure case was initiated by MS Consultants Inc. on July 12 to seize M.J. Joseph’s property after winning a lower court case on a breach-of-contract lawsuit. There are six other parties in the foreclosure case with an interest in the property, including the city.

The 7th District Court of Appeals on Feb. 20 dismissed M.J. Joseph’s appeal of Sweeney’s March 20, 2023, ruling that the company breached a contract for MS to do design work on the supposed project and owned $322,908.

M.J. Joseph ignored that appeal, leading to its dismissal, and isn’t responding to the foreclosure case.

Youngstown filed a $2.8 million lawsuit June 17, 2021, contending M.J. Joseph failed to live up to its promises to develop the site. In a March 29, 2021, certified letter, the city informed Joseph he had 60 days to construct a number of buildings and hire about 150 workers or it would file a lawsuit.

Knowing the city’s lawsuit was coming, M.J. Joseph and Joseph Manufacturing Co. Inc., a sister company, filed a May 24, 2021, lawsuit against Youngstown seeking to stop it from reclaiming the $1.5 million in grants and contested the city’s legal rights to money, property and buildings.

Sweeney ended that lawsuit Wednesday.

In the city’s lawsuit, it also sought at least $575,000 in income tax revenue the supposed project was anticipated to owe. That lawsuit stated the “full amount of lost income tax revenue will be proven at trial,” but the city estimated it lost about $18,333 a month. At that rate, the city would have lost about $600,000 in additional income tax revenue.

The city chose not to pursue that part of the lawsuit.

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


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