Any of you long-time readers have known that for over the past two years Philadelinquency has been tied up in a frivolous lawsuit filed in Federal Court in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.  The ending is not something that the plaintiff would have ever expected.  Club Aura and its owner Marc Stein, have agreed to pay out funds in order to end their frivolous lawsuit.  In return, I agree not to sue the pants off of Marc Stein nor try to take his house he lives at up in Blue Bell, PA.

The TL;DR version of what happened

Club Aura owner Marc Stein got butthurt over neighbors at Front and Fairmount in Northern Liberties being upset at the loud let-out noise, the fact that the nightclub was operating without a required license, that the Philadelphia Police Department started to direct attention to his nightclub and that this blog and Philebrity had documented Club Aura’s doings and blogged about it.  The lawsuit was filed not long after Northern Liberties neighbors had appeared at a hearing in front of the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board to report the nightclub’s activities in hopes that the PLCB would begin enforcement supervision of the nightclub.

The lawsuit was filed against a scattershot litany of defendants; which I can only guess was in hopes that everyone would cow and stop complaining about his illegal nightclub and offer to settle the suit on his terms.  Instead, the lawsuit has been settled with Stein paying out money as well as his (now-former) lawyer’s malpractice insurance carrier kicking in the rest.

That’s right bitches, Philadelinquency is gettin’ paid.   So is Philebrity, so are the neighbors that Stein sued.

Now, the more fun version of what happened

The list of defendants Marc Stein sued:

  • City of Philadelphia
  • City of Philadelphia Police Department
  • 6th District Police District Capt. Korn
  • 6th District Police Sgt. Brennan
  • Northern Liberties Neighborhood Association
  • A list of neighbors, all who live(d) next to Club Aura
  • Philadelinquency
  • Philebrity

At the beginning of this lawsuit, Marc Stein was represented by Marirose Roach, Esq.  This civil case was her first-ever before a Federal district court.  Later on in the suit, Ms. Roach pulled in her law practice partner Kenneth Manyin during the discovery phase before Ms. Roach was replaced with (expensive, and more seasoned) Gavin Lentz.   Mr. Lentz was paid to untangle the mess that Stein and Marirose Roach had created when the case was filed.

I had two attorneys representing my side.   Jordan Rushie and Marc Randazza of the Randazza Law Group.

The theory that Club Aura put forward in Federal Court is that everyone colluded together in a racially-motivated conspiracy to end Club Aura.   Club Aura argued that similar establishments like Soundgarden don’t attract derision from Northern Liberties residents because it’s a mostly white crowd that goes to Soundgarden, and that people don’t like Club Aura solely because black people go there.

Club Aura seems to forget several times through the course of the lawsuit that it never possessed a valid Special Assembly Occupancy License to operate, ignored the City Code in doing so, or that public input was actually a requirement in order to land a busy dance club cheek-to-jowl on a residential block, or anywhere else for that matter.

Either way, nobody lives on the block Soundgarden is located on and it faces towards the Delaware River.  I’m sure maybe if they play bad EDM loud enough with every door open perhaps some crickets in New Jersey might be able to hear it or upset Delilah’s patrons in their parking lot.  And whatever vomit and pissing that patrons might do when leaving Soundgarden would happen on Delaware Avenue, and not on and around neighbors front steps and parked cars.

Let’s also not overlook the fact that suing your new neighbors is just never a good look.

Racism!

So, racism.  It’s gross and people should stop doing it.  But not every claim that is labeled as racism actually is.  Stein contended that everyone who thinks Club Aura is obnoxious is a racist because of its clientele.  Let’s watch and listen to Club Aura’s owner, Marc Stein, using his own words in sworn testimony about racism, describe how he markets his entertainment services to his customers…

I was seated directly across the table from Stein (who is white) when this testimony was given.  Ms. Roach (who is black) slumped in her seat as Stein answered.   Yes, comrades, a white suburbanite club owner of an ‘urban upscale’ nightclub who is levying civil rights charges in defense of his business because of his patrons race and ethnicity, himself says cryptoracist shit directly into the record.

