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PH03004J.jpgIn Barrett v. Watkins , Robert Barrett and others sued NY-GEN for allowing Woodstone Development to block access to a recreational area.

NY-GEN, a company licensed by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to operate a hydroelectric facility, was required to maintain a recreation area open to the public. Access to that facility was by way of an easement which NY-GEN's predecessors secured on a road owned by Woodstone.

When Woodstone's employees began parking and blocking the road, Barrett and others filed suit against NY-GEN claiming false imprisonment, malicious prosecution, and negligence for violating a duty to maintain public access. NY-GEN asked the court to declare NY-GEN had the right to use the road for any purpose in keeping with its FERC license. Others joined in and asked that NY-GEN and Woodstone be compelled to grant the public access to the recreational area. The Sullivan County Supreme Court found that while NY-GEN had the right to use the easement, the public didn't enjoy that same entitlement.

On appeal, NY-GEN claimed the case was prematurely decided as the nature and extent of the easement weren't properly before the Sullivan County Supreme Court, and the Appellate Division, Third Department, agreed. Since none of the parties moved for summary judgment -- a decision disposing of the case on the merits based solely on the parties' written submissions -- and the Supreme Court failed to advise the litigants it was considering that kind of relief, the AD3 concluded NY-GEN was wrongfully denied an opportunity to be heard.

It remains to be seen whether the public will be able to ease on down that road.

j0286792.gifTo download a copy of the Appellate Division's decision, please use this link: Barrett v. Watkins