$3 million suit filed against Thomson TownshipTwo Esko residents who own the former Washington School building have filed suit in Carlton County District Court seeking more than $3 million in damages, saying Thomson Township officials caused “three years of intentional personal injury, willful and malicious conduct, and reckless indifference.”
By: Jana Peterson, Pine Journal
Two Esko residents who own the former Washington School building have filed suit in Carlton County District Court seeking more than $3 million in damages, saying Thomson Township officials caused “three years of intentional personal injury, willful and malicious conduct, and reckless indifference.”
The suit is filed against Thomson Township, Thomson Township Fire Department, John Gulland, Duane Grace and Jeffrey Juntunen regarding building codes and related issues at the Washington building, located at 1 N. Cloquet Rd. W.
Filed by Marvin Pirila and Gail Francette, the civil lawsuit was originally additionally filed against the city of Duluth because Gulland was also their employee, but the city was dismissed from it this week.
The document alleges that Gulland, a building inspector, and Grace, a plan reviewer, reasonably knew the codes they chose to follow for the Washington building were incorrect and that they “acted with malice by committing acts (failing to write reports, record inspections, inspect without consent, etc.) they had reason to believe were prohibited.”
Pirila contacted the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry asking them to investigate, and last fall they concluded that Gulland had violated seven statutes and rules related to the duties of a Minnesota certified building official regarding the Washington building.
While Gulland could have faced up to a $10,000 fine for each violation, instead the state allowed Gulland to be censured and take additional continuing education classes. He did not admit any wrongdoing and has retired from the Thomson position after 16 years, according to Dave Pritchett, attorney for Thomson Township. No other suits were filed against Gulland during that time.
Pirila’s lawsuit relies largely on the findings against Gulland by the state. The suit also names Juntunen, Esko’s fire chief, because he allegedly entered the Washington building twice without notifying the owners, which led to a letter about fire code violations.
Pritchett said the township believes the lawsuit has no merit.
“We’re looking to have it dismissed,” he said Tuesday.
He also stated that the state’s investigation against Gulland basically determined that Gulland wasn’t strict enough about the codes at the Washington building.
“We maintain he was doing his best to work with [Pirila and Francette],” he said.
The suit asks for $3 million in punitive damages and more for items including tort liability, lost rent, keeping the owners from living in the building, higher insurance rates and increased architectural and design costs due to code error.
Records show Pirila and Francette purchased the building in 2006. They are now living in it and renting at least some of the units, according to Carlton County Economic Development Director Pat Oman, who said in recent years the couple received a $20,000 county small cities grant for rehabilitation of the building.