Defamation!

Since I was specifically sued for libel, I’ll let those of you who still want to line up to sue me in on a little secret:  I know the law better than the lawyer you’re reaching for in the phone book and Yelp;  plus my lawyer in Philly and my other lawyer in Nevada know astronomically more than I do since they breathe and put Grade-A meat on the table with 1st Amendment lawsuits.   I’m going to give away some secrets and show you how Club Aura’s lawsuit falls to bits when they tried to sue me.

In any lawsuit where you are claiming you were hurt by libel or slanderous publications, you have to pass some smell tests.  There’s more than just this list but these are the barest of essentials:

  • There’s a 1-year statute of limitations for publications in Pennsylvania, so whatever was said or printed has to not be over a year old
  • You have to point out specifically (this “specific” is really specific) what was said or what was printed that was presented as a legal fact that the author knew at the time it was said or written was false
  • You have to show that the false facts that were said or printed were done with malice with an intent to harm
  • The statements you’re showing to a court that you say were defamatory can’t be opinions and editorials.
  • Finally, you have to demonstrate that you suffered injury (damages) because of the false facts that were presented

Now, there’s more hurdles than this especially if you’re what the court calls a public figure (like a politician or a celebrity), but you should get the point by now.  You have to really be determined in order for defamation claims to stick to you.

Here’s an example.  If I said something like “Mr. Cohen is an unabashed pedophile.  He was convicted of it in Oregon in 1999”,  I’m not expressing opinions, I’m stating facts.  Legal facts.   I specifically said Mr. Cohen is a pedophile and he was even convicted of it–meaning that somewhere in some courthouse filing cabinet sits a rap sheet with Mr. Cohen’s conviction record as a sex offender.

If I said this recently (within 1 year), it is without-a-doubt false, Mr. Cohen is my sworn-enemy and he has documented evidence that I am out to get him and Mr. Cohen was fired from his job because his employer believed that he is a pedophile and they can’t have him around children so he’s suffered some real damages—I am in some deep shit.   I can be sued into bankruptcy.   Civil courts across America deal with a heavy burden of defamation lawsuits that are mostly garbage, but any judge would allow a defamation case like this go all the way to the end because it’s a good case.  That, my dear readers, is libel.

So how about Club Aura?   Stein’s lawyer presented lots of e-mails and blog postings, many of which were well over a year old, demonstrating that his lawyer didn’t know a thing about Pennsylvania defamation law.   My attorney also had to get Stein to recite what the definition of the word fact is.  For the record.

Other words Stein read the definitions aloud for the record:  hyperbole, racism, fact, defamation.

As for specificity, Stein simply printed every blog post about Club Aura and then attached them as exhibits.   That would only be prudent if every single word printed on the page were completely false facts presented with malice to my audience.  During Marc Stein’s deposition we had to spend hours picking apart sentence by sentence asking Stein to point to the instance of defamation.

None was found.

But there was one thing that I did screw up.   One of Marc Stein’s previous nightclubs, Club Dreemz, I had said was shut after Brynne Schuenemann, a college student who was served by the nightclub, had died at the club.

A Pennsylvania jury and an appeals court concluded that there was credible evidence that a Marc Stein nightclub served an over-intoxicated person, who later got into a car and died on Delaware Avenue, the Schuenemann estate was also awarded a $1.9 million dollar jury verdict.

While Stein and all the lawyers were picking apart everything I’ve ever written about Aura, only a single error was found about what I wrote: the actual location of Schuenemann’s death.  I certainly wasn’t wrong about why she had died, although I didn’t say directly that Stein’s nightclub was responsible for her death but any layperson reading that article would certainly think that.   Still, I was wrong about where she died.

