NORTH BRANFORD — Pacileo’s Apizza & Pasta shuttered the doors to its Foxon Road location early last month.
Restaurant owner Albert H. Pacileo III blames the town for the closure, according to his attorney.
“Mr. Pacileo firmly believes that the demise of his restaurant was caused solely by the actions of certain public officials,” said Michael Zamat, counsel for Pacileo.
Moreover, Zamat said, reactions to a lawsuit Pacileo filed against the town “possibly created a boycott of the restaurant, however Mr. Pacileo had no choice but to file the lawsuit in order to recover his losses.”
The restaurateur sued North Branford and various town officials, including Mayor Michael Doody, in 2017, alleging ethics violations that hurt his business. The court decided in favor of the town defendants in July , but Pacileo filed a motion on Aug. 20 to reargue the case, court records indicate.
Michael Doody’s siblings own Doody’s Totoket Inn Inc., a restaurant located about a half-mile from Pacileo’s, according to court records, which indicate the family business is also a defendant in the lawsuit. Pacileo claimed Michael Doody used his position to hurt Pacileo’s Apizza and protect his siblings’ restaurant from competition.
(North Branford also has a Town Manager, who oversees the town’s day-to-day operations but who was not named in the lawsuit.)
Frank J. Kolb Jr., an attorney who represents Doody’s Totoket Inn, called many of the allegations groundless, emphasizing that Michael Doody never had an ownership claim to his siblings’ restaurant.
“It is probably the most ridiculous lawsuit that I’ve seen in over 40 years of practicing law,” Kolb said.
Town Attorney Vincent Marino declined to comment on the matter. Michael Doody did not respond to a request for comment.
The latest version of Pacileo’s complaint lists counts of negligence, tortious interference with business relations, violations of the Connecticut Unfair Trade Practices Act and civil conspiracy. “Mr. Doody has inappropriately exerted his power as the Town’s mayor to direct Town employees, departments, managers and the Town Council to destroy Pacileo’s, which is not only an original and fresh restaurant in the Town but also a direct competitor to Doody’s,” the complaint says.
The town and its officials denied this claim in court filings. Doody’s Totoket Inn also denied any wrongdoing.
When the court ruled in favor of the town defendants, it cited the North Branford Code of Ethics, which Pacileo had argued Doody violated. An ordinance says town officials must refrain from decision-making that might impact the finances of either the official or his immediate family members, according to court records.
The code’s definition of immediate family members, however, does not include siblings. Instead, an immediate family member is “[a]ny parent, child, spouse, parent or child of said spouse, spouse of any child, grandchildren or cohabitating person of an official irrespective of whether or not any of the foregoing persons reside in the official’s household,” the Code of Ethics states.
The court also cited governmental immunity, which protects towns from liability with respect to actions made by its officials while performing their duties, as grounds for its judgment. (Exceptions to governmental immunity apply when officials violate guidelines — like those set out in North Branford’s Code of Ethics — that direct them on how to appropriately act in their roles.)
Claims against defendants who did not hold positions with the town, including Doody’s Totoket Inn and Michael Doody’s wife, Jo Ann Doody, remained pending after the July court decision, as those defendants had not filed for summary judgment.
Jo Ann Doody did not respond to an email request for comment.
In the latest court filings, Pacileo argues he was denied discovery that could have shown Doody had a direct financial stake in his siblings’ restaurant. Michael Doody and Melinda Powell, counsel for the town, objected to a request for his tax returns, which they did not release, according to an addifavit.
“Unfortunately, the court found in favor of the town on its governmental immunity claims. However, we feel not all the evidence has been produced by the town and we are certainly seeking that evidence in an effort to overcome the court’s decision,” Zamat said.
The defendants filed their objection to the motion to reconsider on Aug. 28, arguing that the plaintiffs never filed a motion to compel the production of Michael Doody’s tax returns, despite having had ample time to do so. Counsel for the town called the motion an “inappropriate attempt to secure a redo of summary judgment.”
North Branford restricted parking on Merrick Drive, the road which runs adjacent to Pacileo’s, and at Jerome Harrison Elementary School, which sits across the street from the restaurant, according to a court order that provides background on the case. The order says “no parking” signs were installed in February 2016, just a few months after Pacileo opened the restuarant.
Pacileo claimed the restrictions were meant to hurt his business, but town officials said they were implemented in response to complaints of overcrowding from residents and school officials, the court order indicates.
As of Sept. 4, “no parking” signs could be found along a stretch of Merrick Drive beside Pacileo’s property. But those restrictions end next door to the restaurant, where the road widens.
Pacileo also alleged that when he sought an amendment to zoning regulations that kept him from obtaining a beer and wine license, Michael Doody publicly opposed the sale of alcohol at his pizzeria, citing its proximity to the elementary school, according to the court order.
The zoning regulation prohibited the sale of alcohol at properties within 500 feet of a school, the court order says. Pacileo pursued a text amendment that would have allowed him to receive a special-use license whereby he could serve only beer and wine, according to the order.
Pacileo eventually obtained the license, which allowed only for table service and restricted signage on the building advertising alcohol, the order continued. But the restaurateur said it was too late to help his business.
“Pacileo’s position is that the parking limitations and delay in serving alcohol — the latter he attributes in part to presentations by the Doodys prolonging the approval process — stunted the early momentum of his restaurant,” the court ruling says.
Doody’s Totoket Inn also serves alcohol, and it sits just under a half-mile from Jerome Harrison Elementary School. Though the zoning regulation would not have applied at such a distance, Pacileo pointed to the proximity in his complaint.
“Clearly, with Doody’s being only (0.3) miles from the Elementary School, Mr. Doody is not concerned with the welfare of the children but wants to continue to monopolize the restaurant and bar business in North Branford. He does not want any outsiders,” the complaint says.
The town denied this claim in its answer to the complaint.
A number of North Branford residents attended Planning & Zoning Commission meetings in early 2016 to speak about parking issues near Pacileo’s and the regulation change that would allow him to obtain a special-use liquor license, videos from Totoket TV show. Some said they worried about the safety of children as cars exited the premises.
Michael Doody accused the commission at a Feb. 4 meeting of approving a site plan that, he said, did not have enough parking for the seating capacity of Pacileo’s restaurant. But a member of the commission replied, saying that the previous owners of the property used parking on Merrick Drive and at the school for years without issue, and that Pacileo had also submitted a better parking plan.
The mayor went on to complain about problems liquor at the site could create.
“So heaven forbid somebody that was intoxicated comes in, picks up a pizza, has to park in the school parking lot, unfortunately runs over a kid because there’s no more parking in the lot,” he said.
“So Mike you just said they came in intoxicated. Maybe they went to Doody’s and got drunk and then came to get the pizza on the way home,” countered David Hultgren, a commission member at the time.
At a subsequent meeting on Feb. 18, Chairman Harry Dulak pointed out that BYOB policies were not town-regulated, and restaurants like Pacileo’s could let patrons bring their own alcohol. He suggested that allowing beer and wine permits at certain institutions that would otherwise be denied liquor licenses could help regulate alcohol consumption.
Doody criticized that position in a subsequent meeting on Feb. 18, calling it “a poor excuse.”
“We had to send police officers down there to protect the public work employees putting up ‘no parking’ signs,” Doody alleged. “That’s the caliber of person that you’re bringing into town.”
Doody was referring to an incident in which a town employee had called police because Pacileo yelled at him while he installing the “no parking” signs, Director of Public Works Frances Merola said in a deposition. “But there were no charges or anything at the time but it was a little heated,” Merola said.)
Pacileo, meanwhile, expressed his own frustrations, “Thirty-seven years I’ve been doing this. I’ve never, ever got treated like this. This is how I get treated when I come to this town? They put parking signs right on the corner of a new restaurant here two months — only on the corner of the restaurant and not the rest of the road?”
If Pacileo’s new motion is denied, he will have to file an appeal, Zamat said.
The case is scheduled for review on Sept. 9 in New Haven, according to state online court records.
The restaurateur’s other restaurant, Pacileo’s Apizza & Pasta of Branford, is still open.
Also named as defendants in the complaint are Merola, Superintendent of Schools Scott Schoonmaker and then-Police Commissioner David Palumbo. Schoonmaker and Palumbo did not respond to requests for comment. Merola declined to comment, according to Gina Cox, a secretary for the town.