NEW YORK — Aug. 2, 2004 — The international law firm of Chadbourne & Parke LLP with Prokop & Prokop of Setauket announced today that they have filed an appeal in the Dunehampton case, arguing that a group of homeowners in Southampton, N.Y., should have the right to form a new village.
The firms represent homeowners seeking to form the Village of Dunehampton. Last year, Town of Southampton Supervisor Patrick Heaney denied the homeowners’ petition for incorporation, citing insufficient numbers of “regular inhabitants.” The decision was subsequently challenged in Supreme Court, Suffolk County, which upheld the reasonableness of the supervisor’s decision.
Today’s appeal in the Appellate division, 2nd department of State Supreme Court in Brooklyn, challenges the lower court ruling on two principal points, said Chadbourne partner Thomas E. Butler.
• That the supervisor should have granted the petition because objectors failed to carry their burden of proving that there were not at least 500 regular inhabitants and it was improper to shift the burden of proof to the proponents of the petition;
• That the supervisor improperly based his decision on speculation about the personal characteristics of the residents of the area;
Background on the Dunehampton Petition
Last year, the homeowners presented a petition for incorporation to Supervisor Heaney. The petition was motivated principally by the Town’s neglect of the ocean beaches and specifically, its failure to address the significant erosion being caused by a groin field near Georgica Pond.
Among the requirements for such a petition is that it include a list of at least 500 “regular inhabitants,” a designation that is unique to the village law. It includes all residents (including part-time summer residents) other than those who use another address for voting purposes.
The homeowners conducted a census and gathered information from the county’s voter registration records and the Town’s property tax records. They submitted a list of 1,079 residents. Assembling a complete list of residents from a community of mostly part-time summer residents based on whether they use another address for voting purposes is, as the Supreme Court recognized, a “monumental task.” The petitioners undertook that task in good faith and with proper due diligence.
At the hearing, numerous individuals and entities raised objections to the proposed incorporation, most of which were improper under the Village Law. The Village Law specifically does not require the consent of the Supervisor, or residents outside the proposed territory of incorporation. Nor does it countenance objections based on whether this is or is not in the best interest of the Town. To require otherwise, would undermine New York State’s policy of encouraging home rule by more localized communities.
The only objections that were ultimately relevant related to whether there were at least 500 inhabitants in this coastal community. However, the challenges that were raised on these grounds related to fewer than 10% of the individuals included on the list of regular inhabitants.
In the face of this evidentiary failure, the supervisor resorted to speculation as to demographic characteristics of this community. For example, he based his decision largely on the erroneous assumptions that each household in this resort community consisted of a husband and wife of the same age with two children that were born before the couple was 37 years old! Absent this type of speculative assumption, the petition was otherwise valid and should have been accepted by the supervisor. Today’s appeal seeks to redress this abuse of the supervisors’ administrative authority. The petitioners asked the court to affirm their the right to have the incorporation question resolved by the democratic process provided under New York law.
About Chadbourne & Parke LLP
Chadbourne & Parke LLP, an international law firm headquartered in New York City, provides a full range of legal services, including mergers and acquisitions, securities, project finance, corporate finance, energy, telecommunications, commercial and products liability litigation, securities litigation and regulatory enforcement, white collar defense, intellectual property, antitrust, domestic and international tax, reinsurance and insurance, environmental, real estate, bankruptcy and financial restructuring, employment law and ERISA, trusts and estates and government contract matters. The Firm has offices in New York, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, Houston, Moscow, Kyiv, Warsaw (through a Polish partnership), Beijing and a multinational partnership, Chadbourne & Parke, in London. For additional information, visit www.chadbourne.com.
Prokop & Prokop, located in Setauket, specializes in municipal incorporation and municipal law.
For more information about the Committee to Incorporate the Village of Dunehampton, go to www.dunehampton.org.
Editors note: Chadbourne partner Thomas E. Butler is available to discuss the appeal. For more information or to arrange an interview, contact: