Fourth Circuit affirms dismissal of World Trade Center development lawsuit

By Karen Kidd | Feb 26, 2017

NEW ORLEANS — A Florida businessman's litigation blocking World Trade Center development appears to be headed to the Louisiana Supreme Court, but the winning bidder's spokesman has claimed validation in a recent appeals-court decision.

"Today’s unanimous and strongly worded 4th Circuit ruling validates our contention that the plaintiff has no legitimate legal case and that this transformational project needs to move forward," Greg Beuerman, spokesperson for winning bidder Carpenter-Woodward, said during a Louisiana Record email interview Wednesday, Feb. 15.

That day, Louisiana's 4th Circuit Court of Appeal affirmed Orleans Civil District Judge Tiffany Chase's Nov. 21 dismissal of the case after Stuart "Neil" Fisher, president of Two Canal Street Investors, didn't appear for a hearing that day and did not send counsel. Fisher, who has never responded to any Louisiana Record requests for comment, later claimed in a report by The Advocate that he didn't appear because he'd not yet retained counsel to replace the law firm that had withdrawn from his case in October.

Fisher, now being represented by Varadi, Hair & Checki in New Orleans, based much of his appeal on the turnover of this legal representation, but the 4th Circuit was not moved. The court's decision said Fisher had ample time to obtain new counsel before the Nov. 21 hearing and that Chase had not abused her discretion in the matter and there was no merit to Fisher's due process argument.

"The trial court found that when Mr. Fisher bought the rights to TCSI, it was not a valid corporation, that Mr. Fisher did so for the purpose of filing this lawsuit to extract money from the defendants, and that this constituted an 'abuse of process'," the appeals-court decision said. "At the time of the trial court's Nov. 21, 2016 judgment of dismissal, TCSI still had no board, no stock, no bylaws, no bank account, and it was still under the complete control of Mr. Fisher, TCSI's sole shareholder and director."

Fisher has since said to the Times-Picayune he plans to appeal the case, now well into its second year, to the Louisiana Supreme Court.

The litigation has been a costly waste of time, Beuerman said.

"To date, TCSI’s frivolous lawsuit and abuse of the legal process has cost the city and state $30 million and 2,000 badly needed construction and permanent jobs," he said.

Fisher's case is difficult for his new counsel because Chase dismissed the case with prejudice, which meant the specific allegations in the case could not be raised, The Advocate reported. Instead, Fisher's attorney could only challenge the dismissal itself. The appeals-court decision has left the plaintiff with few avenues of challenge before the state Supreme Court.

Wednesday's ruling marked the second time in less than a year that the 4th Circuit Court of Appeal upheld a ruling in the case by Chase. On April 20, as the Louisiana Record previously reported, the 4th Circuit found for the city of New Orleans, named defendants in a lawsuit filed by Two Canal Street Investors, losing bidders in the former World Trade Center development. In that ruling, the 4th Circuit affirmed Chase's denial of Two Canal Street Investors' motion for preliminary injunction to stop Four Seasons' development from moving forward.

The 4th Circuit's most recent decision also means the case is that much closer to finally being over, Beuerman said.

"This resounding legal victory brings us one step closer to making this important economic development project a reality,” he said.

On Dec. 20, World Trade Center of New Orleans current and former executives issued a call for expedited progress in the redevelopment, saying Fisher's litigation should stop and the $400 million project be allowed to move forward, the Louisiana Record reported.

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