Businessman loses legal battle claiming school's hotel branch forced restaurant to close
By Alex Bridges -- firstname.lastname@example.org
WINCHESTER -- A local businessman lost a legal battle against Shenandoah University over claims the school's hotel arm forced his long-standing restaurant out of business.
A Frederick County Circuit Court jury decided Friday that Shenandoah Hotel Property LLC did not breach the contract it had with George Sempeles and Jimmy's Steak & Seafood Grill.
Jimmy's restaurant operated in the Quality Inn building in the 1000 block of Millwood Pike in Frederick County from 1964 until Sempeles closed the family business Feb. 24, 2010.
Sempeles accused the university's hotel management company of breach of contract in a lawsuit filed in 2010. Sempeles claimed the company failed to maintain the property, causing the restaurant to lose business. Sempeles also argued the university's initiative to convert hotel space into dorms and rooms for transient construction workers harmed the business.
Attorneys for the defendant refuted the claims and denied wrongdoing. They claimed Sempeles owed the defendant damages for costs the company incurred when it needed to renovate the restaurant into a breakfast dining area for students.
At the end of the five-day trial, the jury of seven people deliberated for approximately 90 minutes before reaching verdicts in favor of the defendant on the suit's two claims.
Toward the end of the trial, retired Judge Benjamin Kendrick ordered the courtroom doors locked and to remain closed to anyone not already inside during closing arguments given by both sides.
Sempeles' attorney, Kevin M. Rose, made a motion before Kendrick to set aside the jury's verdict. Kendrick, who presided over the jury trial, denied the plaintiff's motion.
The jury also awarded to the defendant $51,331.45 in damages from when the plaintiff ceased operation of the restaurant and removed some equipment from the area the university needed to use as a breakfast serving area.
Members of the Sempeles family showed emotion outside the courtroom after the verdict.
"This was my day in court," Sempeles said to local media when asked whether he planned to appeal the decision.
Rose offered no comment about the verdict.
The college's Harrisonburg attorney, William "Bill" Shmidheiser, expressed satisfaction with the jury's verdict.
"I said from the beginning we trust the jury and we respect the jury and the jury sees law collectively, no one person hears it all, and I think they came to the right decision," Shmidheiser said. "I respected that and I'm happy that George [Sempeles] had the right to present his case.
"He obviously felt very strongly about it," Shmidheiser said. "He had the opportunity to be heard. He had his day in court -- actually had five days in court -- and that's his American right and, at the end of the day, the jury concluded that we had not breached the contract with them. What happened to his restaurant was not Shenandoah Hotel's fault, and he breached his contract with them and they owe the university for that."