May 2, 2019

In Murphy v. Town of Oyster Bay, et al., the New York State Appellate Division, Second Department, decided on April 17, 2019 that a man shell fishing was in waters owned by the State of New York and therefore, the citation issued by the Town of Oyster Bay was invalid.

Plaintiff received a citation from the Town of Oyster Bay for shell fishing without a permit in 2010. The Plaintiff was shell fishing near the maritime boundary between Oyster Bay and Long Island Sound. The ownership of such area was disputed by the Town of Oster Bay and the State of New York. Plaintiff commenced an action against the Town, the State, and others in the Supreme Court seeking a judgment declaring, in essence, that the Town-issued citation was invalid because he was shell fishing in Long Island Sound, for which he had an appropriate permit from the State.

After a thorough analysis of the laws pertaining to title of underwater lands, the Court held as follows:

Where “a party’s extrinsic evidence demonstrates ‘not only that its interpretation is reasonable but that it is the only fair interpretation’” of ambiguous language, “summary judgment is appropriate…” The record in this case demonstrates that the State’s proposed boundary line is the only fair interpretation of the Andros Patent, the record contains no factual matter that might support a different conclusion. For example, the parties submitted no evidence showing some different historical understanding of Oyster Bay or bays, more generally, or personal accounts of mariners or other witnesses that, if credited, might support the Town’s proposed headlands. The record that the parties opted to compile in this case simply does not permit more than one inference as to the appropriate boundary line. Thus, contrary to the Town’s arguments on appeal, the Supreme Court appropriately resolved the dispute as a matter of law, and we agree with the court’s declaration that the boundary line between Oyster Bay and Long Island Sound is the line running east from Rocky Point in Oyster Bay to Whitewood Point on Lloyd’s Neck, and that the State owns all of the underwater lands north of that line.

Based on the foregoing, the Second Department affirmed the lower court decision granting the motion of the defendant State of New York for summary judgment and denying the cross motion of the defendant Town of Oyster Bay for summary judgment, declared that the boundary line between Oyster Bay and Long Island Sound is the line running east from Rocky Point in Oyster Bay to Whitewood Point on Lloyd’s Neck, and that the defendant State of New York owns all of the underwater lands north of that line.

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