The 5th District Court of Appeal on Wednesday ruled Tower Theatre in Fresno acted in bad faith by not revealing its proposed sale price to one of its tenants objecting to the sale.
Three judges in the case ruled the theater’s owners did not disclose the sale price to the owners of Sequoia Brewery and then exaggerated the price to try to keep Sequoia from protesting the sale.
In the ruling, the judges also said Tower Theatre’s owners are responsible for any relevant attorneys fees accumulated by Sequoia.
The ruling reinforces a legal label called “lis pendens” on the theater, which legal experts say makes the property less appealing to buyers. The label notes the building is caught up in a legal battle.
Sequoia’s owners have argued their contract with the theater gives them the right to refuse a sale and to purchase the property themselves. The theater’s owners had been in talks with Adventure Community Church for a sale that was not properly disclosed to Sequoia, the court wrote.
Sequoia’s attorneys could not immediately be reached for comment.
Theater owner Laurence Abbate has signaled he would pull the Tower Theatre off the market and not sell to Adventure Community Church, according to a legal filing from April 6. But he has also said publicly he intends to sell to the church.
The sale has been controversial.
The ultimate fate for the 81-year-old theater and other properties around it remains unclear.
The owner’s attorney, David Camenson, said Wednesday he had not yet read the latest court finding and did not comment on a potential appeal. “I can’t comment on it at this time,” he said.
The proposed sale to Adventure Church has set off weekly protests outside Tower Theatre, where the church has held services on Sundays.
In a separate legal battle, a Fresno County judge granted the city of Fresno access to the Tower Theatre to conduct an inspection of the historical building, which the owners had protested.