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Gillette v. County of Warren

United States District Court, N.D. New York

April 10, 2015

JACK GILLETTE, Plaintiff,
v.
COUNTY OF WARREN, Defendant.

BRENNAN & WHITE, LLP DANIEL J. STEWART, ESQ., Queensbury, New York, Attorneys for Plaintiff.

LEMIRE, JOHNSON & HIGGINS, LLC GREGG T. JOHNSON, ESQ., APRIL J. LAWS, ESQ., Malta, New York, Attorneys for Defendant.

MEMORANDUM-DECISION AND ORDER

MAE A. D'AGOSTINO, District Judge.

I. INTRODUCTION

Plaintiff commenced this action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that Defendant deprived him of certain property interests in violation of his constitutional rights. See Dkt. No. 1. Currently before the Court is Defendant's motion to dismiss. See Dkt. No. 16-1.

II. BACKGROUND

This lawsuit, which was commenced on May 12, 2014, asserts four causes of action arising out of Defendant's alleged intentional interference and confiscation of Plaintiff's property. See Dkt. No. 1 at ¶¶ 4-24. Plaintiff is the owner of the Magic Forest Amusement Park, which is located on State Route 9 and Bloody Pond Road in the County of Warrant, State of New York. See id. at ¶ 4. The property is approximately twenty acres, including parcels 59-4, 59-5, and a purported 4 rod right-of-way known as Old Military Road.

According to Plaintiff, he began to have issues with Defendant when he voiced his objection to the use of motorized vehicles, i.e., snowmobiles, on the Warren County Bike Path, especially as it crossed his property. See Dkt. No. 21-6. Plaintiff claims that he was then subjected to unrelenting scrutiny, which culminated in officials from Warren County entering onto his property and removing large boulders that they claimed were in the County's right-of-way. See id.; see also Dkt. No. 1. In doing this, the County officials also allegedly dismantled some Magic Forest gates and cut electrical wires to the Magic Forest sign. Dkt. No. 21-6 at 4. Around the same time, on May 13, 2012, Plaintiff was arrested on a charge that he violated section 1115A of the Vehicle & Traffic Law by moving some traffic barrels located near Bloody Pond Road. This charge was dismissed on May 22, 2013.

Prior to commencement of this federal lawsuit, Plaintiff began a state-court action "in order to obtain a judicial determination of settling the ownership of the property in question." That state court action is still pending, and is being actively litigated.

Plaintiff's Amended Verified Complaint in the state-court action alleges two causes of action, which seek relief against Defendant regarding a dispute of ownership "of real property situated at the northeastern quadrant of the intersection of Bloody Pond Road (a.k.a. CR 59) and State Route 9 in the Town of Lake George, County of Warren, State of New York. The property is identified as Tax Map Parcel #277.2-1-25." Dkt. No. 16-3 at ¶ 2. Plaintiff's first cause of action in the state-court action claims that Defendant "unjustly and wrongly claims or has claimed interests in the property." Id. at ¶ 7. Moreover, Plaintiff claims that Defendant "prevented plaintiff from taking unencumbered possession of the property[, ]" encouraged trespass upon the property by representing to the public that snowmobiles are free to use the property[, ]" and "[o]n May 15, 2012, ... removed personal property... without plaintiff's permission." Id. at ¶¶ 9, 13, 17.

Plaintiff's second cause of action in the state-court proceeding alleges that, sometime during the 1970's, Plaintiff gave Defendant a "verbal license... for a bikeway to encroach upon his property... upon the defendant's promise that no motorized vehicles, including snowmobiles or motorcycles, would be allowed use of the bikeway." Id. at ¶ 26. Plaintiff also alleges that, "[u]pon construction... of its bikeway in 1977 or 1978, defendants... placed thousands of yards of fill upon plaintiff's property pursuant to the verbal licenses." Id. at ¶ 27. Thereafter, Plaintiff asserts that on November 9, 2011, Defendant "changed its local law to allow snowmobiles on the bikeway" and that, on January 25, 2012, Plaintiff withdrew "the license for defendant to encroach its fill upon plaintiff's property." Id. at ¶¶ 28-29. Finally, Plaintiff alleges that Defendant's continuing trespass on his property continues to cause him damage. See id. at ¶ 30.

On November 27, 2013, Judge Muller, Supreme Court Justice for Warren County, decided a motion to dismiss brought by Defendant. See Dkt. No. 21-4 at 1-15. The court ruled that Plaintiff had properly stated a cause of action under New York Real Property Law Article 15, and had produced deeds which established his ownership to the disputed property. See id. at 4-5. Further, Judge Muller granted Defendant's motion for summary judgment with regard to a particular parcel of land, parcel 59-3, which Plaintiff himself conceded was owned by Warren County as a result of a deed dated January 18, 1965. See id. at 5-6. As to all the other parcels, the court rejected Defendant's motion for summary judgment, and specifically rejected Defendant's claim that it could assert ownership merely because it had filed an appropriations map. See id. at 6-8.

In Plaintiff's federal complaint, he admits that the property's "ownership is currently the subject of a New York Real Property Actions and Proceedings Law Article 15 action to clear title in Supreme Court, State of New York, Warrant County (Muller, J.)." Dkt. No. 1 at ¶ 6. the federal complaint claims that Plaintiff's constitutional rights were violated as he was "deprived of his property without due process of law." Id. at ¶¶ 14, 17 and 20.

In the federal action, Plaintiff's first cause of action alleged that Defendant "has prevented plaintiff from taking unencumbered possession of the property[, ]" as Defendant "claims some right, title or interest in the property and which is or may be a cloud on the title of the premises." Id. at ¶¶ 9, 11. Plaintiff also alleges that Defendant "has encouraged trespass upon the property[, ]" and by doing so, has "damaged plaintiff by violating his rights guaranteed by the Fifth Amendment[.]" Id. at ¶¶ 13-14.

Plaintiff's second cause of action in the federal lawsuit alleges that Defendant "entered upon plaintiff's property on May 15, 2012" in violation of Plaintiff's "rights guaranteed by the Constitution of the United States[.]" Id. at ¶¶ 16-17. Plaintiff's third cause of action alleges that Defendant "removed plaintiff's personal property from plaintiff's premises without plaintiff's permission, justification or any process of law[, ]" in violation of his constitutional rights. See id. at ¶¶ 19-20. Finally, in his fourth cause of action in the federal lawsuit, Plaintiff seeks an award of "all attorney fees and costs associated with" the state court action." Id. at ¶¶ 22-24.

In its motion to dismiss, Defendant contends that the Court should dismiss this action for lack of subject matter jurisdiction as mandated under the Younger abstention doctrine. See Dkt. No. 16-1 at 8. Defendant asserts that "[d]ismissal of plaintiff's action here will ensure that the state court will be able to consider this property case, as well as any constitutional (or other challenges) plaintiff wishes to make there." Id. Alternatively, Defendant contends that, "should this Court exercise its jurisdiction, the portion of plaintiff's federal Complaint as it pertains to Parcel 59-3 must be dismissed on res judicata and collateral estoppel grounds." Id. Finally, Defendant argues ...


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