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July 31, 2013

City loses latest round in McGaffic case

NEW CASTLE — Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court has reversed a lower court ruling concerning the disposition of a downtown New Castle property.

In a 4-3 decision last week, the court ruled the plaintiffs have standing to recover payment for a breach of contract regarding the former Centennial Building at the corner of East Washington and Mill streets.

Senior Judge Michael J. Wherry had ruled in December 2011 that the plaintiffs — Robert W. McGaffic and George Love — had not presented sufficient evidence to “confer standing upon them.” McGaffic and Love are the prior owners of the building. The case originated in 1978 with the plaintiffs filing suit.

Wherry, therefore, dismissed their claim that the city of New Castle had breached a contract relating to a 1977 “closeout agreement” between the city and the New Castle Redevelopment Authority.

“We’re absolutely delighted,” said attorney Jonathan Solomon, who represents McGaffic.

“I think it shows that the appellate court wants to see that justice is done. The point is that the local government has taken private property and used it to their benefit.”

The building is now part of the Cascade Center at the Riverplex where Refresh Dental has its corporate headquarters.

Attorney Samuel Kamin, the city’s counsel, said he is preparing a petition to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court for allowance of an appeal. The Supreme Court has the discretion of whether to consider an appeal.

“We feel very confident the Supreme Court is going to take this appeal and accept the opinion of the three (Commonwealth Court) dissenters,” Kamin said.

“Commonwealth Court overruled and contravened existing Pennsylvania law in five or six areas,” he said, adding the appeal is being prepared on that basis.

In 1994, a board of viewers valued the building at $184,000 as of April 12, 1973. With accruing interest over the years, the judgment has increased to $2,373,343 as of May 29, according to Solomon.

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