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Tiffany Drops Lawsuit Against South Coast Plaza

Retail: The jeweler, which wanted to open a Mission Viejo store, had challenged a noncompetitive clause in lease.

May 20, 2000|LESLIE EARNEST | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Tiffany & Co. has quietly dropped a high-profile lawsuit that sought more than $1 million from South Coast Plaza for allegedly keeping the tony jeweler from opening a store at a rival mall, the Shops at Mission Viejo.

A Tiffany attorney said Friday that the jeweler had withdrawn the Superior Court lawsuit, which accused South Coast Plaza of invoking an "illegal and unenforceable" noncompetitive clause in Tiffany's lease.

The lawyer, Alan Gordee, would not elaborate, declining to say whether Tiffany remains interested in expanding to the Mission Viejo center. Tiffany officials could not be reached for comment.

South Coast Plaza said in a statement that it was pleased that the lawsuit had been dropped, but executives would not discuss the matter further.

The lawsuit, filed in August, illuminated how last year's renovation of the Mission Viejo mall intensified competition between Orange County centers that cater to well-heeled shoppers.

The Mission Viejo mall spent $150 million remaking itself, emerging with a new name and heavyweight tenants Nordstrom and Saks Fifth Avenue, which also have stores at South Coast Plaza.

Nordstrom has said South Coast Plaza did not try to stop it from opening in Mission Viejo. Department stores such as Nordstrom and Saks generally police their own expansion to avoid opening new stores that will steal sales from existing ones.

South Coast Plaza is generally possessive about its prized stores. In particular, it has tried to keep its tenants out of Fashion Island and Irvine Spectrum Center, a shopping and entertainment center that is planning a third phase that will include many stores.

Tiffany's Orange County debut in 1988 was one of the high points for South Coast Plaza and helped attract other high-end merchants to the Costa Mesa center, now the region's highest grossing mall.

The jeweler acknowledged in the lawsuit that the lease, which it signed in 1988 and renewed in 1992, includes a clause prohibiting it from opening a competing store in Orange County. But Tiffany said the clause violated portions of the California Business & Professions Code.

A spokeswoman for the Mission Viejo mall said she believes Tiffany is still interested in eventually opening a store there. It was not clear when Tiffany's South Coast Plaza lease expires.

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