A federal jury has sided with a New Brunswick business owner in a lawsuit claiming city officials “intentionally derailed” the planned development of sports bar Buck Foston’s because they didn’t approve of the name.
The jury awarded Lawrence Blatterfein over $1.5 million in damages after finding the bar's proposed name is a form of constitutionally-protected free speech.
Blatterfein sought to open Buck Foston’s in 2009, according to the suit, which was filed three years ago in U.S. District Court in New Jersey.
“For avid sports fans, the play on words ‘Buck Foston’s’ is evocative of a century-old sports rivalry between the New York and Boston sports teams,” the complaint reads. “In selecting the name ‘Buck Foston’s,’ Blatterfein intended to attract to his restaurant the large population of New York sports fans in and around New Brunswick.”
The suit claims New Brunswick Mayor James Cahill worked with the city to first delay, then deny the transfer of a liquor license Blatterfein purchased from an existing restaurant. Cahill, an avowed Red Sox fan, told Blatterfein he found the name Buck Foston’s “vulgar and inappropriate for a business in New Brunswick,” the suit states.
Blatterfein claimed the mayor influenced city council members to deny the license transfer under the pretext of concerns about traffic and safety issues. Those reservations came “despite the fact the project had already been approved by the city’s zoning, construction and fire officials – the obvious experts on such matters,” the suit states.
As a result, Blatterfein alleged, he was unable to close on the property and was denied a “highly lucrative business opportunity.” Blatterfein also said he incurred significant expenses, losing a $75,000 deposit and commissioning experts to consult on planned renovations that he was never able to undertake.
The case was brought before a federal judge in Trenton for a six-day trial. On Wednesday, the seven-person jury ruled six-to-one in Cahill’s favor following two days of deliberations.
Cahill told The Star-Ledger on Thursday that he was disappointed with the verdict but noted Blatterfein received less in damages than he was originally seeking and that the sports bar never opened. Blatterfein, who moved to Florida after the lawsuit was filed, intends to pursue opening a Buck Foston’s in a different location, the paper reported.