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Talks break down in Washington Harbour flood lawsuit

Tuesday - 10/30/2012, 1:26pm  ET

As Washington begins its recovery from Hurricane Sandy, District-based MRP Realty is preparing to deal with the backlash of another mega-storm that flooded its Washington Harbour complex in Georgetown 19 months ago ago.

Talks broke down earlier this month between MRP and a group of about 40 retail and restaurant employees that lost wages when a storm ravaged Washington Harbor in April 2011 and forced several businesses there to close, Farmers & Fishers among them.

Mason LLP attorney Nick Migliaccio, who is representing the former employees, said his clients and MRP could not come to a compromise during a court-ordered mediation session Oct. 18. Both sides are now preparing for trial in the case and are scheduled to meet in a pre-trial conference Dec. 18.

The former employees sued MRP for $5 million in June 2011. Aside from Farmers & Fishers, which is slated to reopen in newly renovated space at the complex, other plaintiffs in the suit include employees at Tony & Joe’s Seafood Place, Roche Salon, Sequoia Restaurant, Starbucks, Cabanas Restaurant, Nick’s Riverside Grill and National River Tours.

MRP is spending about $20 million to renovate the complex, and several tenants have since moved back in, among them Tony & Joes.

A key issue in the case is whether the employees are entitled to recover lost wages. MRP claims not and has filed a motion to dismiss the suit. D.C. Superior Court Judge Erik Christian has not yet ruled on that motion. He could side with MRP, meaning the case would not go to trial unless the plaintiffs appeal Christian’s ruling.

MRP spokeswoman Julie Chase said the developer intends to defend itself.

“They’re prepared to go to trial if necessary, but the insurance company feels very much that the case is without merit,” Chase said.

Part of the reason the complex flooded was that the floodgates to the complex were not raised in time. Chase said MRP believed the floodwaters had crested and would not penetrate the complex.

As Sandy began to soak D.C. Monday, Chase said MRP has raised those floodgates and made other preparations to ensure Washington Harbour makes it through Hurricane Sandy with minimal damage. Crews were out at the site Monday making final preparations and ensuring the site is secure from heavy winds or floodwaters.