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Judge allows anti-APA case to proceed

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A judge has refused to dismiss a lawsuit alleging that state officials conspired illegally with an environmental group against a landowner in the Adirondacks. Leroy Douglas filed the lawsuit in 2010, claiming the Adirondack Park Agency worked in concert with the Adirondack Council to reopen an enforcement case involving his property on Silver Lake in Clinton County.

Tuesday's court ruling dismissed many of Douglas claims, but allowed the case to proceed to trial.

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Reported by

Chris Knight
Adirondack Correspondent

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U.S. District Judge Glenn T. Suddaby, in his 121-page ruling, said Leroy Douglas’ lawsuit alleges facts "plausibly suggesting that the Adirondack Council and the APA  reached a meeting of the minds as to what actions to take against Douglas."

Specifically, the judge refers to allegations that then-Council chairman Brian Ruder and an APA employee came up with a plan of action for the agency to take against Douglas, and that Ruder offered to provide legal assistance to the APA.

The Council has argued its communications with the agency “are protected speech and petitioning of government," but the judge found the allegations "plausibly" suggest that the Council crossed the line by working with the APA “to violate Douglas' constitutional rights”

Matt Norfolk of Lake Placid is Douglas’ attorney. “You know, the Adirondack Council spokesman was saying, ‘Well, we do this all the time, there’s nothing wrong with this. It’s freedom of speech, we can petition government.’ And the allegations in the complaint, based on those, the judge said, ‘This is not protected First Amendment speech or petition of government, it goes beyond that.’ So I think that’s very significant. Going forward, this may carry a precedent of how action is conducted in Ray Brook.”

It’s worth noting that the ruling doesn’t prove that the APA and the Adirondack Council conspired against Douglas; the judge simply found there was enough “plausible” evidence to proceed to trial.

At the same time, the judge rejected 10 of the 13 claims Douglas brought against the Adirondack Council. In a statement, Council spokesman John Sheehan called that a huge step forward.

"We hope that this case can proceed quickly so that the facts can be exposed and the case ended quickly,” he said.

Suddaby also dismissed 18 of Douglas' 24 total claims against the Park Agency, including allegations of retaliation, wrongful seizure, equal protection and abuse of process. But he rejected the APA's attempt to have Norfolk disqualified from the case.

Asked to respond to Tuesday's decision, APA spokesman Keith McKeever said in a statement that "The agency will now answer the complaint and proceed to discovery."

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