YORKTOWN, N.Y. – A neighbor’s lawsuit claiming the town of Yorktown installed an “illegal drainage system” on Baptist Church Road has been dismissed by a New York State Supreme Court justice.
Dr. Michael Salitan, who lives at 1225 Baptist Church Road, alleged that the drainage system caused water, silt and debris to discharge onto his 5-acre property every time it rained. The discharge, he claimed, caused erosion to his property, which includes a stream, a waterfall and a pond. Heavy rain events would also cause his pond’s level to rise, he claimed, sometimes flooding his home.
Supreme Court Justice Lewis Lubell dismissed all of Salitan’s claims, saying Yorktown, like other municipalities, is immune from “failure of design” of drainage systems. Yorktown can be held liable for “maintenance and repair,” but that is not what Salitan alleged, Lubell wrote in his decision.
“As argued by [Yorktown], nowhere does [Salitan] allege that the drainage system degraded over time or was not properly maintained by the town,” Lubell wrote. “The sole contention is that the installation and refusal to remove the drainage system caused damage by virtue of the discharged water passing over his land.”
Salitan told Yorktown News that Lubell’s decision was “rife with errors” and that his attorneys have filed an appeal to the Appellate Division, Second Department, in Brooklyn. He said the litigation is “not over, not by any stretch.”
“We are confident that Justice Lubell’s erroneous determination will be reversed,” Salitan said.
Town Attorney Michael J. McDermott remained confident the decision will be upheld.
“The town stands by Justice Lubell’s decision and order,” McDermott said. “If Dr. Salitan appeals, the town expects that the dismissal of the action will be upheld as the correct result.”
Salitan said local judges, like Lubell, “give a great deal of deference and latitude to municipalities and towns.” He said he hopes the appellate court corrects his “errors.”
“The court erroneously found that the town was entitled to a legal immunity for the design of the drainage system,” Salitan said. “This determination is simply ridiculous on its face.”
Salitan said the town did not even design the drainage system, which, he said, was installed by his neighbor. Because of this, he said, the town cannot be immune from its design.
He and the town have engaged in a long and complicated legal dispute dating back to 2013. At that time, the town was in the process of designing a new Baptist Church Road bridge, which required an easement onto Salitan’s neighboring property. Salitan resisted, with Yorktown prevailing in a months-long eminent domain proceeding. Despite receiving the easements in February 2014, the bridge repairs were never made and it collapsed in April 2015. With the bridge now closed, the town sought more easements onto Salitan’s property to rebuild it.
The two sides attempted to settle out of court, with Salitan desiring both an aesthetically pleasing stone wall and the dredging of silt from the pond on his property.
At its Sept. 1, 2015, meeting, the town board agreed to set aside money to repair the bridge, with a portion dedicated to constructing a stone wall of Salitan’s choosing. The town was also prepared to remove the sediment from Salitan’s property in hopes of ending the lawsuit.
A few weeks later, however, settlement talks broke down and the town built a new bridge without using Salitan’s land. To do so, the town had to build a taller, narrower bridge.
Salitan called the new bridge an “aesthetic nightmare” that is out of character with the neighborhood. The town, in a press release, said it was willing to address Salitan’s issues, but that he “rebuffed” all of the town’s offers. Salitan said this is not true.
“Putting aside the obvious question of why would the town offer to repair the damage to my property if the town was not responsible, what actually occurred is that the town pulled its offer to repair my property out of the blue and forced the litigation to continue,” Salitan said.
If repairing the bridge without using any of Salitan’s land was an option from the beginning, he said, the town should have done so instead of wasting his time and money in court.