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TOPS SUES QUALITY FOR $50 MILLION

Tops Markets Inc. has launched a $50 million anti-competition and breach-of-contract suit in state court against the Quality Markets chain, continuing a four-year legal fight over supermarket sales in the Jamestown area.

Tops is seeking damages of $30 million and punitive damages of at least $20 million in a State Supreme Court suit filed in Buffalo.

U.S. District Court Judge John T. Elfvin dismissed a similar lawsuit in federal court two years ago.

The state suit was filed because Elfvin earlier barred state antitrust issues in the federal lawsuit, according to Edward C. Cosgrove, the attorney for Tops.

Tops, which belatedly opened its long-planned Jamestown super store on Washington Street last April, is seeking at least $10 million in profits it lost for four years after Quality executives thwarted its deal to purchase about 11 acres of property in the Washington Street area, Cosgrove said.

Sued along with Quality are its parent company, Penn Traffic Co. of Syracuse; Sunrise Properties Inc., a Penn Traffic real estate subsidiary, and Jamestown-area developer James V. Paige Jr.

In the new suit, Tops accuses Paige of breaching a 1992 contract Tops had with him for four parcels in the Washington Street area for $475,000 and entering a $740,000 deal with Sunrise for options on two of the parcels.

In its former federal suit, Tops accused Quality of pushing Paige to give it options on two parcels, knowing that such a deal would thwart the Tops plan for a Jamestown store. At that time, Quality controlled 90 percent of supermarket sales in the Jamestown area.

Kenneth M. Hart, a New York City lawyer for Quality and the two other corporate defendants, said he is confident the Tops state suit will be dismissed, like its federal action.

David J. Seeger of Buffalo, Paige's attorney, said he is filing a $10 million counter-claim against Tops for what he called its "extreme and outrageous" claim that the Jamestown businessman actually had a signed contract with it before he opted for the Quality deal.

Penn Traffic operates 267 supermarkets and 15 discount departments stores throughout New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia.

Tops, which operates 34 supermarkets in Erie and Niagara counties, is owned by the Dutch supermarket chain Royal Ahold N.V., which is one of the five largest grocery concerns in the U.S.

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