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Judge dismisses fired firm's suit over Canalside ice rink

Ice skating is one of the activities that brings crowds to Canalside, but behind the popular downtown rink is a politically charged legal battle.

A federal judge this week dismissed one of the lawsuits at the center of that dispute.

The ruling ends Rosanne DiPizio's 2-year-old suit against the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corp., a suit that accused the state agency of conspiring against her Cheektowaga construction company.

"We always knew the case did not have any merit, and we're pleased with the court's decision," said William T. Brennan, lead attorney for the agency.

From Day One, state officials argued that DiPizio's inability to finish the ice rink was the sole reason behind its removal from the project. They accused the company of "deficient work" on the project, which was about half completed when DiPizio was terminated.

In the federal court suit, DiPizio claimed the agency illegally terminated its $19.8 million contract at Canalside and then paved the way for a politically connected Rochester company to get the job.

Lawsuit imperils progress on Canalside project

Chief U.S. District Judge Frank P. Geraci Jr. dismissed the suit this week and said the contractor failed to prove its allegations of racketeering. The company also claims agency officials made false and defamatory statements about its competence.

DiPizio, the company's CEO, said she will appeal the decision and begin a new suit in state court.

"Absolutely," she said Wednesday. "We have options. It's not a dead issue. That's what appeals are for."

Filed in July 2015, DiPizio's suit claimed politics was at the heart of its dispute with the state agency. DiPizio says the company that replaced it was a major contributor to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo.

DiPizio, who also believes her gender was a problem for agency officials, said the accusations that her company mishandled the project have cost the firm millions of dollars in work.

Her company once employed 200 people and did $30 million a year in business, but those numbers have since fallen to $4 million a year in business and a workforce of only 20 people, she said.

"They've destroyed us," she said of the development agency. "I never believed my government would take my family business."

Geraci, who is the fifth judge to be assigned the case, adopted the recommendations of U.S. Magistrate Judge H. Kenneth Schroeder in dismissing the suit.

Hot potato Buffalo racketeering lawsuit tied to Canalside rink finds a home court

Initially filed in New York City, the case was moved when a judge there decided it should be heard in Buffalo. That led to two federal judges in Buffalo and one in Rochester recusing themselves for personal reasons.

DiPizio's suit also has attracted the attention of Rep. Brian Higgins, who filed a Freedom of Information Law request with the development agency seeking information on the legal costs of defending the agency.

As of April, Phillips Lytle, the Buffalo law firm handling the case, had billed the state $2.67 million.

Higgins said he wants to know if New York Power Authority funds ā€“ money he believes should be spent on the waterfront ā€“ are instead being used to finance the agency's legal defense.

Several other lawsuits related to the Canalside dispute are ongoing in state court.

Canalside lawsuit, headed to trial in 2018, has already cost taxpayers $2.67 million

 

 

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