BELMAR, NJ — A federal judge has dismissed a $10 million lawsuit filed against Belmar by the owners of a proposed outdoor bar whose liquor license transfer was rejected.
U.S. District Judge Peter Sheridan on February 26 dismissed without prejudice the complaint filed last April by brothers Timothy and Matthew Harmon, who were seeking damages resulting from what they claim was the borough’s deliberate attempt to prevent them from opening a River Avenue outdoor bar.
In his decision, Sheridan ruled that the Harmons failed to prove that borough officials, including Belmar Mayor Matthew Doherty and Police Chief Andrew Huisman, acted in an improper or corrupt manner in preventing Salt, the tiki-style bar, from opening. In addition, he ruled that the complaint “fails to demonstrate there was an arbitrary or irrational basis” for the borough council’s denial of the Harmons’ liquor license transfer in June 2016.
In dismissing the lawsuit without prejudice, Sheridan leaves the door open for the Harmons to amend the complaint “to set forth more facts to support (their) federal claims.”
Roger McLaughlin, the Wall attorney representing the Harmons, said they fully intend to refile the complaint within the required 30-day period. “And therefore, the lawsuit is far from over. Litigation is a long process.”
Tim Harmon reiterated his attorney’s comments. “We are refiling and this is far from over as our attorney said. If the borough thinks that, they are mistaken.”
Mayor Doherty said he was pleased with the judge’s decision. “As I have said from the very beginning, the lawsuit by Tim Harmon and Matt Harmon was completely baseless and lacked any facts,” he said. “What most disturbed me about the lawsuit was the way (they) slandered our police department. It’s hard enough in law enforcement nowadays; the last thing we need are people like Tim and Matt Harmon making false allegations about our police department.”
Since the lawsuit has cost taxpayers “thousands and thousands of dollars, all of that should be reimbursed to the taypayers by Tim and Matt Harmon,” Doherty said.
If the Harmons re-file their complaint, “it will be another waste of taxpayer money with the same outcome from a judge — with all counts dismissed,” he said.
In the complaint, the Harmons contended that the borough and borough officials violated their civil rights, state and federal racketeering laws, and inflicted emotional distress since they launched plans in April 2014 to build, open and have a liquor license transferred to Salt from their now-closed 507 Main restaurant.
While the Harmons continue to operate the Boathouse Bar & Grill in Belmar and also now hold a liquor license “in pocket,” meaning it is not attached to a specific location, plans are under way to construct a mixed-use development on the former Salt site at 710 River Avenue — a project that no longer involves the Harmons.
In December 2017, developer Loko Co., LLC, received planning board approval to construct Eastport after reaching a settlement agreement with the borough to construct the second “permanent” phase of the project after years of delays stalled the project’s first controversial phase approved in February 2014.
The current plan includes two buildings of residential condominiums and first-floor commercial space, which would house a restaurant and bar.
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