Tonawanda News

January 11, 2013

Judge blocks lawsuit

By Michael Regan
The Tonawanda News

Tonawanda News — A North Tonawanda business owner hit a roadblock in his pursuit of a financial settlement from the City of North Tonawanda when a state Supreme Court judge ruled against the measure Thursday. 

City Attorney Shawn Nickerson filed a motion to compel against a federal lawsuit made by Oliver Street shopkeeper Muwafek Rizek, who alleges discrimination and harassment by the North Tonawanda Police Department and other city officials.

Rizek was accused of setting fire to his deli at 290 Oliver St. in 2009, by NT police and his insurance company in a civil proceeding. A jury agreed the fire was a result of an electrical malfunction — not arson — and  Rizek received a $500,000 settlement from the insurance company. Had the jury sided with the city and insurance company it likely would have meant criminal charges being filed, Rizek’s lawyer said.

Last year, Rizek agreed not to sue the city in front of state Supreme Court Judge Richard C. Kloch when he agreed with the city’s stance and ordered Rizek to sign a release. 

Kloch again was the presiding judge, this time with Rizek as the plaintiff, but sided with the city saying the terms of Rizek’s previous settlement preclude him from seeking additional damages from the city.

“It’s my position that (his previous settlement) releases the city for any type of liability prior to the date and settlement,” said City Attorney Shawn Nickerson. 

Rizek’s attorney Kevin Stocker said he may file an appeal to Thursday’s

ruling and also pursue legal options related to instances of “harassment and discrimination” by police and the city they say have ensued since the 2011 trial ended in Rizek’s vindication. Stocker also contends he and his client were told in Kloch’s chambers last year they would be permitted to seek an additional settlement from the city.   

Stocker said that soon after the January meeting with Kloch, Rizek was stopped by a North Tonawanda police officer and asked for his identification as he was entering the Post Office. They also allege the notice of Thursday’s court appearance was hand delivered by two North Tonawanda police officers — which Rizek said was meant as intimidation for his continuing to pursue the lawsuit.

He also questions a recent city assessment of the damaged property at $220,000 — which they say is inflated and was completed before the building was even refurbished after the fire.  

“We were going to try and prove they intentionally engaged in conduct to discriminate again Mr. Rizek,” Stocker said of his client, who was born in Palestine.

Nickerson dismissed the allegations and said that Kloch’s ruling could negate the federal lawsuit.  

“I certainly deny any of those claims or wrongdoings,” he said. 

Contact reporter Michael Regan at 693-1000, ext. 4115.