Judge Upholds Sanctions Against Chill Can Developer

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Mahoning County Common Pleas Judge Maureen Sweeney on Friday upheld an earlier decision by a court magistrate that ordered the developer of the ill-fated Chill Can project to pay the city more than $733,400 in sanctions.

According to a judgment entry dated March 29, the court found that M.J. Joseph Corp. failed to provide adequate responses to the multiple requests for documents related to its prolonged litigation with the city.

As such, the court affirmed a ruling by Magistrate Dennis Sarisky in July of last year that awarded the city $733,480.80 in sanctions. 

Sweeney’s judgment cited M.J. Joseph’s actions as “consistently insufficient and inappropriate throughout the course of this litigation,” and the company’s behavior “necessitated multiple discovery motions which had to be decided by this court and have materially delayed the process of this lawsuit and prejudiced the city of Youngstown.”

The sanctions are in addition to a court order in November 2022 that found M.J. Joseph was in breach of contract and owed the city $1.5 million.

In March 2021, the city notified M.J. Joseph and its CEO, Mitchell Joseph, that it was in breach of development and enterprise zone agreements the parties signed in 2017. Under the development agreement, the city awarded the company $1.5 million to prepare a 22-acre site on the East Side for a manufacturing and research campus that would produce self-chilling beverage cans.

The project was supposed to create more than 230 jobs. The company today lists just one employee, and three buildings remain empty at the site more than six years later.

Anticipating a lawsuit, M.J. Joseph filed a complaint in May 2021 against the city, saying it wasn’t entitled to a refund of the $1.5 million.

The city countersued for return of the grant money, plus $414,948 in property acquisition and relocation costs, and another $318,523 in demolition and abatement expenses the city incurred for the project. 

According to earlier filings, the city also seeks return of the land and buildings now on the site.

M.J. Joseph’s attorneys have since withdrawn from the case, and the company has shown no signs of securing new legal counsel. Efforts to contact Joseph Co. International, the parent of M.J. Joseph, based in Irvine, California, were unsuccessful since its listed phone number has apparently been disconnected. The company’s website also appears to be deactivated.

A Common Pleas Court in March of 2023 also ordered that M.J. Joseph pay engineering firm MS Consultants $322,907.54 for work that company said it was never paid related to the Chill-Can project. In February, the 7th District Court of Appeals dismissed M.J. Joseph’s appeal, leaving the order intact.

Meanwhile, MS Consultants and a Columbus-area investor, Richard Briskey, are parties in an ongoing foreclosure action against M.J. Joseph. The complaint wants the court to order the property sold and the parties paid from the sale’s proceeds.

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.