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Architect rejected blame for restaurateur's failed venture

Type:

Verdict-Defendant

State:

New York

Venue:

New York County

Court:

New York Supreme

Case Type:

Contracts - Breach of ContractProfessional Negligence - Architect

Case Name:

Village Joint, Inc. and Stephen Choi v. Berzak Associates Architects, P.C. and Michael David Berzak, R.A., No. 105646/07

Date:

June 25, 2013

Parties

Plaintiff(s):

Stephen Choi (Male), 

Village Joint Inc.

Plaintiff Attorney(s):

John H. Lee; McNicholas, Lee & Cestaro, P.C.; New York, NY, for Stephen Choi, Village Joint Inc. ■ Shawn M. Cestaro; McNicholas, Lee & Cestaro, P.C.; New York, NY, for Stephen Choi, Village Joint Inc.

Plaintiff Expert(s):

Vijay Kumar; P.E.; Engineering; Philadelphia, PA called by John H. Lee, Shawn M. Cestaro

Defendant(s):

Michael David Berzak, 

Berzak Associates Architects PC

Defense Attorney(s):

Kevin G. Faley; Morris, Duffy, Alonso & Faley; New York, NY, for Michael David Berzak, Berzak Associates Architects PC ■ Leigh H. Sutton; Morris, Duffy, Alonso & Faley; New York, NY, for Michael David Berzak, Berzak Associates Architects PC

Defendent Expert(s):

Denise Bekaert; Architecture; New York, NY called by Kevin G. Faley, Leigh H. Sutton

Insurer(s):

Travelers Property Casualty Corp. for both defendants

Facts:

On March 21, 2006, plaintiff Stephen Choi hired New York-based Berzak Associates Architects PC to design a renovation of a commercial building that was located at 531 E. 13th St., in Manhattan. Choi intended to convert the building to a restaurant. Berzak Associates soon submitted architectural plans to the New York City Department of Buildings. Choi quickly secured a lease for the premises and formed an ownership entity, The Village Joint Inc. Renovations subsequently commenced. On July 14, 2006, Berzak Associates learned that its architectural plans had been rejected for failing to meet local codes. The New York City Department of Buildings requested a meeting to discuss the matter and warned that renovations would be halted if the plans were not revised to satisfy codes. Berzak Associates advised that it would attempt to obtain approval of the original plans, and Choi continued the renovation. On Aug. 25, 2006, the New York City Department of Buildings issued a stop-work order. Choi directed Berzak Associates to revise its plans and discontinue its appeal of the original plans' rejection. The company submitted revised plans that allowed a maximum occupancy of 180 people. Choi claimed that the parties' initial agreement specified that the restaurant had to accommodate 200 people. He further claimed that he would not have begun renovation if he had been aware that that capacity would not be possible. He ultimately abandoned the project. Choi and the Village Joint sued Berzak Associates and its principal, Michael Berzak. Choi alleged that the defendants' actions constituted professional negligence and a breach of contract. Choi claimed that the parties' contract specified that the restaurant had to accommodate 200 people. He further claimed that he commenced and continued renovations based on the defendants' assurances that the architectural plans would be approved as submitted. Choi's counsel contended that the plans deviated from professional standards, given that they violated local codes. Choi also claimed that the stop-work order was a result of the defendants' failure to timely address the New York City Department of Buildings' concerns. In response, defense counsel claimed that the defendants promptly pursued a meeting to address those concerns, but that the meeting was delayed because Choi had not paid a fine that stemmed from a previous, unrelated violation. Defense counsel further claimed that the defendants pursued the meeting within 24 hours of the fine having been paid. The defense's expert architect contended that municipal agencies commonly object to architectural plans and that an objection does not establish architectural malpractice or negligence. Defense counsel also claimed that the parties' contract did not include a guarantee regarding the restaurant's desired capacity. They claimed that the parties understood that the capacity was subject to the New York City Department of Buildings' approval.

Injury:

Choi claimed that the defendants' architectural plans did not satisfy his business plan and that he secured a lease, formed a corporation and commenced renovations based on the defendants' assurances that their plans would be approved. He sought recovery of $2,977,390.84, which comprised $2,610,400 for lost profits and $366,990.84 for renovations costs.

Result:

The jury rendered a defense verdict.

Trial Information:

Judge:

Anil C. Singh

Demand:

$400,000

Offer:

None

Trial Deliberations:

1  hours

Jury Vote:

6-0

Post Trial:

Editor's Comment:

This report is based on court documents and information that was provided by defense counsel. Plaintiffs' counsel did not respond to the reporter's phone calls.