The lawyers for five groups of landowners bordering what is commonly called “truck beach” near the White Sands Motel on Napeague Stretch, along with the lawyer representing both the Town of East Hampton and the Town Trustees, were questioned by a panel of four New York State Appeals Court justices in Brooklyn Friday afternoon, February 7.
The homeowners are trying to overturn a 2016 decision by a New York State Supreme Court Justice that found for the town and its trustees over the homeowners’ claims of ownership of the beach, and that the homeowners’ trucks utilized on the beach constituted a nuisance.
The justice that presided over the five-day trial in June 2016, Ralph Gazzillo, pointed out in his decision that expert witnesses called by the plaintiffs lacked credibility. For example, one witness, Chick Voorhis, “made the adamant contention that there are four high tides daily.” As for the nuisance claim, Gazzillo noted that one of the original claimants, Bernard Kiembock, owner of the White Sands Motel, while testifying about the nuisance effect of the trucks, also said he never had a vacancy at his motel. Kiembock did not join the appeal.
That trial was Gazzillo’s last before he retired from the bench.
The two attorneys for the appellants, James Catterson and Stephen Angel, were questioned at length by Appeals Court justices Linda Christopher, Angela Iannacci, William Mastro, and Cheryl Chambers.
In Catterson’s brief, he states that there were obvious “conclusory defects” in Gazzillo’s decision. Catterson and Angel contend that the landowners can demonstrate an “unbroken chain” of ownership of the ocean beach dating back to when the trustees conveyed a parcel of land to Arthur Benson on March 15, 1882. In that conveyance, the trustees retained for residents of East Hampton their right to continue to use the beach for fishing boats and nets, as well as for “caring” for the fish after taking them out of the water.
Justice Iannacci’s countered that the town had put into the trial record the allowed usages of the beach.
“They didn’t,” Catterson argued.
Then Michael Rikon, representing both the town and the trustees, was asked by Chambers about the nuisance claims made by the claimants. He told the court that, during the trial, Ed Michels, the town’s harbormaster, testified that his officers “strictly enforce” the town code on “truck beach.”
Justice Christopher asked Rikon about the claim that the adjacent owners had an unbroken chain of ownership on the beach. “The Trustees always held the beach,” Rikon responded.
It will likely be several weeks before the court renders its verdict on the appeal.