The firm that has asked Louisiana’s highest court to consider its suit challenging the World Trade Center building’s redevelopment in New Orleans has filed for bankruptcy in a Florida court, a move that could let it dodge much of its more than $6 million in debts.
The company's owner sees the bankruptcy and related court proceedings as a Plan B, should the Louisiana Supreme Court refuse to take up the World Trade Center case.
“The best thing I can do is to bring it (to Florida) and see if I can get a fair shake,” said Stuart “Neil” Fisher, owner of Two Canal Street Investors Inc. “If I’m wrong, I lose. If I’m right, (the WTC project) would probably go for a rebid.”
Two Canal filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of Florida on Friday, the same day it asked the Louisiana Supreme Court to overturn two earlier rulings dismissing its lawsuit over the World Trade Center project in New Orleans.
This is the latest of dozens of bankruptcy filings for Fisher, but the first for this particular company, court records show.
Fisher is banking on an arcane part of federal bankruptcy law that allows firms such as his to file an “adversary proceeding,” or a complaint that resembles a civil lawsuit. Under it, Two Canal might ask a bankruptcy judge to stop another party from taking an action that affects its finances, or for some other kind of relief.
The man whose lawsuit has for more than a year held up plans to turn the old World Trade Cen…
His latest game plan is a change from his earlier threat to file a suit in U.S. District Court in Baton Rouge to challenge the constitutionality of a 2016 Louisiana law that requires lawsuits such as Two Canal's to be heard on an expedited timeline.
A New Orleans judge relied on that law to dismiss Fisher's lawsuit against the WTC project.
The bizarre litigation has for nearly two years held up progress on plans to turn the vacant 33-story office tower at the foot of Canal Street into a Four Seasons Hotel and condominiums. It began in April 2015, when Fisher paid $10 to buy Two Canal — a losing bidder on the project — and filed suit against the city.
Two Canal argued that the city should have picked its plans to turn the building into a Hotel Alessandra instead of selecting the development team of Carpenter and Co. and Woodward Design + Build for the Four Seasons project.
The company said its plan would have provided the city with the most money in rent payments and the city therefore was legally required to select it.
But the city has said it is exempt from the law that Two Canal cited. And officials with Carpenter and Woodward have painted Fisher as a con man whose company is a hollow shell existing simply as a vehicle for the lawsuit.
Orleans Parish Civil District Court Judge Tiffany Chase and a five-judge panel of the state 4th Circuit Court of Appeal sided with the city's arguments in rulings in November and February.
According to one side, the New Orleans judge who threw out a lawsuit brought by a firm chall…
In a writ filed Friday with the Supreme Court, however, Two Canal’s attorneys said the appeals court incorrectly concluded that Fisher’s firm was a mere shell and misstated facts about the departure of the Davillier Law Group, Two Canal’s former attorneys, from the case.
It’s unclear whether the high court will consider those claims. The court has wide discretion over which cases it takes up.
Even if the judges eventually deny the request, it has caused more delay for the Four Seasons developers, who can’t get title insurance as long as the project remains the subject of litigation.
That litigation comes from a firm that owes 13 creditors more than $6 million, according to court records. The largest chunk of that debt is to Fisher himself, more than $4 million.
The firm also owes money to New Orleans political consultant Danae Columbus, architect Angela O’Byrne of Perez APC, and the law firm it has hired to represent it in court, Scott, Vicknair, Hair & Checki.
A proceeding in the bankruptcy case could create a separate set of problems for the World Trade Center project.
Fisher claimed Monday that a Florida bankruptcy judge could have the power to terminate the city’s lease if Fisher can successfully argue that the selection process was biased against him.
“It’s a David and Goliath suit,” said Fisher, referencing the biblical tale. “But you know what? David’s got a lot of stones in his slingshot.”
Meanwhile, a spokesman for the Four Seasons project team heaped scorn on Fisher.
"This filing is a sham which follows a history of other sham filings and bankruptcies for the purposes of delay, avoiding debts and fees for economic coercion," spokesman Greg Beuerman said.