Give Morristown bar brawl any name you like… except racketeering

Iron Bar owner Jimmy Cavanaugh is sparring with the Morristown Parking Authority and the 40 Park condos (the light colored building) over this alley. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Iron Bar owner Jimmy Cavanaugh is sparring with the Morristown Parking Authority and the 40 Park condos (the light colored building) over this alley. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
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Iron Bar owner Jimmy Cavanaugh has accused the Morristown Parking Authority of assorted transgressions in a legal dispute over use of an alley.

But one charge that won’t stick is racketeering.

A state judge has dismissed that part of Cavanaugh’s case against the MPA and a  condo association, which share access to a parking authority alley with Cavanaugh’s Iron Bar and Revolution establishments.

However, Cavanaugh can continue arguing that his civil rights have been violated, under a law derived from the Civil Rights Act of 1871, also known as the Ku Klux Klan Act.

Some quick history:

Cavanaugh contends the defendants’ use of the alley–for moving vans and deliveries– has interfered with deliveries and dumpster operations for his bars. The MPA says Cavanaugh has blocked the alley with his dumpsters, and failed to keep them tidy.

The MPA operates a parking garage overlooking the DeHart Street right-of-way, which it owns. In 2007, the authority granted easements for the 40 Park condos, the Metropolitan apartments and the newly opened Lofts–major pieces of the Epstein’s department store redevelopment that transformed Morristown’s downtown. A year later, Cavanaugh bought the Footlocker storefront that became the Iron Bar in 2012.

Those easements, Cavanaugh says, have diminished his rights to the alley–set forth in deeds from the 1880s.

In a lawsuit filed in late 2016, Cavanaugh alleged the defendants “engaged in a pattern of racketeering,” and their communications amounted to wire fraud under New Jersey’s Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO), a civil law based on a 1970 federal measure aimed at organized crime.  

Judge Maritza Berdote Byrne of the Chancery Division tossed that claim last month.

She also found no legal basis for Cavanaugh’s challenge of Morristown’s approvals for the Epstein’s redevelopment. And the judge ruled that the legal deadline has passed for him to charge breach of contract, “breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing,” and indemnification for those alleged breaches.

But Byrne also dismissed the parking authority’s request to dismiss the case, meaning it’s still heading for trial.

“I think she rendered a very thoughtful, thorough analysis,” said Emily Kaller, an attorney representing the MPA. “The judge recognized this in not the proper context to challenge the site plan approvals” for the condos and apartments.

Settlement talks over use of the alley are anticipated, ahead of a September trial, Kaller said.

“The parking authority is trying to have a fair use of the right of way, to regulate the use of the right of way so everyone can peacefully co-exist,” Kaller said.

Parking authority attorney Robert Goldsmith added: “We think it’s the right result, and it supports the importance of this project for the town of Morristown.”

Cavanaugh’s attorneys, Ryder Ulon and Tom Cotton, did not respond to requests for comment.

Asked how he anticipates the case playing out, Cavanaugh replied: “Don’t know. Time will tell.”

The former Essex County freeholder continues to pursue racketeering charges in a separate case against Morristown officials.

Cavanaugh sued Mayor Tim Dougherty, Councilman Stefan Armington and the town in federal court last month, alleging their imposition of curfews, roadblocks and an expansion denial have harmed his businesses.

That suit claims the Mayor’s actions were motivated partly by his “animus” over Cavanaugh suing the parking authority.

The charges are “wholly without merit,” according to Richard Trenk, a lawyer defending the federal case.

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