UPDATE: Judge issues ruling in mom-vs.-son restaurant lawsuit

The Tipp City restaurant lawsuit that pits mother against son isn’t going away anytime soon, a judge has ruled.

Nicholas Hoover, the current owner of Coldwater Cafe in Tipp City, had sought to throw out the lawsuit filed by the restaurant’s founder — and his own mother — Betty Peachey before it advanced to the trial stage. But a Miami County Common Pleas judge issued a ruling Monday denying the request, meaning the lawsuit will move forward.

FIRST REPORT: Coldwater Cafe lawsuit pits mother against son (February 2017)

Hoover, chef-owner of Coldwater Cafe, had sought the dismissal of the lawsuit filed Feb. 16 by Peachey, who founded Coldwater Cafe in 1994. Peachey’s lawsuit claims that her son reneged on a 2011 oral agreement to pay her $40,000 per year for the rest of her life in exchange for full ownership of the restaurant.

In a “motion for judgment on the pleadings” filed March 21, Hoover’s attorneys contended that the basis of Betty Peachey’s lawsuit was so flawed that a judge should dismiss the suit prior to it reaching trial.

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Hoover said in court documents that the transfer of ownership of the restaurant actually was completed two years before Peachey had claimed, in 2009, and they said there is no evidence of any oral agreement between mother and son. Hoover has said in court documents that his mother had walked away from her job at the restaurant in 2014, and he eventually stopped paying her salary.

“Mr. Hoover never promised to pay (his mother) a lifelong, annual retirement of $40,000 a year if (she) transferred all remaining voting and non-voting shares to him,” Hoover’s former attorneys wrote. Besides, such an oral agreement “cannot be enforced in preference to a signed writing which pertains to exactly the same subject matter, yet has different terms,” they said.

Hoover’s mother responded through her attorney, Craig Matthews of Centerviille, denying that she had given up ownership of the restaurant in 2009, and urging the judge to allow the lawsuit to continue.

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During the time that Peachey still owned the voting shares of Coldwater Cafe, “Hoover’s livelihood was solely dependent on Peachey employing him and on his ability to acquire an ownership interest in Coldwater,” Peachey’s attorney wrote. “Hoover thus had an enormous motive to acquire the voting shares from Peachey, because that was the only was he could guarantee his job and pave the way for his taking over the highly successful restaurant his mother had founded.

“Thus, Hoover promised he would take care of his mother for her retirement if she gave him her voting shares in Coldwater.”

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In her decision, Miami County Common Pleas Judge Jeannine Pratt ruled against all three of the grounds that Hoover’s attorneys had hoped to use to throw out the case at this early stage of the civil lawsuit. No trial date has been set.

Coldwater Cafe has been a popular dining destination for several years. Earlier this year, the Tipp City restaurant was included in the online-reservations website OpenTable.com's 2017 list of the "100 Most Romantic Restaurants in America."

Peachey said in her lawsuit that she originally hired her son to work in Coldwater Cafe’s kitchen, then sent him to culinary school in California to groom him to take over as executive chef at the restaurant. She is seeking compensatory and punitive damages as well as court costs and attorneys’ fees.

Hoover hired new attorneys last month after his mother asked the judge to remove his original attorneys from the case because another member of their Troy-based law firm had represented her on several matters during the time that she owned the restaurant — prior to turning it over to her son.

Hoover’s new attorneys are David P. Pierce and Jennifer R. Grewe of the Dayton law firm of Coolidge Wall Co.

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