Court Gives Chill Can Developer 30 Days to Find New Lawyers

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – The 7th District Court of Appeals has told the developer of the idle Chill Can project to secure new legal representation and file a brief before the court by Jan. 26 or risk having its appeal in an ongoing legal matter dismissed.

In a judgment entry filed Dec. 22, the appellate court approved a motion filed earlier this month from attorneys Brain Kopp and Justin Markota of Betras, Kopp and Markota LLC asking that they be withdrawn as counsel for M.J. Joseph Development Corp. 

Kopp and Markota represented Joseph in a lawsuit filed against the developer by MS Consultants Inc., an engineering and architectural firm based in Columbus but has offices in Youngstown. The company claims it is owed $322,907 for work it completed on the stalled Chill Can project but was never paid.

According to the latest filing, the appeals court noted that M.J. Joseph’s brief is overdue and that the company must find new counsel and file the brief within the next 30 days. The merit brief was due Dec. 6, the day the attorneys filed their request for withdrawal.

“Failure to file the appellant’s brief by January 26, 2024, may result in dismissal of the appeal for failure to prosecute and failure to comply with the appellate rules,” the judgment said.

The court on March 20 issued a default judgment in favor of MS Consultants, ordering M.J. Joseph to pay the engineering firm $322,907.54, plus 18% interest calculated since Oct. 5, 2018, according to court documents.

M.J. Joseph appealed the decision to the 7th District Court of Appeals, but the court dismissed it, citing the filing as untimely. However, it was revealed that the filing was improperly time stamped by the clerk’s office. The appeal has since been reinstated and is now before the 7th District.

Kopp and Markota have also asked the Mahoning County Common Pleas Court to approve their motions to withdraw as counsel for M.J. Joseph in two other legal matters.

Mahoning County Common Pleas Judge John Durkin on Dec. 13 granted the attorneys’ requests to withdraw from a separate foreclosure action that MS Consultants filed against the company in July. MS Consultants is asking a court to approve a lien on property at the Chill Can development and that certain parcels be sold. The proceeds of the sale would be used to repay the company. 

Those proceedings have been stayed for 30 days so M.J. Joseph has time to obtain substitute counsel, according to court papers.

The attorneys have also asked the court to be removed from M.J. Joseph’s protracted legal battle with the city of Youngstown. That motion is still pending before Judge Maureen Sweeney’s court.

Kopp has represented the company since June 2021, when M.J. Joseph, anticipating legal action by the city of Youngstown, filed a complaint against the city in May of that year. That complaint asked for a declaratory judgment against the city that would prohibit it from collecting more than $2 million from the developer for breach of contract. 

The city countersued the following month, seeking a $1.5 million repayment of a development grant it awarded the developer in 2017. The city also sought an additional $733,480 to compensate for costs it incurred for demolition and relocation expenses. 

Mitchell Joseph, M.J. Joseph CEO, had pledged in 2016 to invest nearly $20 million to construct a technology and manufacturing campus on 22 acres on the East Side that would produce self-chilling beverage cans and employ more than 230 people. Three empty buildings were constructed, and the project has yielded just a single employee. Not a single can was produced.

In November 2022, Judge Maureen Sweeney upheld an earlier ruling by Magistrate Dennis Sarisky that ordered M.J. Joseph to repay the city. In July of this year, the court also awarded the city another $733,480 in sanctions related to the stalled project.

Kopp and Markota did not disclose in their motions a reason for their requests to withdraw as counsel.

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.