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Century SLAPP Suit Pushed to April 2009

September 22, 2008 Century Building 4 Comments

The trial against downtown residents Roger Plackemeier & Marcia Behrendt, both friends of mine, over past efforts to save the historic Century Building had been scheduled to start today.  However, according to MO Casenet, the trial has been pushed to April 27, 2009 – over four years after the suit was first filed on April 19, 2005.

I believe the case to be a classic SLAPP suit – a strategic lawsuit against public participation (see wiki entry).  In the case Plackemeier & Behrendt are charged with “malicious prosecution.” Presumably the city & state, through agencies, have unlimited funds to pursue these two individuals for years.


Century Case Set for Trial Next Month

August 14, 2008 Century Building 9 Comments

Even though the historic Century Building has been razed for a few years (replaced by yet another downtown parking garage), the legal issues continue. Downtown residents (and friends of mine) Marcia Behrendt & Roger Plackemeier had filed cases questioning the project’s procedures back around 2002. They had sought to save the Century from the wrecking ball. After the building was razed the entities responsible turned around and sued Behrendt & Plackemeier in April 2005 for “malicious prosecution”. Myself and others consider this to be nothing more than a SLAPP suit.

In December 2007 I updated you on the status of this case. At the time the plaintiff’s (The Missouri Development Finance Board, The Land Clearance for Redevelopment Authority of the City of St Louis, NSG Developers LLC, and St Louis Custom House and Post Office Bldg and Associates) filed motions to add another count and to add Behrendt’s & Plackemeirer’s lawyer, Matt Ghio, as a third defendant. Ghio filed a motion for summary judgment to have the whole case thrown out. I was there in the court room as the lawyers presented their arguments before the judge.

According to Missouri’s Case.net judge McCullin denied these motions on March 26th. The case is now set for a 4-day jury trial starting on September 22nd before Judge Thomas C. Grady. I’ve got work and class at SLU but you can be sure I’ll find some time to stick my head in the courtroom that week

Update 8/16/08 @ 8:15pm:

After the above post I received the following from a reliable source:

Just to clarify, Judge Grady is the judge in Division 1. Div. 1 is where civil cases get assigned to a trial division, so the case will not be tried there.

The Century Bldg. case has been what’s called “peremptorily set,” which means Judge Grady will assign it to one of our trial divisions in a couple of weeks.

Check Casenet again in a couple of weeks to see what division it’s going to (or shoot me an email to remind me and I’ll look it up)


Century Building Case Continues Wind Through Court System

Yesterday I spent a half hour sitting in a courtroom listening to lawyers support and counter arguments in the case against two friends of mine, Marcia Behrendt and Roger Plackemeier.  Each filed lawsuits a number of years ago once it was realized developers sought to raze the historic Century Building for a parking garage.

Ultimately the developers got their financing and began demolishing the long-standing building — the very one the city had only a few years earlier told the then owner it should not be razed for parking. That started on the evening of October 20, 2004 — they had to quickly damage the building beyond repair.  As Behrendt & Plackemeier had sought to save the building, the one remaining and active suit was dropped.
In April 2005 the state (via the Missouri Development Finance Board) the city (via the Land Clearance for Redevelopment Authority), the developers NSG Developers LLC and St. Louis US Custom House and Post Office Building and Associates (aka Steve Stogel and Mark Schnuck) decided to sue Behrendt & Plackemeier, claiming “malicious prosecution.”

Recently they are asking the court to name attorney Matt Ghio as a defendant as well.  By doing so, he could represent himself but not B&P.  Doug Down, now representing NSG and the Post Office Associates, made Ghio out to look like an evil lawyer run amuck – handing out bad advice to B&P.  Dowd then told judge Donald McCullin that they’d sue Ghio individually if he were not added a defendant.  Ghio, in rebuttal, indicated this simply proved the developers, state and city sought to separate Ghio from defending B&P.  Ghio, having been involved in these cases for a good five years or so, knows all the issues quite clearly — that removing him would “prejudice his clients.”

Before Judge McCullin now are motions from each side.  The plaintiffs (developers, city, state) seek to add Ghio as a defendant (a motion to leave) as well as add another charge of “abuse of process” to B&P.  The defendants (B&P) filed a “motion for summary judgment” — asking the judge to throw out the case all together.  I’ll keep everyone posted once the judge makes his ruling on these motions.

