Of Fish And The Scales Of Justice

Posted: December 26, 1993

Lawrence Ceresani said he got the idea from a previous owner who built the half-acre pond in the back yard to raise trout. When Ceresani bought the house on Bridgetown Pike in Northampton Township seven years ago, he decided to switch to a more colorful fish called Koi. Or, as Ceresani describes them, a Japanese "gigantic-looking goldfish."

The Koi started reproducing like crazy.

"Before you knew it," Ceresani said, "you could almost walk across the pond on them."

It started Ceresani thinking, and about two years ago, he set up a fish hatchery on his 6.35-acre property and began selling the fish to a couple of wholesalers who supply pet stores.

This didn't sit well with about a dozen of Ceresani's neighbors, who complained to the township that the operation was "not appropriate" for the neighborhood, according to Bruce Townsend, Northampton's township manager. By then, Ceresani's operation had expanded to include a 31-by-110-foot building in the back yard that contained 200 20-gallon fish tanks.

The issue eventually ended up in court, and in a decision made public last week, Bucks County Judge Edward G. Biester ruled that the fish could stay.

Townsend said the township hadn't made a decision on whether it will appeal the decision. Ceresani, however, is hoping he's seen the end of the court battle because, if he should lose on appeal, he said only half-jokingly, he would have to "go into the pond and kill the fish."

And it gets more complicated. The neighbors, according to the lawsuit, also objected to Ceresani's breeding "rats, mice and other small fur-bearing animals."

Yes, Ceresani admits, he had expanded his breeding operation to include rats and mice. But 80 percent of his rodents, he insisted, were "small,

cuddly hamsters and gerbils. But all the neighbors thought about was the rats."

The fish and rat issue was hashed out in several township meetings last year. By the time it landed in court, Ceresani had removed the rodent end of the business from his property and arranged for a farmer in South Jersey with less anxious neighbors to handle the rodent raising. So Judge Biester's decision noted that it addressed only the legality of the fish. Left unanswered was the rodent question.

No matter, Ceresani says. He'll stick to fish. He said he was in the process of selling his share of the rodent business to his South Jersey partner.

"It wasn't that profitable of an agricultural activity anyway," he said.

SHEETS OF CONTROVERSY. A Bucks County judge has thrown out the lawsuit of a couple from Carlisle, Pa., who contended that they suffered "severe emotional distress" when they allegedly found semen on the bedsheets after checking into their room at the Red Roof Inn in Trevose May 30.

According to the lawsuit, when Thomas and Beverly Walker's 11-year-old son, Thomas, crawled into bed, he felt "a wet substance . . . something slimy" on his feet. And when Beverly Walker went to investigate, she, too, "contacted the same substance."

The discovery, according to the lawsuit, "sickened and digusted" the Walkers, "particularly in this age of HIV and AIDS." The lawsuit sought damages in excess of $10,000 for the emotional distress to the Walkers.

In a Dec. 17 order, Judge Susan Devlin Scott dismissed the lawsuit without comment.

"Obviously, the court felt there is no case under Pennsylvania law for emotional distress damages," said Bonnie S. Stein, attorney for Red Roof Inn. She said state laws regarding emotional distress claims entailed "fairly stringent" requirements, including proof of injury.

On that point, at least, the Walkers' attorney agrees with Stein.

"It's a foggy area of the law," said Arthur T. McDermott. "There is no injury you can point to on this one." He said the mere fear of contracting a disease has not been held as legitimate ground for suing in Pennsylvania state courts.

But McDermott said he was not giving up on the claim. He said he was working on a motion to have Scott reconsider the case; this time the suit will claim a breach of contractual duty. McDermott said the revised suit would claim that the Red Roof Inn breached its duty to the Walkers by failing to change the sheets before the Walkers checked into their room.

Both attorneys agree that the lawsuit's dismissal left unanswered the question of whether there was semen on the sheets that night.

"We never got into admitting or denying if there was an incident at the Red Roof Inn," Stein said. "There's never been any determination of whether this event even took place."

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