FRESNO COUNTY – Universal Meditech Inc. (UMI), the owner of the illegal lab operating in a Reedley warehouse, is now seeking millions of dollars in damages from Fresno County.
UMI filed the $50 million complaint against the county over a loss of assets and property after county and federal authorities destroyed thousands of chemicals and nearly a half a million lab tests that were stored in the facility; not only that, but because they euthanized approximately 1,000 mice that were found on site.
UMI retained the Los Angeles-based firm Thomas Business Law Group P.C. (Thomas) to file the claim for damages, which was received by the county on Oct. 13.
ONEROUS AND NON-REPRODUCIBLE
Among other allegations, the 21-page complaint states that county and federal authorities exceeded the scope of their warrants when they entered the warehouse located at 850 I Street in Reedley. The complaint describes county and federal inspections and investigations as “onerous” and maintains that the infectious agents found in the lab posed no threat to the public.
The complaint also alleges these agents were “non-reproducible,” adding to the losses UMI incurred as a result of the decision to destroy the materials.
The complaint alleges that owing to the unauthorized actions by law enforcement and because of the false and distorted reports published by local media, UMI was unable to move to a new location near Fresno International Airport. The complaint notes “the landlord gave formal notice of unilateral cancellation of the lease agreement in mid-August.”
STELLAR DUE DILIGENCE
With respect to actions taken by Reedley personnel – described alternately in the complaint as Reedley municipal management department and Reedley urban management department – the complaint alleges that after UMI had moved its lab contents into 850 I street on Nov. 20, 2022, city officials “continued to check and harass (lab workers).”
The complaint states UMI signed a half-year lease at 850 I Street. To date, that lease has not been made available to the public. The Times reached out to Thomas for a copy of the lease; the firm has not responded.
UMI never obtained a business license to operate in Reedley.
According to the complaint, between April 15 and April 20, “Reedley urban management department wrongfully destroyed more than 1,000 precious purebred experimental mice without any notice of cause.” The complaint alleges the destruction of the mice went beyond the authority granted by the warrant.
The complaint further alleges that between July 5, 2023 and July 8, 2023, company representatives were not allowed to observe (inspections); nor were they permitted to collect ‘evidence’ on site.
“I am livid about this nonsense,” Reedley City Manager Nicole Zieba said regarding the allegations against Reedley contained in the complaint.
Regarding the claims of harassment by Reedley, Zieba said that was simply the city doing its job.
“We were on top of this terrible situation almost immediately,” she said. “They call it harassment; I call it stellar due diligence by Code Enforcement.”
Zieba said that all actions taken by Reedley at the warehouse were supported by warrants obtained from the court. Regarding allegations in the complaint that UMI was not kept in the loop, Zieba dismissed these out of hand.
“In each case, the company was notified and given time to appeal and notice was emailed to them and posted on the building itself days prior to any action being taken under court order,” Zieba said. “It’s absurd to say that they were never given notice when the publicly-filed requests for warrants clearly have their email correspondence attached wherein they are communicating with us, and aware of the issues and our subsequent action.”
Zieba said the city will do everything in its power to recover costs it incurred as a result of its role in closing the lab.
“The City of Reedley is not going to be intimidated by their action of filing a claim. We have sent the company an invoice for abatement costs to-date totaling $310,000. That includes the County’s costs. We intend to fully pursue this recovery,” said Zieba.
On Oct. 13, Lozano Smith, attorney for the city, sent a 69-page document to AY-NC, LP (AY-NC), owner of the warehouse, Archibald M. Sam, agent for AY-NC, Barry Zhang, agent for Prestige Biotech, Inc. – the company operating the lab – and Xiao Xiao Wang, the agent for UMI.
The document includes an invoice for $136,080 for abatement costs. It also includes an invoice for $8,018 for equipment and traffic control. The document also seeks to recover costs Reedley incurred from Mid Valley Disposal and other companies involved in the cleanup of 850 I Street.
The document states that AY-NC, Sam, Zhang, and Wang are welcome to appear at the Nov. 14 Reedley City Council meeting to present their objections to the costs contained in the document.