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Dec 10, 2008 11:31 AMPublication: The Southampton Press

Hampton Bays man can proceed with $25 million lawsuit

Dec 10, 2008 11:31 AM

A Hampton Bays man suing Southampton Town for $25 million, claiming his civil rights were violated, won a small victory last month when the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan ruled that members of the town’s Zoning Board of Appeals were not entitled to immunity.

The three-judge panel, comprised of John M. Walker Jr., Barrington D. Parker and Reena Raggi, ruled that Richard Alfaro’s allegations, stemming from the ZBA’s denial of his application to continue operating an auto repair shop in East Quogue, were substantial enough to allow him his day in court and that employment with the town was insufficient grounds to grant immunity to the defendants in the case.

The ruling sends the case back to Justice Joanna Seybert who sits in the Eastern District Federal Court in Islip. In March 2007, Justice Seybert ruled that Mr. Alfaro had provided sufficient evidence to proceed with his suit. After that decision, the defendants in the case appealed to the 2nd Circuit hoping for a dismissal. Now, back in Justice Seybert’s court, both parties are in the discovery process, or the gathering of evidence.

According to attorney Charles Martin, of the Mineola law firm Campanelli & Associates, who represents Mr. Alfaro, a decision could be handed down this spring. Mr. Martin said the $25 million his client is seeking is for “damages to his reputation and for public humiliation.”

Named in the suit are current ZBA members Herbert Phillips, who now chairs the board, Beth Wickey, Ann Nowak, Keith Tuthill and former board member Barbara Labrador, who chaired the ZBA when Mr. Alfaro’s application was rejected. Also named in the suit are former town building inspector Paul Houlihan, who opposed Mr. Alfaro’s application, and William Mees, owner of Hampton Brake Service, which is located down the street from Mr. Alfaro’s former shop.

In 1999, Mr. Alfaro petitioned the ZBA to allow him to continuing operating his auto repair shop in East Quogue. The ZBA rejected that petition, ruling that such a business did not conform to the area’s village business zoning, although other auto shops, such as Mr. Mees’s, are located nearby. Now, Mr. Alfaro is charging that the ZBA ruled against him because he is Latino, a claim Southampton Town Attorney Dan Adams said was “ridiculous” and unfounded.

Mr. Alfaro operated his auto repair business at 674 Montauk Highway in East Quogue, the site of the former Sacks Produce Company. The ZBA based its ruling on a section of the Town Code that allows for “pre-existing, non-conforming” uses and found that changing from a produce company to an auto repair shop was not in compliance.

However, Mr. Alfaro argued that the produce company had a garage on the premises and repaired its vehicles there and had been doing so prior to the adoption of the town’s first zoning code in 1957.

In Mr. Alfaro’s view, his auto shop represented a continuation of that use. The ZBA and Mr. Houlihan disagreed. Subsequent to that ruling, Mr. Alfaro sued the town, arguing that other auto repair shops conducted business in the area. He lost the challenge.

In August 2004, Mr. Alfaro sold the shop. In 2006, Mr. Alfaro filed his current lawsuit alleging his application was denied and that those named in the suit conspired against him because of his race.

According to Mr. Martin, Mr. Mees hurled an ethnic slur at Mr. Alfaro and told him that “You will be out of here before long.” Mr. Mees denied the use of any racial epithet and rejected any accusation that he opposed Mr. Alfaro’s shop based upon his ethnicity. “Those accusations are totally false,” Mr. Mees said.

Mr. Alfaro would not comment on the lawsuit.

Mr. Martin, on the other hand, said all the other auto shops in the area are white-owned and that his firm would never take on a such a lawsuit unless backed up by the facts. “We would not get involved with a lawsuit without reason to believe that the allegations were true,” he said.

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Campanelli… where have we heard that name before… $25M must be the only dollar amount this firm can think of…
The only way to stop this obscene use of our Federal courts is to severely sanction the lawyers and firms that practice this type of despicable law. What this story does NOT relate is the underlying strategy. Most municipalities can not sustain (especially not in this economic environment) the costs of defending Federal actions and their insurance companies always look for a “negotiated” ...more
By Resident (42), Westhampton Beach on Dec 18, 08 7:12 AM
In Reply to "Resident (Westhampton Beach):

It must be so burdensome upon you to know everything about everything, especially when, in your view, nobody but you knows anything.
Among the many venomous comments you have spewed within this forum, have been "Paul Houlihan has never done anything in his life in one day" "We don't need another police officer, we need another police department" "Mr. Lindsay represents everything that is wrong with politics in this country" and "Do you know ...more
By A Campanelli (3), Mineola on Jan 5, 09 9:56 AM
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