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MATTER TOWN HEMPSTEAD v. LEONARD LITTLE ET AL. (07/02/68)

COURT OF APPEALS OF NEW YORK 1968.NY.42509 <http://www.versuslaw.com>; 239 N.E.2d 722; 22 N.Y.2d 432 decided: July 2, 1968. IN THE MATTER OF TOWN OF HEMPSTEAD, RESPONDENT,v.LEONARD LITTLE ET AL., APPELLANTS, ET AL.; LEONARD LITTLE ET AL., APPELLANTS, V. TOWN OF HEMPSTEAD, RESPONDENT Matter of Town of Hempstead v. Little, 20 A.D.2d 539, 655, affirmed. Little v. Town of Hempstead, 20 A.D.2d 545, affirmed. Counsel Henry W. Schober for Leonard Little and another, appellants in the above-entitled proceeding. Henry W. Schober for Mario Scolaro and another, appellants in the above-entitled proceeding. Counsel Mario Matthew Cuomo, Richard P. Charles and John H. Finn for respondent in the above-entitled proceeding. Counsel Henry W. Schober for appellants in the above-entitled action. Counsel Mario Matthew Cuomo and Richard P. Charles for respondent in the above-entitled action. Bergan, J. Chief Judge Fuld and Judges Burke, Scileppi, Keating, Breitel and Jasen concur. Author: Bergan


Matter of Town of Hempstead v. Little, 20 A.D.2d 539, 655, affirmed. Little v. Town of Hempstead, Bergan, J. Chief Judge Fuld and Judges Burke, Scileppi, Keating, Breitel and Jasen concur.

Author: Bergan

 These two closely related appeals, one in a town's condemnation proceeding and one in an action against the town for trespass, involve the same basic question of riparian rights on an ocean littoral. But at the threshold of each there is a procedural and jurisdictional problem under CPLR 5601 (subd. [d]) pursuant to which each appeal was taken.

In each case, the Appellate Division reversed a final judgment against the town on the law and the facts and directed further proceedings at Special Term on the issue of damages. On its reversal in the condemnation proceeding, the Appellate Division made new findings of fact, on which it also based its order of reversal in the trespass action. The appeals now before us have been taken directly to this court from the respective new final judgments entered following the subsequent proceedings at Special Term.

The appeal in each case is properly here as of right since it is taken from a final judgment entered following a prior non-final order of the Appellate Division which "necessarily affects" that final judgment (CPLR 5601, subd. [d]; see, also, Buffalo Elec. Co. v. State of New York, 14 N.Y.2d 453; Wolfe v. State of New York, 22 N.Y.2d 292). The scope of our review on such an appeal is limited to the prior non-final order of the Appellate Division (CPLR 5501, subd. [b]; Buffalo Elec. Co. v. State of New York, supra).

The court may, nevertheless, review the prior order of the Appellate Division in the condemnation proceeding on the facts as well as on the law, since the final judgment here on the appeal in that case was predicated on, and entered "pursuant" to, the new findings of fact made by the Appellate Division on its reversal of the prior final judgment of the Special Term (CPLR 5501, subd. [b]; Scarnato v. State of New York, 298 N. Y. 376; Cohen and Karger, Powers of the New York Court of Appeals, p. 468).

Although there was left open to the Special Term by the Appellate Division's orders additional fact-finding responsibility which would be reflected in the final judgment, essentially that judgment is to be deemed one entered "pursuant to" the prior order of the Appellate Division; and that being so, the Court of Appeals has jurisdiction on this appeal from the final judgment to review the prior order of the Appellate Division. On the merits the Appellate Division's orders are right. The question is whether at critical times in the controversy the town was a riparian owner entitled to the benefit of land under water as it accreted and became part of existing upland owned by the town or whether parties having title to the land formerly under water retained title notwithstanding such accretion.

The question, although argued at some length, narrows down in the end to deciding whether the town became a littoral or riparian owner by virtue of an earlier condemnation proceeding of upland to the former mean high water line.

The law on the question is settled. The leading New York decision is Matter of City of Buffalo (206 N. Y. 319). There, Judge Werner examined carefully the rights of "littoral or riparian ownership" (p. 325). Gradual encroachment, he noted, results in a loss to the owner of the littoral, but when the land is increased by accretion "that is to say, by such a slow and gradual deposit of particles that its progress cannot always be measured even though its results may be discerned from time to time, the new land thus formed belongs to the owner of the upland to which it attaches" (p. 325).

On the other hand, the boundaries do not change, one way or the other, where the physical alteration is due to "sudden or violent action of the elements" which is "perceptible while it is in progress".

The rule thus stated is consistent with Halsey v. McCormick (18 N. Y. 147) and was followed in Matter of City of New York (Realty Assoc.) (256 N. Y. 217). There is a good discussion of the problem in County of St. Clair v. Lovingston (23 Wall. [90 U.S.] 46, 59).

In an earlier condemnation proceeding in 1952 the Town of Hempstead condemned land at Point Lookout on the Atlantic Ocean to protect the shoreline and for a public park. The upland was acquired to the high water line of August 27, 1952. No part of the land then under water was included in the proceeding. (208 Misc. 84, affd. 2 A.D.2d 864, mot. for lv. to app. den. 2 N.Y.2d 709.)

Portions of the land condemned, as well as adjacent land then under water, were owned by claimants-appellants Little and Scolaro. The land then under water had before 1952 submerged, but it is not now disputed that the form of submergence involved did not result in loss of title to the then upland owners.

In that proceeding the Littles were allowed $79,473.79 for upland taken and $92,984.29 for consequential damage for the submerged portion for loss of access, a total of $172,458.08, involving three parcels. Eight years before the Littles had purchased the largest of the parcels for $1,500 cash and a $2,500 tax lien, for which they were awarded $118,801.25 direct and consequential damage. They were awarded $53,656.81 for damages to the other two smaller parcels purchased in 1937 for a comparatively small amount. Much smaller amounts were allowed the claimants-appellants Scolaro.

Thus, although the title to the land under water as of the mean high water line of August 27, 1952 remained in the claimants-appellants, they were left no access to it because the town had acquired title to the ...


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