Municipal authorities in Warren, PA recently settled a $2.5 million case with a food manufacturer after a Third Circuit ruling ( Pellegrino Food Products Companyv. City of Warren, Civil Action No. 00-153) confirming that the manufacturer had the right to pursue a jury trial alleging that local authorities unconstitutionally restricted the business' right to expand its plant.
Cozen O'Connor members Thomas B. Fiddler and Marlo Pagano-Kelleher served as counsel in the case, along with Kevin F. Berry chair of the commercial litigation department at Cozen O'Connor.
In 1974, Pellegrino Food Products Company, which manufactures food from calzones to strombolis for such companies as Kraft and Sara Lee, purchased its Warren plant, and the surrounding land, which was classified as a manufacturing property until 1981 when the area around the plant was rezoned as residential. As the Pellegrino business grew, in 1999, company owners Tony and Tom Pellegrino requested a zoning exception to build a 25,000-square foot addition to its plant. But for two years, the Pellegrinos had to fight local authorities until a building permit was approved in late 2000.
In 1999, the Pellegrinos had filed a lawsuit in federal court for more than $3 million they allegedly lost due to inappropriate delays. When City of Warren municipal authorities claimed that they were immune from such an action, the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania ruled that the Warren defendants' conduct met the "shocks the conscience" standard ( United Artists Theater Circuit, Inc.v. Township of Warrington, 316 F. 3d, 292, 2003) for proving substantive due process claims. The city officials filed an interim appeal of the trial court's decision to the U.S. Circuit Court for the Third Circuit. The Third Circuit Court affirmed the trial court's ruling and remanded the case back to District Court Judge Sean J. McLaughlin for jury trial. Within three months, the city settled the case with Pellegrino Foods for $2.5 million.