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Conn. Supreme Court considers whether pandemic restrictions affect restaurant lease

 The justices of the Connecticut Supreme Court take their seats before arguments on November 16, 2021.
Still image from video feed by CT-N.
The justices of the Connecticut Supreme Court take their seats before arguments on Nov. 16, 2021.

The Connecticut Supreme Court on Tuesday heard oral arguments in a Norwalk case that will address whether the tenant or the landlord takes on the financial risk when unprecedented pandemic executive orders limit a restaurant’s cash flow.

The landlord, AGW SoNo Partners LLC, claims it is owed $200,308.76 in damages for unpaid lease payments from March 2020 through December 2020.

That stretch covers a period of executive orders that limited indoor dining during the coronavirus crisis. Philip Russell, who represents restaurant owner Downtown Soho LLC, said his client’s lease called for regularly serving about 140 guests at up to $200 a head. But when Gov. Ned Lamont’s public health restrictions took effect, Russell said his client could serve only eight tables or offer takeout. The restaurant couldn’t hit its pre-COVID targets.

“In this case, we had a contractual obligation to operate a high-end restaurant, quoting from the contract, and for no other purpose," Russell said.

Andrew Nevas, an attorney for the landlord, said nothing in the lease promised that his client would cover losses under an act of God like a global pandemic. He cited three similar pandemic lease disputes in New York and New Jersey, where judges have told tenants they still owe rent.