U.S. District Court Judge John Michael Vazquez has dismissed a lawsuit filed against Jersey City which claimed the city breached agreements related to One Journal Square, and alleged that delays in allowing the project to go forward resulted from an anti-President Donald Trump agenda by the city administration.
The suit claimed the city’s actions violated the developer’s constitutional rights, including freedom of speech and freedom of association.
The lawsuit, filed last year by One Journal Square Partners Urban Renewal Company LLC, One Journal Square Tower North Urban Renewal Company LLC, and One Journal Square Tower South Urban Renewal Company LLC, involves the One Journal Square development, a $900 million project whose principal investors include Kushner Companies LLC.
Jared Kushner was the CEO of Kushner Companies LLC until Jan. 9, 2017, when he was named a senior advisor to President Trump
In April of 2015, the city and the developers entered into a redevelopment agreement to enable construction of two residential towers, one 70-story and one 50-story, with a total of 3,000 residential units, standing above an 11-story base containing 160,000 square feet of commercial space and a 1,500-space parking garage.
In April 2018, the Jersey City Redevelopment Agency issued the developer a Notice of Default which claimed the developers failed to meet their obligations under the redevelopment agreement in three ways.
The city said the developers failed to begin construction in a timely manner, failed to submit evidence of financing commitments in a timely manner, and failed to satisfy other agreed-upon contingencies that included securing government funding and approval.
But the developers responded that the notice asserts “frivolous” violations of the redevelopment agreement and charged that the JCRA’s true motivation was political animus towards Jared Kushner and President Trump in violation of the first amendment, specifically freedom of association and freedom of speech.
The judge’s opinion, filed Aug. 7, concluded the developer’s claims against Jersey City contained “no plausibly asserted constitutional violation.”
“Plaintiffs fail to plausibly plead that defendants issued the Notice because of Jared Kushner’s affiliation (or the Kushner family’s affiliation, generally) with the Trump Administration or President Trump,” wrote Vazquez.
He also dismissed six additional claims under New Jersey state law for lack of jurisdiction.
“The court saw right through the smoke and mirrors, and we stood firm, refusing to be bullied regardless of a company’s name,” said Mayor Steven Fulop. “Our decisions are always in our resident’s best interest, and we were not about to back down despite the many, very public attempts to drag my name and the city’s credibility through the mud.”
“The complaint was nothing but a veiled attempt to hide the Plaintiffs’ contractual shortcomings by trying to blame it on Mayor Fulop and an alleged political animus,” said Victor Afanador of Lite DePalma Greeberg, LLC, the outside counsel representing Jersey City. “The plaintiffs alleged various baseless constitutional violations to bolster what at most amounts to a mere contract dispute that has no business in federal court. This is a major victory for the city and the municipal defendants.”
The ruling potentially saves the city millions of dollars in attorney and other fees, and to that end Corporation Counsel Peter Baker said, “We’re very pleased the judge’s decision which ultimately protects the taxpayers and the community as a whole.”