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This story was updated at 4:46 p.m. Aug. 20, 2013.

White Flint Mall amped up its legal tussle with Lord & Taylor in a countersuit that claims the department store owes the mall at least $1 billion.

Lord & Taylor sued White Flint Mall in July, claiming that the mall has been intentionally vacating tenants to prepare for demolition and redevelopment, which has caused customers to stop patronizing the shopping center. The suit seeks to block the redevelopment plan.

In a counterclaim, White Flint Mall’s owner, Lerner Enterprises of Rockville, says Lord & Taylor has known about the redevelopment plan for years, but has not tried to block the plan’s approval until now, when the mall has already spent millions on redevelopment efforts. White Flint seeks more than $1 billion in damages.

“Lord & Taylor timed its actions to maximize its perceived leverage in order to extract a payment from White Flint to get Lord & Taylor to drop its baseless objections so that the redevelopment can proceed,” White Flint’s counterclaim says.

It also says that Lord & Taylor’s lawsuits will delay the redevelopment and could derail it completely.

The store’s lawsuit claimed that under a 1975 agreement signed before the mall was built, the mall cannot change its appearance without consent from Lord & Taylor. The mall opened in 1977.

In the counterclaim, filed in U.S. District Court in Maryland, Lerner argues that White Flint Mall must redevelop into an open-air, mixed-use shopping center to remain viable.

“Despite White Flint’s best efforts to maintain the project as a first-class shopping destination, current trends in retail shopping have eroded the project’s customer base,” the counterclaim says.

Scott Morrison, an attorney for White Flint Mall, said Lord & Taylor will benefit from the redevelopment, because the mall has been declining for years.

“This has nothing whatsoever to do with how the redevelopment would affect them, they’re simply using this as an opportunity to demand a lot of money, which we will never pay,” Morrison said.

Washington Business Journal reported the counterclaim Aug. 13.

Representatives for Lord & Taylor declined to comment on the counterclaim.

ewaibel@gazette.net