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Jul 1, 2014 6:47 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Fresh Pond Association Wins Lawsuit Over North Sea Day Camp

Jul 2, 2014 10:10 AM

The New York State Supreme Court Appellate Division has upheld a decision dismissing a $45 million libel suit filed against members of the Little Fresh Pond Association last year, and ordering the plaintiff to cover the association’s legal fees.

Jay Jacobs and Southampton Day Camp Realty LLC had filed the suit against John Gorman, the association’s president, and John Barona, its vice president, who were vocal opponents of the plans for a day camp near Little Fresh Pond in North Sea. The suit said that a flier advertising a public hearing on the proposal had included language damaging to the applicant.

Last year, a State Supreme Court justice dismissed the claim. The justice also ruled in favor of a counterclaim, which argued that the first claim was what is called a SLAPP suit— a strategic lawsuit against public participation—and thus unconstitutional.

As part of the unanimous decision issued last week by the four Appellate Division judges, Mr. Jacobs will have to pay the roughly $45,000 in legal expenses accrued by the Little Fresh Pond Association, because of the SLAPP suit ruling.

“I think it is another example of David beating Goliath,” Little Fresh Pond Association Secretary Jimmy Silber said this week. “Fortunately, the court system recognized that he was clearly in violation of a New York State statute that says you can’t do what he was doing.”

The members of the Little Fresh Pond Association and Southampton Day Camp Realty LLC have been butting heads for several years over the conversion of a former adult tennis facility into a children’s day camp along the shore of Little Fresh Pond, which eventually did open in a slightly different form than originally planned.

The lawsuit stems from a flier that was circulated advertising a Southampton Town Planning Board meeting at which the camp was going to be discussed. According to reports, the fliers contained phrases like “destroy our way of life,” and assertions that Mr. Jacobs was “lying to get an exemption.” The flier also listed personal phone numbers for Mr. Gorman and Mr. Barona.

According to a copy of the decision, which was argued on April 28, the plaintiff, Southampton Day Camp, failed to prove that the fliers were distributed as a hurtful act and that the distributors purposely distributed false information. The lawsuit filed against them, however, was considered to be a SLAPP suit.

A SLAPP lawsuit is unconstitutional, in that it is considered to have been filed in an attempt to silence a person or a group from expressing their rights to protest or express opposition to an event, business or development by burying the group in financial woes through litigation.

Harris Beach PLLC, a Uniondale-based law firm representing Mr. Jacobs in court, did not immediately return calls seeking comment on Tuesday.

“Here, the defendants established, prima facie, that the plaintiffs were public applicants, and that the suit concerned a communication that was ‘materially related’ to the defendants’ efforts to report on, comment on, or oppose the plaintiffs’ application,” the court document reads. “Contrary to the plaintiffs’ assertions, the statements at issue were made in an effort to garner support for the defendants’ opposition to the plaintiffs’ proposed plan to develop a property into a children’s day camp.”

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NIMBY! NIMBY! NIMBY! Not In My Back Yard! That's what the protest against this camp was - NIMBYs complaining about a summer camp that does no harm to the lake or the surrounding properties. Certainly they can't be complaining about the sounds of children laughing and playing, can they? If they really want to do something positive for Little Fresh, they should examine their own septic systems and stop using detergents, fertilizers and pesticides. PS, I am a North Sea resident who actually loves ...more
By Grandmom (8), Southampton on Jul 2, 14 8:55 AM
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