For boarding up the Harmon Cove Outlet Center and locking out its tenants without notice, an affiliate of Secaucus-based Hartz Mountain Industries is being sued in Hudson County Superior Court by Vitamin World Inc., which has held a lease for a 900-square-foot retail location at the property since August 2000.
According to Loryn P. Riggiola, an attorney at Newark-based Sills, Cummis & Gross P.C. who is representing Vitamin World, Hartz Mountain Associates barricaded Harmon Cove sometime before the mall was scheduled to open Sept. 29. On Oct. 9, Vitamin World received a letter from Hartz stating access to remove personal property and inventory would be provided until 6 p.m. on Oct. 19, "at which point (Hartz Mountain) will deny further access and continue preparation to demolish the interior of the building," the letter read, despite Vitamin World holding a lease for the location through July 31, 2015.
On Oct. 19, Riggiola said the court issued a temporary restraining order on Hartz Mountain, and though the court denied the restraint on Oct. 25, it put a stay on the restraint, which held off demolition through Oct. 31. But when Riggiola tried to get an extension for the stay that day to prevent any further demolition, the courts were closed due to Hurricane Sandy, and remained closed until Nov. 8. Thus, Hartz Mountain continued demolishing the interior of the now-former Vitamin World property on Nov. 1 and continues to do so today, Riggiola said.
According to a court filing by Joseph M. Aronds, an attorney with Secaucus-based Horowitz, Rubino & Patton who is representing Hartz Mountain in the case, Vitamin World's inventory is "being safely stored in a locked truck in the parking lot at the site," and the building it formerly occupied "is no longer safe for anyone other than appropriate construction personnel." Aronds declined to comment on the lawsuit. A representative from Hartz wasn't immediately available to comment.
Riggiola said she is requesting an extension on the original stay to stop any future demolition work.
"We're in a state of emergency, but (Hartz) made sure they had men available to take the building down," Riggiola said. "The state Supreme Court issued orders to extend deadlines because of the storm — so if the courts extended deadlines, why wouldn't they extend them for stays?"
Riggiola said other tenants in the mall have agreed to relocate to other Hartz Mountain-owned properties, and while the firm offered the same relocation option to Vitamin World, "what would stop Hartz from doing this kind of thing all over again at that new space?" she said.
Riggiola said another Harmon Cove tenant, Gymboree, has not yet agreed to relocate, but Aronds' court filing indicated the children's clothing retailer had vacated the building as of Oct. 16. Gymboree counsel David Goldstein did not return requests for more information.
Litigators for Hartz Mountain and Vitamin World are scheduled to argue the case before Hudson County Superior Court Judge Peter F. Bariso Jr. at 9:30 a.m. Tuesday.