City Expects Settlement Offer From Chill-Can Developer

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – The city’s law director says that he anticipates M.J. Joseph Development Corp. will submit a proposal next week to settle the ongoing legal dispute over the stalled Chill-Can project.

“It’s my understanding that their counsel will provide us with a settlement offer on Monday,” Jeff Limbian said after the parties met in a mediation and pre-trial session in Mahoning County Common Pleas Court Tuesday. “We’ll have a better sense then if negotiations will be fruitful.”

Attorneys representing the city and M.J. Joseph engaged in a virtual mediation conference Tuesday that also included a representative from the company, Limbian said.

Mitchell Joseph, chairman and CEO of Joseph Co. International, the development company’s parent based in Irvine, Calif., was not a party to the mediation discussion, Limbian said.

“So, that complicates matters,” he noted. “I couldn’t guess where it’s headed at this point. We’re hoping to have a clearer picture on Monday.”

Limbian said details of a proposed settlement were not discussed and he declined to speculate, leaving the matter unresolved as of now.

The city and the M.J. Joseph have been locked in a legal battle for more than a year over the company’s plans to develop a $20 million campus on the east side that would manufacture the world’s first self-chilling can. The project was to also include research and development to advance self-chilling technology.

The city and Joseph Development entered into two agreements in 2017 whereas the city would provide incentives in return for the project’s completion and the creation of 237 jobs by August of 2021.

At issue is an agreement signed in 2017 that awarded M.J. Joseph a $1.5 million development grant from the city to help prepare the project site. The money was used for the site, but the developer has failed to complete the project and to create the specified number of jobs it promised.

Just three unfinished buildings were constructed at a 21-acre plot along Lane Avenue, none of which are occupied. The company reported to the city last year that a single employee has been hired.

The city maintains that M.J. Joseph has defaulted on the agreements and says the company must repay the $1.5 million, plus another $700,000 the city spent on acquisition of property, demolition and relocation assistance for the project.

Attorneys for Joseph filed a lawsuit against the city in May 2021, arguing that language in the contracts limit any restitution to land, and not monetary compensation.

The city countersued the following month, requesting the court award it more than $2.2 million in damages plus the right to reclaim the land.

Brian Kopp, the attorney representing M.J. Joseph Corp., did not return an email seeking comment on Tuesday.

Two weeks ago, Kopp and the city’s attorney, Thomas Hull of Manchester, Bennett and Newman, squared off in the case’s first hearing before Magistrate Dennis J. Sarisky.

Each party is asking the court to rule whether the city can ask for monetary damages in the case.

Sarisky has yet to issue a ruling on the matter. A trial is scheduled for Oct. 17.

Copyright 2022 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.