|"Only dull people are brilliant at breakfast"
|"The liberal soul shall be made fat, and he that watereth, shall be watered also himself."
-- Proverbs 11:25
Foundopoulos was a tenant of Getty Petroleum Marketing (GPMI) and a sub-tenant of Getty Realty, a separate company which leases gas stations and convenience stores to distributors. Last December, GPMI filed for bankruptcy. Two weeks ago, a U.S. Bankruptcy Court judge in New York found the lease between GPMI and Getty Realty was void, allowing the real estate company to repossess 788 gas stations, including the Getty in Washington Township.Here's the backstory:
Since then, Foundopoulos has received no new shipments of fuel — though one may come in the next few days — as Getty Realty has had to find a new distributor to replace GPMI. Foundopoulos has kept the garage open, but in the meantime he has been missing the 6.5 cents per gallon of gas sold GPMI paid him. Getty Realty has switched Foundopoulus and other stations to a monthly lease and the exact amount they will pay remains undetermined, Foundopoulos said.
"Now they want to pay us less," Foundopoulos said.
Getty Realty recently attempted to evict 63 tenants from gas stations in Connecticut and New York, but withdrew the motion last week. Foundopoulos said he was worried they might try to evict him from the Washington Township location, which has been open since 1959.
Getty Realty's request for an eviction order was in itself controversial. It asked the bankruptcy court in Manhattan to declare that it could take "all necessary steps" to evict the dealers, including "breaking open and entering" the stations and using the U.S. Marshals Service to arrest the retailers. The request was filed late on a Saturday night and dealers were given no advance notice of the move.
Getty Realty's motion would also have allowed it to seize stations in New York, where dealers say they have spent more than $1.6 million of their own pockets to install improvements, including convenience stores, canopies, pumps, tanks and EPOS equipment.
The company's eviction maneuver raised eyebrows on both sides of the legal divide.
Getty Realty is not in bankruptcy. Rather, it is the company's former tenant at the stations, Getty Petroleum Marketing Inc. (GPMI), which is in Chapter 11 reorganization. Getty Realty itself is only a GPMI creditor in the case, while the dealers themselves have never been party to the bankruptcy action.
Under usual legal procedures, Getty Realty would file separate eviction cases against each dealer in a state court, with every retailer having the right to mount a defense, legal sources say.
"I could see the court issuing an order holding GPMI in contempt for not surrendering the stations free of tenancy, but I don't understand how the dealers can be subject to the bankruptcy court or how the judge in that case would even have jurisdiction," admitted one jobber attorney. "But if it works, it would be a silver bullet for Getty."
In emergency filings, dealer lawyers asked the bankruptcy court not to give in to Getty Realty's demands. When GPMI gave up its leases on the stations, the court specifically stated that it was allowing the return of the sites to Getty Realty "without prejudice to any rights" the dealers had, the filings said.
The dealers have honored their obligations to Getty Realty by paying their rents and should be allowed to assert their rights to remain on the properties in the appropriate legal forum, which is not a bankruptcy court, Matthew K. Beatman, a lawyer representing the Connecticut dealers, told the court.
"They did nothing to warrant being dispossessed of their businesses, their life savings and rendered destitute," he said in a court motion. They are being hauled into court solely because two big companies--Getty Realty and GPMI--cannot amicably resolve a business dispute between themselves.
The Connecticut dealers appealed to Blumenthal after Getty Realty filed the eviction motion. Blumenthal contacted the trustee in the GPMI bankruptcy case, asking for more information, said CSP Daily News sources close to his office. The retailers also sent a message to the U.S. Department of Justice, complaining that Getty Realty was trying to use the U.S. Marshals Service as its private "policeman" to evict scores of dealers in one fell swoop, rather than follow normal court procedures.
"The use of these significant federal resources, marshals, at scores of locations, is an unprecedented, unwarranted and inappropriate move that is supported by neither the facts nor the law," said the message, sent by one dealer attorney. The retailers are being threatened not only with immediate loss of their property, their rights and business, "but their dignity and potentially, their freedom," he said.
"In my view, there is business and there is litigation and there is abuse. This is abuse," said John Morgan, another lawyer representing the Connecticut dealers.