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Gowanus Industrial Park, Inc v. Hess Corp

January 31, 2012

GOWANUS INDUSTRIAL PARK, INC., PLAINTIFF,
v.
HESS CORP., DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: John Gleeson, United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

Hess Corporation ("Hess") has moved for reconsideration of my memorandum and order dated October 19, 2011, resolving the parties' cross-motions for summary judgment. (ECF Nos. 47, 49.) Gowanus Industrial Park, Inc. ("GIP") opposes the motion for reconsideration. (ECF No. 51.) I have also sought and received an amicus curiae brief from the New York State Attorney General, which supports the result reached in my prior opinion. (ECF No. 50.) For the reasons explained below, Hess's motion for reconsideration is denied, and my prior opinion stands.*fn1

DISCUSSION

A. Standard of Review

Rule 59(e) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure permits a court "to alter or amend a judgment." Fed. R. Civ. P. 59(e); see also Local Rule 6.3. However, it "may not be used to relitigate old matters, or to raise arguments or present evidence that could have been raised prior to the entry of judgment." Exxon Shipping Co. v. Baker, 554 U.S. 471, 486 (2008) (quoting 11 C. Wright & A. Miller, Federal Practice & Procedure § 2810.1, pp. 127-28 (2d ed. 1995)). "The major grounds justifying reconsideration are 'an intervening change of controlling law, the availability of new evidence, or the need to correct a clear error or prevent manifest injustice.'" Virgin Atlantic Airways, Ltd. v. Nat'l Mediation Bd., 956 F.2d 1245, 1255 (2d Cir. 1992) (quoting 18 C. Wright, A. Miller & E. Cooper, Federal Practice & Procedure § 4478, p. 790). Reconsideration will generally be denied unless the court overlooked data or controlling decisions which, had they been considered, "might reasonably be expected to alter the conclusion reached by the court." Shrader v. CSX Transp., Inc., 70 F.3d 255, 257 (2d Cir. 1995). "A motion for reconsideration is not simply a second opportunity for the movant to advance arguments already rejected." Koehl v. Warden, No. 00-CV-6499 (NGG), 2007 WL 680767, at *1 (E.D.N.Y. Mar. 2, 2007) (internal quotation marks omitted).

B. Hess's Motion*fn2

By memorandum and order filed on October 19, 2011 (ECF No. 46), I granted summary judgment to GIP with respect to its claim for a declaration that it owns the parcels at issue. The basis for my ruling was that the letters patent issued by the Commissioner of General Services ("Commissioner") in 2004, conveying the parcels from the state to GIP, were facially valid and therefore not subject to collateral attack in this proceeding. On November 3, 2011, Hess filed a corrected memorandum of law in support of its motion requesting reconsideration of the question of the facial validity of the 2004 letters patent. (ECF No. 49.)

Hess's primary argument in support of its motion for reconsideration is that the letters patent are facially invalid because a 1996 amendment to Canal Law § 51 stripped the Commissioner of all authority over abandoned canal lands, vesting such authority wholly within the canal corporation.*fn3 Prior to the 1996 amendment, Canal Law § 51 specified a "method of abandonment" that provided, in pertinent part,

[The Thruway authority]*fn4 shall thereupon issue an official order abandoning the lands for canal purposes and transmit a certified copy thereof to the commissioner of general services, together with a map and description of the lands abandoned, whereupon such commissioner shall have jurisdiction over such lands subject to the provisions of the public lands law. Whenever such commissioner disposes of any portion of canal lands so abandoned, said commissioner shall file with the [Thruway Authority] a description of the property, date of disposal and to whom transferred.

N.Y. Canal Law § 51 (1992) (emphasis added). Chapter 442 of the Laws of 1996 amended that portion of Canal Law § 51 to read as follows:

The [canal] corporation*fn5 shall thereupon issue an official order abandoning the lands for canal purposes together with a map and description of the lands abandoned and dispose of any portion of canal lands so abandoned.

N.Y. Canal Law § 51 (emphasis added).

Hess argues that this 1996 amendment stripped the Commissioner of General Services of jurisdiction over abandoned canal lands. See Hess Memo. (ECF No. 49). Hess points to a footnote in a 2007 formal opinion of the Attorney General as additional support for this interpretation. The footnote, which was dicta in the opinion, provides as follows: "Under the previous version of Canal Law § 51, the Commissioner of General Services had jurisdiction over abandoned canal lands subject to the provisions of the Public Lands Law. By enactment of chapter 442 of the laws of 1996, section 51 [of the Canal Law] was amended to remove the Commissioner of General Services' jurisdiction over abandoned canal lands." N.Y. Atty. Gen., Formal Op. No. 2007-F2, 2007 WL 892635, at *8 n.11 (March 20, 2007) (emphasis added). Hess contends that as a result of this 1996 amendment, the Commissioner of General Services was stripped of all authority to dispose of abandoned canal lands, and, accordingly, the Commissioner's attempted conveyance of the parcels to GIP in 2004 was facially invalid.

In spite of its repeated amendments of the Canal Law, the New York legislature has left untouched Public Lands Law § 50, on which I premised the Commissioner's jurisdiction to dispose of abandoned canal lands in my prior opinion. Public Lands Law § 50 authorizes the Commissioner of General Services to sell all title and interest of the state in "any real property, acquired for canal purposes, [1] which the [canal corporation]*fn6 may determine to have been abandoned for such purposes, or [2] as to which a determination of abandonment shall have been heretofore made pursuant to law."*fn7 The question I faced in my prior opinion was whether the Commissioner had facially relied on this statutory authority to convey abandoned canal lands in conveying the parcels to GIP. I concluded that he had, because the letters patent specifically stated the parcels were being conveyed "pursuant to Section 50 of the Public Lands Law and Findings of the First Deputy Commissioner of General Services dated December 15, ...


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