A federal judge has overturned a $1.3 million judgment against the Town of Oyster Bay that a jury awarded to the owner of a shuttered cafe.
Last month, the jury awarded the money to Phil Morizio, the former owner of Cafe Al Dente. The jury found that the town, a building inspector, and ex-Planning Commissioner Frederick Ippolito had violated the owner's constitutional right to due process when it forced his restaurant to close its doors back in 2012.
This week, US District Court Judge Leonard Wexler overturned the jury's award, calling it "excessive."
"The night we got the verdict in our favor was the first time in three years my wife and I got a good night's sleep," Morizio says. "We thought that the nightmare we had been living for three years was over, but of course it still continues."
Morizio says his troubles began when he tried to schedule a meeting with Ippolito three years ago because he wanted the town's permission to let a reality show crew renovate his restaurant. When he couldn't secure a meeting, Morizio says he reached out to Town Supervisor John Venditto.
"That's when Fred [Ippolito] came and shut the place down," Morizio says.
As News 12 has reported, Ippolito pleaded guilty in January to tax evasion and vacated his position with the town.
The judge in Morizio's case has now given his attorney and the town's outside counsel 30 days to reach a settlement or face a new trial. Morizio's attorney, John Palmer, says he may appeal the ruling.
In the meantime, Morizio says he'd like to own a restaurant again one day, and despite his ordeal he says he'd like it to be in the hamlet and Town of Oyster Bay.
"I liked being a part of this community. I'd love nothing more than to come back to Oyster Bay and spend the rest of my days here," he says.
News 12 sought comment on this story from Christopher Kendric, the town's outside counsel in the case, but has not yet received a response.