Saturday, July 05, 2014
NORTHAMPTON — When the Hampden County sheriff’s office tried recently to serve a summons to businessman Eric Suher in person, it couldn’t find him at his main place of business.
A judge cut some slack and the department was allowed to leave the summons at the 47 Jackson St. office in Holyoke.
Finding Suher at one of his properties isn’t a simple matter.
A Gazette reporter hit the road to gain a better understanding of the many places Suher could have been when the sheriff’s office tried, repeatedly, to serve him a summons related to Northampton’s attempt to retrieve an unused liquor license.
Suher could have been at one of more than two dozen commercial and residential properties he owns in Northampton and Holyoke. The sheriff’s office, per instructions, looked only at a main business address.
But a wider look might not have yielded different results. Suher could, for instance, have been putting on the third green of his Holyoke Country Club, or checking the cable lock on the grand black gates of sprawling Mountain Park.
Down the hill, he might have been driving the parking lot of Castle Hill Apartments, checking on the scene.
Suher undoubtedly has offices in many of the commercial buildings he owns in downtown Northampton — and he could have been at one of these high-profile locales, like the Calvin Theatre or Iron Horse Music Hall, working on paperwork or on new business deals precisely when the sheriff’s deputies went to 47 Jackson St.
Being self-employed, Suher could have gone home to his primary residence, which according to a declaration of homestead is at 160 Mountain View Drive in Holyoke, a stately residence in a leafy green hillside enclave.
Or he could have been at another, white-shuttered, single-family Colonial home he owns nearby in the Holyoke Highlands at 28 Jefferson St. — maybe attending to something that needed fixing.
It is possible he was inside a mixed residential and commercial complex of buildings on Northampton Street and Rene Drive in Holyoke, where a man was seen gardening against a chain link fence in the hot sun Tuesday.
But the sheriff’s deputies wouldn’t have known that when they traveled to the city to serve him a summons.
Farther into Holyoke and down near the canals, Suher could well have been inside the old Die Cut Card Co. mill building he owns at the corner of Dwight and Front streets, where the sounds of power equipment inside could be heard this week, and where an unidentified man in a red T-shirt was seen tinkering with a broken windowpane on the second floor.
Although it’s probably unlikely, Suher could have been checking up on the old Czelusniak Funeral Home he owns at 143 Maple St. in Holyoke, to see if one of its dilapidated awnings had come loose.
Circling back to Northampton, Suher could have been inside the Felt Building at 136 West St. negotiating a new lease with a tenant or trying to figure out how to expand parking — or he may have been down the street at the Old Baptist Church marveling at an earlier era of craftsmanship.
It’s possible Suher was collecting rents or personally fixing a dryer vent at the multitude of old-style, multifamily homes he owns on the perimeter of Northampton’s downtown, from Franklin Street and Henshaw Avenue near Smith College to Orchard, Cherry and Bridge streets in the more transitional Ward 3.
In fact, he might not have been at any of these places when the sheriff’s deputies came looking for him. He could have been on Nantucket or on an Alaskan cruise, which would help explain why he wasn’t at 47 Jackson St. on many occasions this month.
Hampshire Superior Court Judge Bertha D. Josephson on Monday made the sheriff’s job a lot easier when she ruled that a summons and complaint can be left at Suher’s office in Holyoke, even if he is not there to accept it personally.
Hampden Chief Deputy Sheriff Robert Hoffman said Wednesday that the department was provided Suher’s 47 Jackson St. office as the requested address to serve the summons, but after many attempts, officers could not find Suher there to serve him the documents.
Suher is scheduled to appear at a court hearing Tuesday to answer a complaint by the city of Northampton, which is seeking the return of a liquor license he hasn’t used five years after it was issued. The liquor license is owned under Suher’s 26-28 Center St. LLC, one of his many limited liability companies and the city also demands he pay its legal expenses.
That company’s address is listed as 47 Jackson St. in Holyoke — which is why the Hampden County Sheriff’s Office was attempting to serve the summons there.
Under the Massachusetts Rules of Civil Procedure, a summons served upon public or private domestic corporations must be delivered to “a managing or general agent, or to the person in charge of the business at the principal place of business thereof within the Commonwealth ... ”
“That was where the service was requested,” said Hoffman, the Hampden deputy sheriff.
If after a diligent search, a defendant cannot be found, the court can take other actions in an attempt to bring someone to court.
According to Northampton City Solicitor Alan Seewald, staff at the Hampden County Sheriff’s Department informed him last week that the summons must be left with Suher himself and not with anyone else at his office at 47 Jackson St.
That prompted Northampton’s request for the summons to be left at Suher’s Holyoke office, which Judge Josephson granted.
If the summons was to be delivered to an individual, then the rules provide that it can be done personally, or “by leaving copies thereof at his last and usual place of abode ... ”
“My understanding is that (the Hampden Sheriff’s Office) was given the address of the LLC, which I’m told is the only place that can be served,” Mayor David J. Narkewicz said.
Hoffman said the sheriff’s office had not attempted to serve Suher a new summons, because it was awaiting new paperwork to reflect the judge’s order and a new hearing before doing so.
Next time, the sheriff’s deputies can leave the summons at 47 Jackson St., where there are more air conditioners than signs hanging outside, and where Suher might even be found.
Dan Crowley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.