In light of the alleged damage that Stein insisted I inflicted upon his business, I think any reasonable person would agree that the precise GPS location of where this poor girl was killed is far less important to Stein’s business reputation than the fact, a legal fact, that Stein was found to be negligent in her death because of how he runs his business.

You Interfered With My Business!

Everyone that Club Aura sued was also levied another charge called tortious interference with a (business) contract.  This is lawyerspeak for “you intentionally torpedoed a business deal with your bad behavior and it damaged my business.”

This umbrella claim against me required the defamation to be proven to have happened, which it wasn’t.   Admittedly, I think there’s plenty of people, myself included, who would be glad to see Club Aura close for good–but that’s only because it’s been a bad neighbor with its raucous let-outs, loud noise and its propensity to operate without the required City permit.

If Club Aura was a real bar and restaurant like it claimed it was when it took out permits from the city, there would be no super-loud music or a large crowds of rowdy drunks disturbing the neighbors after every event that is ever held at a busy nightclub.  It would basically be a neighborhood bar, like any other on a residential block in this city, which it certainly had the right and the opportunity to operate as one, which it chose not to.

Further, when Stein filed the lawsuit he didn’t actually show that any contracts had been breached because of the City, Northern Liberties neighbors, or by anything written here on PDQ or anywhere else.   Judge Petrese Tucker took issue with this and ordered Stein to produce evidence that supported his claim that contractual relationships had ended because of the other claims he presented.

After missing a court-ordered deadline, a mysterious set of written notes coming from a series of DJs and vendors appeared–all affirming that they had to give up Club Aura for good.   One letter that Stein added to the complaint to buttress this claim came from Odai Morgan, who spins as DJ Mega Skills, is simply ridiculous.

If Stein had coached Morgan to produce this letter (below), it clearly didn’t include any content that shows that DJ Mega Skills refused to do any events at Aura, and even if that was his intent, the exhibit doesn’t even say that it was due to anything that I or any neighbors of Club Aura have done.  I’ve included his letter below for your amusement.

About that permit…

At the beginning of the lawsuit Club Aura waffled quite a lot about the Special Assembly Occupancy License.   During the course of the lawsuit Stein claimed he possessed a temporary SAOL permit giving him the ability to operate as a nightclub.    This appeared in the original claim that was filed but then it disappeared when Stein amended his complaint.

At the time of deposition, my attorneys cornered Stein and his lawyer for evidence of this temporary permit–since we would need it for trial.   Stein never produced this document, probably because there is no such thing as a temporary special assembly occupancy license for an established business.

I mean… I should know this.  I physically went to L&I’s offices and also quizzed the L&I Commissioner, Carlton Williams, whether what Stein was saying or what his lawyer was writing in her court filings had any credence.  L&I doesn’t give out temporary nightclub licenses.  Only permanent ones.   Did Stein or his lawyers actually think that I wouldn’t verify that with the City?   Unreal.

SLAPP Yourself Silly

I have to say, if Marc Stein ever had any inclination to think that filing a stupid lawsuit such as this one instilled any fear or quieting effect on the people whom he has sued, today’s blog post should prove otherwise.

I can’t speak for the other defendants, but being sued in Federal court was a thoroughly enjoyable learning experience.

I don’t think many frivolous lawsuit filers really expect that their cases get all the way into court depositions, much less one that lasted for seven brutal, crushing hours.   This case was shredded to bits during the deposition phase by two lawyers who are masters at the art of legal interrogations.  It was that day that my lawyers warned Stein through his attorneys that a Dragonetti lawsuit was coming, and then soon afterwards all the remaining defendants filed counterclaims against Marc Stein.   The case had collapsed by then.

This type of lawsuit is not atypical of what happens across many courtrooms in Pennsylvania.  They’re called SLAPP suits for a reason.  Marc Randazza, my lawyer in Nevada, helped to get an anti-SLAPP law passed in the Nevada state legislature which today has the strongest anti-SLAPP law in the country.

Pennsylvania offers no legal protection against SLAPP lawsuits with one very tiny exception:  if the public speech being made is about environmental public policy.   Even with this exception, Pennsylvania law doesn’t really allow any victim of a SLAPP suit to have the merits of the plaintiff’s case examined well before the lawsuit gets underway and the legal bills reach large figures.   An anti-SLAPP law would dramatically cut the cost of defending yourself against a frivolous lawsuit.   Instead of legal bills the size of a show-room Mercedes, the bills drop down to about the cost of a snazzy new computer.

If Pennsylvania had anti-SLAPP protection on the law books, if you get sued, this would allow you and your lawyer the opportunity to kill a frivolous lawsuit very early in the case by requiring the court to hold a hearing where the merit of the defamation claims have to be heard once the complaint is filed.

Pennsylvania judges do not bother to carefully examine the content of what was actually said or published or even that it meets the requirements of a defamation suit (or any other kind of tort, really) until far later in the process which takes years for all the legal horse-trading and evidence gathering to finish and both sides are ready for a trial.  Only by that time is the judge really interested in the merits of the claim as the judge will soon need to formally prepare for the trial.

Everyone who files frivolous lawsuits knows that they won’t win their lawsuit, except for the folks who are truly insane.  But that isn’t the point of these lawsuits.  The goal of the lawsuit is to use the long arduous court process as a weapon to silence critics and to shut them up and hopefully use it as a tool to silence other targets.  They’re used in retaliation. Lawyers call this a “chilling effect” on speech.   Most ordinary citizens are terrified at the prospect of being sued.  Many with good reason–they fear bankruptcy and financial ruin.

In this lawsuit there was none of that, but in Pennsylvania plenty of victims of SLAPP suits are financially ruined by lawsuits that drag out for far longer.  I’ve met some of those victims and the vindictiveness of some people is truly astonishing.   I do everything I can on Philadelinquency to protect myself:  I keep up with the law, I have controversial posts that I write pre-checked by lawyers, and I make very clear distinctions between when I’m writing an opinion vs. when I am telling you a fact.

And mind you, this blog gets a LOT of lawsuit threats.    My attorneys and I usually laugh hysterically at most of them and they result in hilarious reply letters like this one and this one.

I should also point out that many of our local and state politicians love to use the threat of defamation lawsuits against the local media.   If you’re dissatisfied with the state of news reporting these days, SLAPP suits are a significant contributing factor to why news content is so soft and editorial quality is so poor compared to how it was in the past.   It’s hard to get a lawsuit threat over a human interest story about a new dolphin at the zoo than it is to write a hard-hitting piece about scumbags doing dirty deeds that masquerade as upstanding business people with sparkling reputations.

Even if you’re super-careful about what you write and stick to opinions, you can still be sued anyway because of the way Pennsylvania courts currently work.  You can literally sue anyone for completely fictitious claims.  You don’t even really need to include a supporting exhibit showing the speech that made you lose your lunch.  I can just state that you said it and tie you up for two years in legal motions.   If you have a small amount of money to blow, you can use the courts as a weapon.

My legal bills from this stupid escapade are in the 5-figure range.  I don’t run ads on Philadelinquency or sell products to keep this blog going.  Unfortunately, that is going to change.   If you don’t have an ad-blocker plugin for your web browser, you should probably go get one, because this blog won’t be safe from them for very long.

Club Aura / Marc Stein Settlement Agreement

Warning letter sent to Marc Stein's lawyer warning her that defendants will request sanctions

Letter to Judge Ditter requesting sanctions against Marc Stein

DJ Mega Skills claiming he had a “negative effect” because Stein did not possess a required City permit [entered into evidence as “proof” that tortious interference with a contract existed]:

2015-01-21_22-30-06




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Methadone Megamart

The perversion of medical treatment into pill dispensing factories has certainly been an interesting trend to follow in Philadelphia.  In particular the proliferation of methadone and suboxone dispensary facilities and the opposition to them.

