NORWALK, Conn. – Real estate broker Jason Milligan’s attempt to invalidate the Redevelopment Agency’s Wall Street/West Avenue area plan hit a significant road bump Wednesday – Judge Sheila Ozalis ruled against him, without a trial.
Milligan lost the motion for summary judgment, a request that the judge rule on the case rather than allow it to go to trial, filed by Redevelopment Agency in October. Ozalis ruled that Milligan’s arguments were invalid, so case closed.
It’s not over for Milligan. “My legal team and I feel very confident on our appeal,” he said.
Milligan, in December 2020, after losing multiple legal motions like this one, said, “It is a well-known fact that summary judgement is seldom granted in the state of Connecticut.”
On Wednesday, Milligan called the win for Redevelopment “a minor victory in a very long battle.”
On Thursday, Attorney Dan Elliot, who represents the Redevelopment Agency, released a statement.
“We are very proud of the professionals at the Redevelopment Agency and all the work that they do for the City of Norwalk. We are delighted by the Court’s decision, which has fully disposed of Mr. Milligan’s claims against the Agency. We are confident that the Court’s very detailed and thorough decision will be upheld on appeal, should Mr. Milligan choose to continue pursuing litigation,” Elliot said.
Milligan, under the legal entity IJ Group, filed the legal challenge to the Wall/West neighborhood plan in April 2019, alleging that due process was not followed in the plan’s creation and approval and accusing the City and the Redevelopment Agency of fraud. He also made accusations against consulting firms the Redevelopment Agency had hired to assist in the creation of the plan, pleading a total 16 counts.
IJ Group is said in court documents to have two members: Milligan and Daniel Groff, both New Canaan residents. Milligan has testified that Groff is a silent partner.
Milligan withdrew his claims against the City two months after filing the lawsuit. Ozalis explains in Wednesday’s ruling that the only count left in the lawsuit was the one alleging that the redevelopment plan is invalid. All the other counts had been stricken or withdrawn.
Ozalis, in the 33-page decision, meticulously details Milligan’s arguments and declares them invalid. She mentions Milligan’s assertion in December 2019 that former Norwalk Director of Community Development Planning Tami Strauss should “hire a good lawyer and prepare” herself because she had “a lot of explaining to do!” Ozalis said she is unaware of “any criminal investigation into Strauss’ conduct that would result in charges as to which she might be found ‘guilty.’”
In discussing Milligan’s claim that he was denied his right to public participation in the plan, Ozalis recounts evidence that Milligan participated in a monthly meeting regarding its development in July 2018, before IJ Group bought 67 and 69 Wall St., the properties he claims are damaged by the plan. He spoke frequently with Strauss throughout the plan’s development process, the evidence shows, according to Ozalis.
Ozalis states that Milligan failed to “present the necessary factual predicate” that Redevelopment “acted unreasonably, in bad faith or abused its power in finding a lawful redevelopment area.”
For a judge to grant summary judgment, the important facts must be established, and the decision made on the legal merits, a local lawyer has explained. The lawyer generally agreed that it’s difficult to win a motion for summary judgment in Connecticut state courts.
“The Redevelopment Agency summary judgement is the opposite of limited to just the law. It reads like a novel with heroes and villains and pages and pages of unrelated information,” Milligan said in November.
Milligan presented his side of the story in December when he replied to Redevelopment’s motion. He said no one could read it and “walk away saying the city & Agency acted properly… Nothing to see here.”
On Wednesday, after Ozalis ruled against him, he continued attacking the motion’s legitimacy.
For starters, the appeal will argue “that there are a tremendous number of facts in dispute,” Milligan wrote.
He named several alleged “facts in dispute.” The “biggest” ones, he said, are “whether the Redevelopment Agency complied with the statute.”
“Is potential lead paint equivalent to ‘containing a defect’ or must a building actually CONTAIN lead paint? And / OR must there actually be significant lead paint in a residential building where children are present that is in a dangerous condition?” Milligan wrote.
“Lead paint” is mentioned 13 times in Ozalis’ decision.
Consultants “concluded that 147 buildings of the 389 properties in the redevelopment area were suspected of containing lead paint,” she wrote.
The statute doesn’t say anything about lead paint but instead says “must ‘CONTAIN’ one or more building defects,” Milligan wrote. “The RDA or their consultants never actually ever tested for lead which is a very quick, easy and inexpensive process. It takes minutes to scan an entire building with a special laser.”
He wrote, “My legal team and I feel very confident on our appeal. The most unfortunate part of the ruling is the amount of time that will be added to the lawsuits.”
Milligan is being sued by the City and Redevelopment Agency over his 2018 purchase of POKO properties that were slated to become part of the Wall Street Place development.
“Now team Mario is going to feel even more emboldened by this ruling, but the truth is that nothing really changes and we still have years of litigation head of us,” Milligan wrote Wednesday. “The only people winning in long protracted litigation are the attorneys. Everyone else loses.”
Corporation Counsel Mario Coppola spoke about the “POKO lawsuit” in March while discussing the legal department’s budget with the Board of Estimate and Taxation.
The defendants are “pretty much doing everything possible to delay, delay, delay,” Coppola said. “So, we could be talking about this in 2024.”
He also said that if the City prevails, “there’s going to be significant funds that come to the City.”
Updated, 2:13 p.m.: More information.