North Huntingdon site could have been Cracker Barrel, lawsuit claims
A North Huntingdon landlord is suing an equipment rental company, claiming the owners scuttled a deal to sell the site to interests that would have brought a Cracker Barrel restaurant to the location.
In a lawsuit filed in Westmoreland County, MB Realty Group contends Sunbelt Rentals Inc., it’s principals and three lawyers from a Pittsburgh law firm, conspired to file a frivolous lawsuit in 2017 to delay a potential sale and allege the business has remained on site without paying rent since the end of July.
“We viewed this lawsuit as an absolute last resort, but the defendants have kept repeatedly stonewalling the process,” said attorney George R. Farneth II, the lawyer for MB Realty.
According to the 12-count lawsuit, the realty company contends Sunbelt initially ignored and later did not respond in a timely manner to a provision in the lease agreement, in place since 1999, that allowed the company the right of first refusal to buy the property. At that point, the owners attempted to sell the Rocky Road location to developers who said they intended to build a Cracker Barrel restaurant there.
“Plaintiff believes … that, even though defendants knew and or should have know the claims they were advancing were meritless and the litigation was frivolous, defendants still filed the litigation because Sunbelt did not want to vacate the property…” according to the lawsuit.
In late 2016, lawyers from the Pittsburgh firm of Goering Rutter and Boehm filed a lawsuit on Sunbelt’s behalf challenging the property owner’s efforts to sell the site to a third party. In that case, Sunbelt argued it intended to buy the site but its efforts were stalled over a dispute about the property’s value.
In April, Westmoreland County Common Pleas Court Judge Harry Smail ruled in favor of MB Realty, that it could sell to a third party and found that Sunbelt’s rights to purchase the property were not violated.
Sunbelt filed an appeal, which is pending in state Superior Court.
Representatives from Sunbelt and its law firm did not respond to requests for comment.
In the court filing, MB Realty also contends its lease with Sunbelt expired at the end of July when it implemented a new rent structure that called for the company to pay $250,000 a month. The lawsuit stated that Sunbelt has not paid the rent and is operating at the Rocky Road location.
The lawsuit is seeking compensatory damages up to $500,000 for unpaid rent through the end of September and unspecified amounts associated with the scuttled attempt to sell the property. It is also seeking punitive damages.
Rich Cholodofsky is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Rich at 724-830-6293, [email protected] or via Twitter .