Douglas settles longtime lawsuit
A Silver Lake man has agreed to settle the remaining claims in a multi-million-dollar federal lawsuit he brought against the state Adirondack Park Agency and the Adirondack Council.
Leroy Douglas had claimed the environmental group conspired with the state agency to reopen a 2006 enforcement case the APA pursued against him for filling in wetlands to widen an existing road. Douglas had alleged the Council was pushing the APA to take action to stop his development plans and force Douglas to sell his lakefront property, which has been listed in the state’s Open Space Conservation Plan, to the state or The Nature Conservancy.
A trial had been scheduled next year, but following an October settlement conference, court papers outlining the terms of a settlement were filed earlier this month in U.S. District Court in Syracuse.
Under the agreement, the APA and the environmental group’s insurance company will pay Douglas and the Douglas Corporation of Silver Lake a combined $39,500 to cover some of the legal fees he incurred in bringing the case.
“My clients decided to settle for personal reasons and to move on from what has been a seven-year-plus legal battle with the APA, which began with the commencement of the underlying APA enforcement proceeding that we were successful in having discontinued back in 2009,” Matthew Norfolk of Lake Placid, Douglas’ lawyer, wrote in an email. “As part of settlement, it was agreed that The Adirondack Council Inc. admits no wrongdoing or liability, and Mr. Douglas and the Douglas Corporation of Silver Lake acknowledge that the Adirondack Council did not violate their constitutional rights or tortuously interfere with the Douglas Corporation’s agreement with the Adirondack Park Agency.”
The settlement comes just months after Douglas sold the property involved in the lawsuit. It was one of six parcels totaling 17.1 acres on Island Road in the town of Black Brook that were bought by Donald Burrell and Kevin Williams for $350,000. A family member of Douglas told the Enterprise in July that the land was sold to help pay for the mounting legal costs in the case.
In a Nov. 13 stipulation signed by Norfolk and Assistant Attorney General Gregory Rodriguez, Douglas agreed to discontinue the lawsuit against the APA and several of its current and former officials and employees.
“The parties agree that no provision of this settlement shall be interpreted to be an acknowledgment of the validity of any of the allegations or claims that have been made in the action,” the document reads.
The APA will pay $30,000 to Douglas and Norfolk “in full settlement of any and all claims, attorney’s fees and costs.” The payment has to be made within 120 days of the date the settlement was approved by Judge Glenn Suddaby, Nov. 13.
APA spokesman Keith McKeever said the settlement was reached “on behalf of the individual staff members named in this lawsuit and frees them from the uncertainty of continued litigation.
“The agency agreed to settle this matter so we can focus our resources on priorities that are in the best interest of the Adirondack Park,” McKeever wrote in an email. “This action avoids unnecessary costly expense to the taxpayers of this state which would have been incurred in the event of a prolonged trial.”
The $30,000 will be paid from the statewide indemnity fund, McKeever wrote.
A separate stipulation was filed Nov. 6, in which Douglas dismissed all claims against the Adirondack Council. Judge Suddaby approved the agreement Nov. 8. Council Executive Director Willie Janeway, in a statement, said the group’s insurance carrier has agreed to pay Douglas $9,500 to cover some of his legal expenses.
“While the Adirondack Council regrets any misunderstandings or miscommunications which may have occurred, it will continue to pursue its mission and vision of strong environmental protections and sustainable vibrant communities in the Adirondack Park,” Janeway wrote.
While Douglas has settled his case against the Council, his claims against its former board chairman, Brian Ruder, are still pending. Douglas had accused Ruder, a neighbor of his on Silver Lake, of coordinating a plan of action with the APA to reopen the enforcement case in an effort to halt Douglas’ development plans.
“We have no formal settlement with Mr. Ruder at this point,” Norfolk wrote. “If we cannot settle with Mr. Ruder, we will proceed towards trial.”
Ruder didn’t return a message left by the Enterprise Tuesday.
Douglas filed the lawsuit in March 2010, seeking more than $67 million plus punitive damages and attorney fees.
“These people have got to be stopped,” he told the Enterprise at the time. “What they’ve done to me is absolutely criminal, and we’re about to prove it in court.”
The APA had said its employees and officials did nothing improper. The agency, in court papers, had said it opened the second enforcement case because Douglas didn’t remediate the wetlands violations according to the terms of the 2006 settlement, and because APA staff discovered more wetlands had been impacted by Douglas’ road work than they first thought.
The agency called Douglas’ claims of illegal communication between it and the Adirondack Council “simply nonsense.”
The Council had argued, in court papers, that it communicated with the APA to monitor Douglas’ development plans in the Silver Lake area and ensure the agency was following the proper regulations. The group had said its actions were “within the stated purpose of the organization and are protected speech and petitioning of government.”
In September 2012, Judge Suddaby dismissed many of Douglas’ claims, but he left enough for the case to proceed to trial, including Douglas’ claim that the state agency and the environmental advocacy group conspired to reopen the enforcement case against him. The judge wrote at the time that the lawsuit alleges facts “plausibly suggesting that the (Adirondack Council) defendants and the APA defendants reached a meeting of the minds as to what actions to take against (Douglas).”
Norfolk said Gov. Andrew Cuomo was “instrumental” in settling the case on behalf of the state.
“I was told that the Governor’s office was negotiating or at least overseeing the settlement by Magistrate Judge Treece and the attorneys for the state during a status conference that turned into settlement conference in Albany last month, on October 11,” Norfolk wrote. “It is my understanding that the Governor’s Office had final approval of the settlement.”
Contact Chris Knight at 891-2600 ext. 24 or email@example.com.