A New Jersey judge has refused to dismiss a lawsuit accusing the Giants and Jets football teams of improperly trying to block development near their stadium in the Meadowlands.
Bergen County Assignment Judge Peter Doyne’s ruling Monday in Ameream LLC v. New York Football Giants Inc., follows his Aug. 26 decision allowing the teams’ separate suit against the developers to proceed.
The dispute is over planned additions of an amusement park and water park to the American Dream mall, which the teams say will cause traffic gridlock on game days at MetLife Stadium.
The teams sued on May 20 for tortious interference and breach of a 2006 agreement that ended prior litigation.
The developers, Ameream LLC and Ameream Developer LLC, sued on July 9, raising similar claims plus others, including civil conspiracy for allegedly conducting a malicious public relations campaign against the project.
While allowing both suits to go ahead, Doyne expressed doubts about the merits of each side’s claims, especially those of the developers.
“Although the court has reservations about the cogency of the Teams’ tortious inference claim, it has even greater reservations about the cogency of the Developers’ theory in conjunction with its filed complaint, or even the wisdom of such an action,” he wrote Monday.
Surviving a motion to dismiss does not take much of a showing under New Jersey’s “generous and indulgent pleading standard,” Doyne noted.
When construction began on the mall in 2004, it was known as Xanadu and it had different developers, Mills Corporation and Mack-Cali.
The New Jersey Sports & Exposition Authority (NJSEA) approved Xanadu in 2004, as a 5.2-million square-foot retail, hotel and office project.
In 2005, the Giants sued those developers and the NJSEA over concerns about the traffic Xanadu would generate.
That litigation was resolved on Nov. 22, 2006 in a three-way settlement known as the Cooperation Agreement.
The developers waived objections to the building of a Giants training facility and paid the teams $15 million.
The teams committed to play in the Meadowlands for 40 years, waived their objections to the Xanadu project and agreed to cooperate with the developers’ efforts to secure permits and approvals.
The deal also required the teams’ prior written consent for changes that would adversely impact their “Stadium Project Development Rights.”
The agreement set time limits for any renewed action over traffic and a benchmark for what the teams would have to prove in order to prevail. They would have to show that fans were having a harder time entering and leaving the sports complex than experienced on average during the 2004 regular National Football League season. They would also have to return the $15 million.
In 2009, after the original developers ran into financial problems, the project was taken over by Triple Five Group, whose projects include the Mall of America outside Minneapolis, the nation’s largest shopping mall.
In 2011, Triple Five rebranded the project as the American Dream and proposed adding an indoor amusement park and water park that would be accessed through the mall via a connector bridge.
The teams sued last year after the NJSEA gave its preliminary approval.
The court kicked the dispute back to the authority for administrative handling, a process that concluded on May 17 with a decision that the additions would have no adverse effect and a go-ahead.
The teams filed their current suit and the developers followed with theirs.
In moving to dismiss, the teams argued the developers’ claims were barred by the litigation privilege and the terms of the agreement.
Doyne found the claims met the pleading standard so he did not have to decide the privilege issue at this time. He also expressed skepticism about the developers’ interpretation of the agreement, saying it “preliminarily appears not to be compellingly logical.”
The teams have not yet answered the developers’ complaint. Doyne gave them 10 days to do so.
Herbert Stern of Stern & Kilcullen in Florham Park, representing the developers, and Robert Giuffra Jr. of Sullivan & Cromwell in New York, for the team, decline comment. Giuffra referred the query to spokeswoman Karen Kessler of Evergreen Partners, who says, “Our case will continue as anticipated.”
NJSEA lawyer, Frederick Alworth, of Gibbons in Newark, did not return a call.