A Montauk mechanic who sued former East Hampton Town officials in federal court, seeking $6.8 million in punitive and compensatory damages, will have his day in court.
The lawsuit, filed in 2012, accuses former town employees of conspiring against him and denying him of his constitutional right to due process and protection against arbitrary search and seizure. It is on those counts that U.S. District Court Judge Joseph Bianco is moving the case to trial.
In June and September 2009, the town hired contractors to clean up Thomas Ferreira’s residential property on Navy Road, where he runs Automotive Solutions. The property was full of car parts, propane tanks and inoperative vehicles, and Mr. Ferreira claimed that when the town sent workers to clean his yard, they stacked vehicles on top of one another and crushed them in front of him.
He also said the town removed an operable forklift that he used for repairing cars, 20 to 30 tires he had stored outside in a pile, and two-way radios, barbecues, hoses, rakes, hand tools and ladders.
The June 2009 seizure came in response to complaints from neighbors that the property was an eyesore. The Town Board at the time authorized the enforcement action, citing health and safety issues, including the potential for flammable and combustible liquids to spill, for fuel tanks to corrode and for fuel lines to rot.
The Town Board resolution also cited a petition given to East Hampton Town’s special prosecutor, Madeleine Narvilas, that was signed by 40 of Mr. Ferreira’s neighbors, demanding that the town clean up the property.
The town notified Mr. Ferreira he had 10 days to clean up his property or that the town would take action.
In his lawsuit, Mr. Ferreira claims the town never had a warrant, didn’t give him a hearing about removing his things, and had known about the number of cars on his lot for years before arbitrarily taking action.
The town also charged Mr. Ferreira $10,000 for each cleanup. He did not pay, so the town placed a tax lien on his property.
Mr. Ferreira filed his appeal in State Supreme Court, claiming the removals had been arbitrary and capricious and violated his right to due process. The suit named former Ordinance Enforcement Supervisor Dominic Schirrippa, Ms. Narvilas, Town Attorney John Jilnicki, ordinance inspector Kenneth Glogg, East Hampton Town Police Lieutenant Thomas Grenci, former Town Supervisor Bill McGintee and former Town Council members Julia Prince, Pete Hammerle, Brad Loewen and Pat Mansir.
The judge granted legislative immunity to the Town Board and former supervisor from liability on these claims since their “sole involvement in this case stems from their votes as members of the Town Board,” according to the decision. The other defendants were granted qualified immunity, since the constitutional due process and Fourth Amendment law was not sufficiently “clearly established” at the time.
Town Attorney Elizabeth Vail said the town cannot comment on pending litigation.