Café Ruche trial set for February
Café Ruche, once a popular eatery and gathering spot in Wilton, may finally get its day in court next month, unless a judge grants a continuance to those the café owner is suing requesting that the trial be moved to July.
More than a year and a half after the original complaint was filed, a trial is set for Feb. 6 in Superior Court in Bridgeport.
In the complaint filed May 31, 2016, café Ruche LLC, formerly of 101 Old Ridgefield Road, is suing the town of Wilton, Wilton Center Development Limited Partnership, and Paragon Realty. The café, which also operated as a yoga studio, was owned by Annie Horn and Barbara Chopin of Weston. It opened in Wilton Center Dec. 22, 2014, but closed less than a year later when a pervasive petroleum odor caused customers to stay away.
The café owners believe the odors came from an illegally abandoned oil tank under the building. The town is a defendant because it owns the building where the café leased space.
According to the complaint, the town leased the property in 1983 to the Faraca Co., which later assigned its rights to Wilton Center Development Limited Partnership (WCD). The original term of the lease was from Jan. 1, 1984 to Jan. 31, 2015, with three 10-year options to extend, according to the complaint. Paragon Realty Group of Westport has held the lease since April 2015.
The complaint says an environmental assessment conducted in 1991 revealed significant total petroleum hydrocarbon contamination, which indicates a release of petroleum. The source was never found and neither WCD nor the town investigated further.
After customers began complaining of nausea and headaches, café owner Chopin notified WCD of petroleum odors on April 23, 2015. According to the complaint, it was not until May 29, 2015, that the landlord sent Langan Environmental Services to investigate. This was the same company that investigated in 1991.
Over the course of several months various forms of oil contamination and three severed pipes were found within the building’s walls. The abandoned tank was discovered in August 2015. The town health department ordered the café closed on Nov. 23, 2015.
According to the complaint, neither the town, WCD, Paragon, nor Langan filed reports with the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection.
According to the lease agreement, café Ruche agreed to pay a first year’s rent of $36,820. By the fifth year of the five-year lease agreement, that rent was to increase to $40,502. (The lease agreement between the town and Faraca Co., which later assigned its rights to WCD, entered into in 1983, indicates the town would receive $40,000 in rent each year from 2010 through 2014 and $45,000 per year from 2015 through 2019.)
Against all defendants, the complaint cites breach of contract regarding the lease, nuisance in that the defendants’ inaction could create danger and inflict injury, negligence, and violation of several state statutes.
The plaintiff seeks money damages of not less than $15,000 and punitive damages against the defendants.
The defendants filed a motion on Dec. 22, 2017, to move the trial to July 2018, saying they needed time to conduct discovery and depose a new expert witness named by the plaintiffs. Further discovery, they argue, would narrow the issues.
The plaintiffs argue the defendants have had ample time for the discovery process regarding witnesses, which were named first in February and then again in October. They claim it is a delaying tactic that will result in “extreme prejudice” to the plaintiff.