Judge Rejects 2018 Verdict Against East Hampton

A federal judge reversed a jury decision that found the town liable for erosion along Soundview Drive in Montauk. Independent/T. E. McMorrow

Joanna Seybert, a senior judge in the United States Eastern District of New York, has reversed a decision and the punitive damages incurred as a result, stemming from a lawsuit by owners of properties along Soundview Drive and Captain Kidd path in Montauk against the Town of East Hampton.

The owners had contended that the town was responsible for damage to their Long Island Sound-facing properties, because, they said, the town was responsible for the two jetties that jut out from the mouth of Lake Montauk. Those jetties, built by the Army Corps of Engineers in 1926, cause a change in wave action and the drift of sand, which washes away the shoreline to the west.

Judge Seybert found several problems with the 2018 jury decision in federal court. “The jetties themselves, which plaintiffs argue are the private nuisance, are reasonable. They are necessary to keep the inlet open for navigational purposes,” she wrote in her decision.

More important, she found that the “verdict was against the weight of the evidence. The town did not control the jetties, could not and did not engage in conduct, and lacked the requisite intent.” She added that “the jury’s findings could only have been the result of sheer surmise and conjecture.”

The town will be able to keep the $355,961.27 it had been fined by the jury.

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