[Photo by Alan Brunettin from Remember the Century pictorial.]


Legal Wrangling Over Century Building and Parking Garage that Mocks the Century Continues

Readers of the St. Louis Business Journal were treated last week to another of their one-sided near press release type articles, this time an update on the latest in the lawsuits between interested parties of the 9th Street Garage (that over lit monstrosity facing the Old Post Office) and two citizens that happen to be friends of mine, Marcia Behrendt & Roger Plackemeier. The latest? Well, the developers (and city and state agencies) are filing a motion to have attorney Matt Ghio named as a defendant as well.

I should back up a bit here and explain how we got to where we are today. In short, Behrendt & Plackemeier both sued a long list of people over the plan to raze the Century Building for the construction of a parking garage. Various lawsuits focused on process, such as approvals, as well as the official downtown plan which indicated no parking garage should face the Old Post Office. Behrendt & Plackemeier were seeking to save the Century Building which was individually listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Once the building demolition was underway, as these citizens could not post bond sufficient to get a restraining order, their suits became moot. However, the developers and others came back and sued them with malicious prosecution. This is basically a legal way of suing if someone sues you with no basis — if they sued you simply to be disruptive. However, in the case of Behrendt & Plackemeier I know that they were seeking to save a historic structure from meeting an untimely mess and to protect their personal property interests. Proving Behrendt and Plackemeier had no foundation for their lawsuits it a tough legal challenge. This brings us current.

Now, the Business Journal is talking about a motion filed by the developers seeking to name Behrendt & Plackemeier’s attorney Matt Ghio as a defendant. They seek to add two counts of “abuse of process” to the claim of malicious prosecution. Although the developers just filed their motion and the judge has not ruled, later in the article writer Christopher Tritto calls them a “trio of defendants.” Uh, maybe it is best to wait for the judge to determine that?

Today the garage is finished and damn if it ain’t boring as, well, a parking garage. Recently I was at a function on the top of the Metropolitan Building and the most visible building downtown was this parking structure. The lighting level are so bright we don’t even need street lights. At least it doesn’t have mag wheels attached to it like the one over on 7th. The Old Post Office Square area is also boring, very little to do. The most visibly active of the tenants in the building is the Pasta House Pronto which seldom has any customers on the times I’ve been there. The razing of the Century and construction of yet another downtown parking garage is Slay’s equal to Schoemehl’s Gateway One decision — controversial at the time and in hindsight a very poor decision.

I personally applaud Behrendt & Plackemeier for their continued fight in this battle. Of course, when you are being sued for a million dollars you kinda have to keep fighting.


Century Building SLAPP Suit in Court Today

Judge Ohmer today considered two motions in the case alleging two downtown residents of “malicious prosecution.” Marcia Behrendt and Roger Plackemeier were plaintiffs in a number of cases against the players behind the razing of the Century Building and the Old Post Office Project. By coincidence, today is the one-year anniversary of the wrecking ball striking the Century.

After the Century was razed the players: the Missouri Development Finance Board; the Land Clearance Redevelopment Authority of the City of St. Louis; NSG Developers LLC; and St. Louis’ U.S. Custom House and Old Post Office Building Associates, L.P. filed their malicious prosecution case against Behrendt and Plackemeier, seeking over a million dollars in damages.

From the Defendant’s Special Motion for Summary Judgement

“Upon information and belief, the Plaintiffs malicious prosecution suit is nothing more than an attempt by the City of St. Louis, the State of Missouri and two developers, Mark Schnuck and Steve Stogel, to punish and intimidate citizens from exercising their constitutional rights to speech, petition, and access to the courts. This suit against citizens whose speech against a government project at public hearings and meetings resulted in the filings of litigation to challenge the project is a SLAPP suit dressed up as a malicious prosecution cause of action.”

Today Judge Ohmer issued a stay in the plaintiff’s request for discovery. Judge Ohmer also heard arguments in the defendant’s motion for Summary Judgement (a form of dismissal). Matthew Ghio, attorney for the defendants, said he does not expect a ruling until sometime next year. Both sides have indicated they will appeal if they lose the motion for Summary Judgement. Thus, the litigation against Behrendt and Plackemeier could last for another couple of years.

– Steve