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Dec 12, 2011 5:15 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press

Justice Orders Second Napeague Lawsuit To Proceed To Trial

Dec 13, 2011 5:48 PM

A New York State Supreme Court justice on Monday struck down Napeague homeowners’ requests for a summary judgment and injunction in their legal battle against East Hampton Town over the ownership of a stretch of beach, indicating the case will move to trial.

The lawsuit, brought by a group of oceanfront homeowners in 2009, is the larger of two legal actions contesting the town’s ownership of the beach. In October, the same justice, Melvyn Tanenbaum, declined to issue a summary judgment or injunction in the smaller case, brought by the White Sands Motel Holding Corporation.

Both plaintiffs requested an immediate judgment in March, spurring the Town Trustees and Town Board to argue in favor of a trial. Justice Tanenbaum wrote in his decision Monday that he is denying the homeowners’ request for the same reason he denied the motel’s.

In October, Justice Tanenbaum wrote that “substantial issues of fact exist concerning whether a prescriptive easement exists based on the public’s use of the beachfront property for the past 90 years ...” and cited an affidavit by Milton Miller, a 95-year-old bayman, who testified that people had been freely hunting, picnicking, bathing, and fishing on the beach for as long as he could remember.

On Monday, Justice Tanenbaum ordered both plaintiffs to prepare for a joint trial.

“The Trustees are pleased with the outcome” of the debate over whether or not to hold a trial, Anthony Tohill, the attorney representing them, said on Monday.

“I am of course very pleased,” Town Attorney John Jilnicki, who is representing the Town Board in the case, wrote in an email Tuesday. “We still have a way to go, but I am very happy with the court’s denial of the plaintiff’s motion.”

The coalition of property owners associations and individual homeowners claim they, and not the Trustees, own a 4,000-foot stretch of ocean beach 
where residents often park their vehicles in the summer. The motel filed a related suit over a 220-foot stretch of beach nearby.

The plaintiffs have complained that beachgoers, who have 
been parking on the beach in greater numbers in recent 
years, have lit bonfires, set off fireworks, left behind broken glass, and endangered environmentally sensitive dunes. They claim that the town does not have a right to issue beach driving permits for the beach because the Trustees sold it to developer Arthur W. Benson in 1882.

The plaintiffs in both lawsuits sought an injunction blocking people from accessing the beach while the case was being decided, which Justice Tanenbaum denied.

Stephen Angel, the attorney representing the plaintiffs, said the case will proceed to a discovery phase, after which 
either side could make another motion for a summary 
judgment before going to trial. Mr. Angel also said Justice 
Tanenbaum will retire at the 
end of the year, so the case will be transferred to another justice.

An advocacy group, Citizens for Access Rights, formed this year in response to the lawsuit, and has been lobbying the Town Board and Trustees to take any measure necessary to keep the beach open to the public and ensure beachgoers will continue to be allowed to park vehicles there.

On Tuesday, the group posted a celebratory message on its Facebook page, which has 806 
followers. “Another hurdle cleared for CfAR!” part of the post read.

The plaintiffs in the homeowners’ lawsuit are the Seaview at Amagansett Ltd., the Dunes at Napeague Property Owners Association Inc., the Tides Homeowners Association Inc., the Waters Lane Homeowners Association Inc., the Ocean Estate Property Owners Association Inc., Robert Higgins, Marc Helie, Robert Christofaro and Robert Cooperman.

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Trustees 2 landgrabbers 0.
By independent observer (34), east hampton on Dec 12, 11 6:16 PM
Well done to the trustees and all who are involved in protecting east Hamptons residents access to their beaches. Thank you to captain miller for his information. Full steam ahead into the trial. These napeague landowners should live by what we teach our kids.....share, share, that's fair.
By tito (56), e hampton on Dec 12, 11 10:45 PM
Been 3 days now. Where are the comments from the CfAR people? I guess they're just another political group that goes away after election day.
By independent observer (34), east hampton on Dec 14, 11 9:02 PM
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