One legal appeal has just cost Wal-Mart four years of profits in a Massachusetts community — and the case isn’t over yet. On January 14, 2008, Sprawl-Busters reported that Demoulas Super Markets Inc. of Tewksbury, Massachusetts, the parent company of Market Basket supermarkets, and owner of the Market Basket Plaza on Route 138 in Raynham, Massachusetts, had filed a lawsuit against a proposed Wal-Mart in Raynham. Demoulas filed their lawsuit in May of 2005, naming the Raynham Planning Board and Wal-Mart as defendants. Demoulas challenged the legality of a Planning Board vote made on May 2, 2005 to grant Wal-Mart a special permit, paving the way for a 208,622-s.f. superstore at the former Par 3 golf course, located next to the Market Basket Plaza, close to the Taunton line. Demoulas charged that the Planning Board made its decision without full review of plans and without proper consideration of the impact of increased traffic on area roads. Demoulas sought to overturn a decision by the Planning Board to accept a subdivision and a site plan under one heading, after waiving a review of the subdivison plan. Demoulas said the board failed to fully consider evidence during the public hearings phase of the project. The Planning Board did not consider the negative impact of increased traffic and the impact of an offer by Wal-Mart to pay for new traffic lights along the Route 138 corridor, as well as a new traffic light at the entrance to their store. The superstore is projected to raise traffic by 40% near the site. Demoulas asserted that the proposed traffic light near the Wal-Mart entrance is too close to a traffic light located in front of their plaza. This will create traffic delays and gridlock along the two-lane Route 138 roadway. On March 14, 2008, Sprawl-Busters reported that the closing arguments in the case were heard in Superior Court in Fall River, Massachusetts. The Demoulas lawsuit has cost Wal-Mart a four year delay. The trial, which was a non-jury trial, lasted about seven weeks. Superior Court judge Robert Cosgrove had the final decision to make, and it took him almost exactly a year to make his ruling. According to the Taunton Gazette, Attorney Julie Pruitt Barry, representing Demoulas, said that the Wal-Mart superstore would add roughly 11,000 cars on Route 138, which would create “a potential and undisputed increase in traffic created by Wal-Mart.” She said Demoulas was not motivated by “a fear of competition,” because Market Basket customers are very loyal. “They go to Demoulas supermarkets because of the price and quality,” Barry explained. She charged that the Planning Board “exceeded its authority and abused its discretion,” by granting a sewer extension without first seeking approval from residents at a town meeting. Wal-Mart’s lawyer said the real reason for the lawsuit was increased competition to Market Basket. “It’s clearly the 500-pound gorilla that’s been sitting in the corner during every day of the trial,” Wal-Mart’s lawyer said. “Let’s talk about what really is at issue.” Wal-Mart described Demoulas’ case as “flimsy,” and “threadbare,” and urged the Judge not to consider issues over environmental and economic impacts that were ruled out in previous court decisions. The two sides disagreed over the issue of sewer service to the site. Demoulas said that the city of Taunton believes that Wal-Mart has to get the city’s approval to install a 2,000 foot extension of sewer pipe. Wal-Mart said it does not need Taunton’s approval. The Mayor of Taunton said in 2005 that “the construction of Wal-Mart on Route 138 will be devastating to Taunton. Taunton will get all the traffic while Raynham gets all the fees and tax revenues. On March 16, 2009, the Raynham Selectmen were informed by the town’s lawyer that Judge Cosgrove had affirmed the decision of the town’s Planning Board from 2005. The Judge dismissed Demoulas’ appeal. The chairman of the Raynham Selectman, Joe Pacheco, indicated that Wal-Mart was now free to start applying for permits. But Demoulas still has 3 months to appeal the ruling, so nothing will happen immediately. The Demoulas store directly abuts the proposed supercenter. If this store is built, Wal-Mart will have two supercenters in Raynham. The 220,000 s.f. Supercenter #2021 is located on Paramount Drive in Raynham, a few minutes away. Wal-Mart has indicated that it will start with a 148,000 s.f. store, and later add the 60,000 s.f. As of 2007, there were only 13,641 people in Raynham, a town with two big superstores.
It’s not often that you see one retailer take on another in court. In this case, Demoulas has deeper pockets than the usual opponent Wal-Mart faces. Citizens groups have to struggle to raise the cash to go toe-to-toe with Wal-Mart. That was not a problem for Demoulas. Market Basket stores, which are a major discount competitor in Massachusetts, and the company has a reputation for low-cost groceries. Demoulas is not doubt unhappy with the court decision, and could continue their legal challenge against the superstore, which is targeted at their neighboring store. It makes sense for Demoulas to spend its legal money now, to avoid larger losses later. Demoulas operates roughly 60 supermarkets in Massachusetts and New Hampshire. Readers are urged to call Demoulas (this privately held company has no website) at 978-851-8000, with this message: “I hope you will continue to pursue your legal right of appeal from the Superior Court ruling in the Raynham case. Raynham already has a Wal-Mart supercenter less than 10 minutes away. Thanks for taking them on, and congratulations for holding them off for 4 years already. Town officials seem to be oblivious to the impact another superstore will have on the grocery merchants in their community. Keep their project on ice for as long as you can.”