Judge dismisses Tusten lawsuit
MONTICELLO, NY — Judge Stephan Schick on November 22 dismissed a lawsuit brought by Tusten councilperson Ned Lang, against fellow councilperson Brandi Merolla and town supervisor Carol Wingert. Schick ruled, essentially, that Merolla and Wingert were protected in their actions from the lawsuit because they were acting in their capacities as town officials.
Lang had alleged that Merolla and Wingert contacted the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) in 2016 on behalf of one of Lang’s neighbors and reported “alleged sewage dumping” on Lang’s property, and that Merolla said there was also “dumping of raw sewage by plaintiff on plaintiff’s residential property in Narrowsburg. (That language was contained in the lawsuit and Lang's complaint but Merolla denies using those words.)”
The DEC inspected the property and observed that “eggshell waste” had been applied to the property. Lange responded to the DEC that it was instead “eggshell soil amendments,” which have been used on agricultural land for decades.
Lang argued that Wingert and Merolla knew the allegations were false when they made them, and that “the false statements were defamatory and were intended to defame plaintiff” and harm his relationship with the DEC, which regulates the business he operates.
But the judge cited case law that said, “Town supervisors and town board members are afforded absolute immunity from liability from defamation with respect to statements made during the discharge of [their] responsibilities about matters that come within the ambit of [their] duties.”
Schick further wrote, “It is beyond question that one of the duties—indeed, the overarching duty—of a town supervisor and councilperson to protect the general health, safety and welfare of the town’s residents,” and reporting a sewage complaint would be an example of acting to protect a resident’s well being.”
He further wrote, “That such reports may have been motivated in whole or in part by malice is irrelevant.”
Lang sued Wingert and Merolla not only in their official capacities but also in their capacities as individuals, but Schick said that claim was “unsupported by any specific factual allegations supporting such,” and he granted Wingert and Merolla’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit.