Norfolk Successfully Defends Decision as Appeals Court Rejects Casino Lawsuit

In a significant legal victory for the city, Norfolk has successfully fended off a $100 million lawsuit filed by Cordish Companies, the developer ph646 of Waterside District. The lawsuit claimed that Cordish should have had the first right to develop a casino in Norfolk and sought damages over the city’s casino plans with the Pamunkey Indian Tribe.

Norfolk’s Partnership with Pamunkey Tribe Prevails in Casino Lawsuit Appeal

The Court of Appeals of Virginia, in a 12-page ruling issued on February 27, upheld the lower court’s decision to dismiss Cordish’s lawsuit against Norfolk, Norfolk Redevelopment and Housing Authority (NRHA), and city attorney Bernard Pishko, as reported by The Virginian-Pilot. 

Cordish Companies, a Baltimore-based developer that revitalized Waterside in 2013, argued that it should have exclusive rights to develop and operate a casino based on its Waterside development agreement and lease.

Norfolk’s decision to move forward with the Pamunkey Indian Tribe for the HeadWaters Resort and Casino, located less than a mile from Waterside, triggered the legal dispute. Norfolk District Associates, a Cordish-owned LLC, sued in 2021, alleging breach of contract and an active attempt to exclude Waterside from casino site considerations.

The case was initially dismissed by a Richmond Circuit Court judge in 2022, leading Cordish to appeal. In the ruling from February 27, the Court of Appeals affirmed the lower court’s decision, stating that the 2013 lease agreement did not obligate the city and NRHA to use Norfolk District Associates to develop a casino.

Judge AtLee: Casino Deal Unenforceable

Judge Richard Y. AtLee, representing the three-judge panel, explained that they concluded section 10.2.1 of the agreement could not be enforced because it was essentially an agreement to agree, and the agreement did not allow for a casino. This, he said, supported the circuit court’s decision to uphold the demurrers.

Cordish Companies refrained from providing a comment regarding the ruling. In contrast, city attorney Bernard Pishko conveyed satisfaction, expressing that they were pleased with the court’s confirmation that Cordish and John Lynch had filed the lawsuit against the city, city attorney, and NRHA without a basis.

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The appeal process included two rounds, with the second round featuring oral arguments in December 2023 after one judge had to recuse themselves due to a conflict of interest.

The judges who participated in the final round of oral arguments and made the ruling were AtLee, Haley, and Dominique A. Callins, with Causey recusing.The legal victory solidifies Norfolk‘s position in moving forward with the HeadWaters Resort and Casino alongside the Pamunkey Indian Tribe.