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DILL v. LAKE PLEASANT CENTRAL SCHOOL DISTRICT

October 25, 2004.

ROBERT DILL, JR., SUSAN DILL, LAUREN DILL, LESLIE BORLAND, JR., JUDITH BORLAND, and JOHN MULLINS, as individuals, and on behalf of a class of individuals, similarly situated, Plaintiffs,
v.
LAKE PLEASANT CENTRAL SCHOOL DISTRICT, BOARD OF EDUCATION OF THE LAKE PLEASANT CENTRAL SCHOOL DISTRICT, and BOARD OF REGISTRATION OF THE LAKE PLEASANT SCHOOL DISTRICT, Defendants.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: FREDERICK SCULLIN, Chief Judge, District

MEMORANDUM-DECISION AND ORDER

I. INTRODUCTION

  Plaintiffs commenced this action against Defendants, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that Defendants had violated their constitutional rights to due process and equal protection by denying them the right to vote at the budget vote and school board election on May 18, 1999, and in a special referendum regarding the construction of a new school on June 2, 1999, on the ground that they were not residents of the Lake Pleasant Central School District (the "District") because they maintained another residence outside the District.*fn1

  The District is located in a small community in the Adirondacks. District elections are usually held in May. Prior to May 1998, few, if any, of the "summer landowners" ever attempted to vote in District elections. Pre-1999 District elections used the "poll registration" system whereby voters were not required to preregister before the vote and no voting machines were used. Before May 1998, approximately twenty to forty people usually voted in District elections.

  In May 1998, hundreds of people showed up to vote. This situation, in addition to the requests for absentee ballots and other factors, led the Board of Education to adopt a system of personal registration in July 1998. Under that system, the District was required to create a Board of Registration, which was charged with creating and maintaining the District's voter registration books.

  Following the adoption of personal registration, the Board of Registration obtained from the Hamilton County Board of Elections a list of voters the County Board believed to be qualified to vote in the District. The Board of Registration used this list as a starting point for the District's voter registration books. However, in reviewing the list, the Board of Registration discovered numerous inaccuracies, including the names of deceased individuals and people who had moved out of the District several years ago. Since it began to doubt the reliability of the County Board of Elections' list, the Board of Registration began to look for another way to determine residency for purposes of defining eligibility to vote in District elections.

  In doing so, the Board of Registration decided to look at whether a potential voter had designated a home within the District as his "primary residence" on his New York School Tax Relief ("STAR") exemption application. If such a designation was made, this designation was considered a significant factor in determining that the individual was a resident of the District and, thereby, eligible to vote in District elections. On the other hand, if the potential voter designated a home outside the District as his primary residence for STAR purposes, the Board of Registration considered this strong evidence that the individual was not a resident of the District.

  Plaintiffs each listed a home outside of the school district as his or her "primary residence," which, combined with other facts such as the amount of time spent at the residence outside of the District, the residence listed on tax returns, the address listed on drivers' licenses, and other indicia of the intent to make a home outside of the District a permanent residence, led Defendants to remove Plaintiffs from the District's voter registration books.

  Between August 29, 2002, and September 20, 2002, the Court conducted a six-day bench trial in this action. Based upon the evidence adduced at trial, the following constitutes the Court's findings of fact and conclusions of law in accordance with Rule 52(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.

  II. DISCUSSION

  A. Findings of fact

  Plaintiff John Mullins indicated on his May 1999 absentee ballot application that he resided in Clifton Park, which is outside the District. In addition, he applied for and received a STAR exemption on his Clifton Park property each and every year since 1999. See Trial Transcript ("Tr.") at 303-04. Moreover, each and every one of the New York State tax returns he filed since 1996 indicates that Clifton Park is his permanent home address. See id. at 301-02. Plaintiff Mullins testified that on the two or three occasions when he voted at the Schenendehowa School District, while being a registered voter in Hamilton County, he showed his driver's license as proof that he resided in Clifton Park. See id. at 309. He also enrolled his children tuition free in the Shenendehowa School District. See id. at 307. However, Plaintiff Mullins also testified that he has been registered to vote in Hamilton County since 1979, see id. at 264-65, 306; that he spent all non-working time within the District, see id. at 273; and that his son is buried in the District, see id. at 298.

  Plaintiffs Robert, Susan and Lauren Dill (the "Dills") owned and occupied a condominium in Mount Kisco, which is outside the District, from April 1988 through March 2000, at which Mr. Dill maintained a home office. See id. at 61. Plaintiffs Robert and Susan Dill's joint state income tax returns for 1995-1998 indicated that Mount Kisco was their permanent home address. See id. at 100. Until late May 1999, Susan Dill's driver's license listed her Mount Kisco address — at which time she changed it in response to the challenge to her May 18, 1999 vote. Both of the Dill children attended public school, tuition free, in the Chappaqua Central School District until 1997 and 1999 respectively. See id. at 61-62, 89-90. Finally, Plaintiffs Robert and Susan Dill applied for and received a STAR exemption on their Mount Kisco property in both 1998 and 1999. See id. at 95.

  On the other hand, the Dills built their Lake Pleasant home in 1976, see id. at 20-21; registered to vote there since 1975, see id. at 21, 89; celebrated every Christmas there, see id. at 62-63; and maintained their condominium in Mount Kisco first for Mr. Dill's employment at the New York Stock Exchange and then for completion of their daughters' high school education, see id. at 61-63. In addition, the Dills' tax returns since 1999 have listed their Lake Pleasant ...


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