Methadone clinics were originally sold to the public in the late 1980’s and early 90’s as a method of managing withdrawal symptoms when removing patients from opioid products, namely drugs like heroin, oxycontin and hydrocodone.

According to this control study done at BHRCS, inmates who were put on methadone treatment while in jail did no better in recidivism rates than inmates who were not enrolled in a methadone maintenance therapy (MMT) program.   In other words, there was no evidence discovered that MAT (medication-assisted therapy) or MMT treatment by itself can influence patterns of anti-social behavior long-term.

Since methadone (and its treatment cousin suboxone) does not actually cure anything other than act as temporary analgesic; the “captive audience” of MAT patients are administered onsite counseling when they visit the dispensaries.   For most chronic drug abusers this evolves to a crutch where an illegal drug addiction has been replaced by a legal one.  Whether a patient gets off MAT comes down to one of two factors; whether insurance or cash is still available to pay for it, or the patient has the willpower to discontinue the treatment on their own accord when they feel the crutch is no longer needed.

For the thousands of residents in Philadelphia who are either on voluntary admission or court-ordered methadone programs they must pick a center to go to, since it must be administered on-site.

This is where the battle lies:  Where to place methadone clinics?

The Holmesburg neighborhood has been fighting The Healing Way clinic in the courts now for two years.  It wants to open at Frankford Avenue and Decatur Street, which is in the geographical epicenter, not to mention the main commercial heart of the neighborhood.   The estimated patient load per day is somewhere between 400 to 500 patients per day, with less than a dozen parking spots available.

The donut shop at 7th and Girard is the secondary methadone clinic waiting room
The donut shop at 7th and Girard is the secondary methadone clinic waiting room for the clinic at 8th and Girard

Solution:  All medical offices must now go to zoning.

Councilman Brian O’Neil and Councilman Bobby Henon for the 10th and 6th districts (respectively) introduced a measure that would strip the by-right use of ‘medical office’ from all zoning categories in the Philadelphia code when it comes to the 10th and 6th councilmanic districts, which then forces all new medical practices to go to through the zoning process and meet with neighbors to get their use permits.

Why did these two Council members lump all medical practitioners into this bucket?

The Americans With Disabilities Act.   It’s difficult to make controversial medical providers go through the zoning process and force them to meet face to face with neighborhood residents without their lawyers shouting “exclusivity!”, being singled-out, and being discriminated against.   Even controls to mandate parking to patient load ratios are met with fierce resistance.

The owners of The Healing Way have never attended any community meeting or met with neighborhood residents prior to the case heading to court; which was something they desperately wanted from the owners.   Of course, the owners also knew well in advance that there would be vehement opposition to the clinic, which is why the L&I permits carefully avoided any mention of MAT/MMT, drug dispensing or anything related to drug therapy when describing the use of their space.  “Medical Office” was the description used. [It’s not unique to us either.]

Why do neighborhood residents hate these clinics?

  • Excessive, annoying outdoor loitering thanks to overbooking and over-scheduling by clinic operators.  Loiterers tend to spew trash in all directions which no one feels compelled to pick up.
  • Lax spending on security by private clinics.  We are, after all, dealing with the primary patients being drug users and many were ordered to treatment by criminal courts for shit that they’ve done, and…
  • Clinics are a great target for drug dealers to locate their business.  You are much more likely to encounter a willing customer hitting up people coming to and from the clinic.  Many were willing drug purchasers in the past, and some can’t resist the temptation to continue to buy a supply to use when the effects of their methadone dose subside.
  • Clinics destroy property values and convert areas near them into high concentration of rental housing vs. a healthier mix of homeowner-occupied and rental.  Who wants to plop down on a 30-year mortgage for a house next to a methadone clinic?   I didn’t think so.

There are homes close to The Healing Way’s proposed location which have sunk in value to $70,000 from earlier lows of $100K.   And the clinic doesn’t even have permits or is open yet.

