East Hampton trustees this month allowed an outside law firm to join a lawyer for East End fishermen in exploring legal action against the Amagansett landlord groups who blocked the access to a nearly mile-long section of beach in their upscale community.
Trustees voted unanimously on Feb. 14 to allow the company to consider filing a class action lawsuit on behalf of fishermen and townspeople who were denied access to the beach, or to join a lawsuit recently filed by the City of East Hampton. in the 13-year-old’s case, Daniel Spitzer, an attorney for the trustees, said at the meeting. Trustees, who are a separate governing body from the East Hampton City Council and oversee beach access and other water issues, have not ruled out doing both.
Last year, Suffolk Supreme Court Justice Paul Baisley issued a restraining order forcing East Hampton Town to enforce a court order barring trucks from the stretch, known as Napeague Beach or “truck beach”. The 4,000 foot long ocean beach has been fished using horse carts and trucks for centuries.
The order led 14 fishermen to an act of civil disobedience by driving on the beach and their arrest in October, in what could become a test of the judge’s order, Southampton solicitor Daniel Rodgers said. which represents fishermen on a pro bono basis. Their case remains pending and, in an unusual move, attorneys for the owners of Amagansett have sought to combine the criminal case with their civil action.
“It’s about landlords getting rich stealing the rights of every fisherman and every person in this town,” Rodgers said Wednesday. “They asked a judge to issue an illegal restraining order to keep [fishermen] off the beach.”
Stephen Angel, an attorney for some of the homeowners groups, did not return a call seeking comment on Thursday.
Spitzer, at the February trustees’ meeting, said a new class action lawsuit against landlords could be filed on behalf of about 1,800 city-licensed anglers or even all of the city’s 28,000 residents. , who were prevented from driving on the beach. .
“Frankly, we think the right way to go is a class action lawsuit,” Spitzer told administrators. “There are about 25,000 people in your city and each of them has the right to use this [beach].”
Rodgers said the class action could result in actual damages being paid to fishermen and other residents who he says have been harmed by residents’ efforts to restrict truck access, despite an 1882 act in the sale of the parcel to the promoter Arthur Benson who created a “reservation” for access linked to fishing.
Rodgers said the support of Spitzer’s directors and company “is going to give us the power we need to take on these wealthy owners.”