Until MAT clinics can come up with a way to isolate their business’s deleterious effects from other property owners and the communities which they want to open up shop in, this conflict will not go away.

The first thing many of them can do right now make sure that patient waiting rooms are gigantic, can more than handle the maximum scheduling capacity; and start canceling the appointments for patients who check in and then dart back outside to go loiter.

If clinic operators continue to push the factory dispensing model to push up PA Medicaid patient revenue, expect the opposition to strengthen.

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A featured guest singing vocals over a DJ mix at Club Aura [AuraPHL.com]
A featured guest singing vocals over a DJ mix at Club Aura

For Immediate Release

Last month nuisance-club operator Marc Stein sued myself, this blog, the police, the City, Northern Liberties in a scattershot manner in Federal court hoping to eviscerate criticism over his latest grotesque creation:   Club Aura at 626 N Front Street in Northern Liberties.

For the full Club Aura history, you can go here.

This morning PDQ along with Northern Liberties Neighborhood Association and several neighbors have submitted to the court a Motion to Dismiss for Failure To State a Claim.

Marc Stein’s lawsuit is nothing more than a frivolous and capricious SLAPP action that he filed because his feelings got hurt that people were talking about the havoc his club caused when it was operating outside the bounds of the law.

Likewise, the City of Philadelphia also filed a Motion to Dismiss in the case because it is immune from these types of silly tort suits under the Political Subdivision Tort Claims Act.

Philadelinquency is represented by Fishtown attorney A. Jordan Rushie, Esq. and Marc Randazza.

2013.9.9 Motion to Dismiss Complaint (Filed) – Stein v. City of Philadelphia

Stein v. City of Philadelphia – Motion To Dismiss

MARC STEIN v. City of Philadelphia, Sawyer, Et Al  (Original Complaint filed by Marc Stein)

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Remember Club Aura in Northern Liberties that I hope I would have to never write about any more?   Well, Philadelinquency will soon be headed to Federal court at 6th and Market over it.

This is my take on this case, since I’m one of the defendants mentioned:   It wasn’t a secret while owner Marc Stein was trying to get a SAOL permit and operate without it that Club Aura wasn’t being very neighborly.  Taking the neighborhood and all who have written about the Club Aura escapade to Federal Court to exact revenge isn’t going to win over any hearts and minds in Northern Liberties, much less the 6th Police District or the City of Philadelphia.

Throughout the Federal complaint no substantive mentions were ever made of the shooting that occurred outside Club Aura.

As this case is total bullshit, and a SLAPP suit if I ever saw one, Philadelinquency has retained representation of Philadelphia’s pre-eminent First Amendment rights attorney A. Jordan Rushie and nationally-renowned First Amendment attorney Marc J. Randazza to represent myself and the Philadelinquency blog on this case.  Incidentally, both attorneys are also representing Kate Gosselin of TLC’s TV reality show Kate+8.

 

MARC STEIN v. City of Philadelphia, Sawyer, Et Al

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Note:  Yup, this is a rant.  If you’re not interested in rants today, then move along.

[Feeling helpless after the building collapse?  Donate to help defray the funeral costs of the victims.]

Michael Nutter, I have to say I haven’t been more frustrated with you at any point in your career since I’ve lived in this city until this moment right now.  I watched the pressers and your frustration with handling them all day Wednesday.  The entire universe for a fleeting moment was focused on tragedy in the urban core of your city, the city you command and control, and it made Philadelphia look like a city in the third world.

What’s the difference between the Rana Plaza building collapse and the, what I shall dub anyway, the Basciano Collapse?   The Rana Plaza garment factory collapse has actually led to a worldwide movement to shop for guilt-free clothes.   What reform movement will come from the Basciano Collapse?

Nothing.

I want you to look at this picture.  Look at her carefully.  What are you going to tell Anne’s mom and dad?  Have you talked to them yet today?  Will you ever?

Anne Bryan [Photo from PAFA]
Anne Bryan [Photo from PAFA]

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