A Seneca County judge has dismissed Seneca Meadows Inc.’s three-year-old legal challenge to a local law that requires it to close by December 2025.
In an order dated April 28 and emailed to lawyers today, Supreme Court Judge Daniel J. Doyle wrote that three of four main claims by the state’s largest landfill were disqualified by the statute of limitations.
Doyle also decreed that the landfill’s constitutional rights to due process were not infringed by Seneca Falls’ Local Law #3, which was enacted in late 2016.
Meanwhile, on Monday, SMI threatened to terminate its host agreement with the town and to file suit if the town board failed to promptly grant it an updated annual operating permit, according to letters obtained by FingerLakes1.com.
Scott Turner, the SMI attorney who signed one of those letters and who represented the landfill in its bid to overturn Local Law 3, did not return a phone call Monday.
Kyle Black, manager of Seneca Meadows, also did not return a phone call to discuss possible plans to appeal.
Doyle’s ruling was a unqualified victory for the town, represented by David Hou of the law firm Boylan Code, and for Dixie Lemmon (below), a neighbor of the landfill who had successfully petitioned to intervene in the case after the town was slow to respond to SMI’s court filings.
Local Law 3, passed in November 2016, took effect at the end of that year. In February 2017, the landfill filed suit to challenge the law’s validity.
Three months later, the town board, composed of several new members, voted to rescind Local Law 3. But that action was overturned in court in September 2017, and the law that mandates the landfill’s closure in 2025 was reinstated.
At that point, SMI had withdrawn its initial lawsuit against Local Law 3.
In November 2017, the landfill filed a second lawsuit that was virtually identical to the first.
For more than two years, the town did not respond to the charges SMI asserted in its second lawsuit, as Town Supervisor Greg Lazzaro led efforts to negotiate a compromise that would allow the landfill to operate beyond 2025.
Finally, in January 2020, Hou (left) and Lemmon’s attorney, Douglas Zamelis (below) of Cooperstown, filed court papers seeking dismissal of the 2017 suit.
They argued that all claims made in the second suit were barred by the statute of limitations. They noted that the deadline for filing legal challenges to the law expired on April 30, 2017, four months after it took effect.
In both suits, SMI had argued that 2016 town board member Annette Lutz acted with bias and sought personal financial gain when she helped steer the passage of Local Law 3. Lutz was not reelected in November 2016 and she is now deceased.
Hou said in a court filing that SMI never specified the financial benefits Lutz allegedly gained.
The landfill also argued that the town failed to take sufficient time analyzing the environmental consequences of the law.
But Doyle, in his recent order, agreed that SMI’s claims in the second lawsuit were barred by the statute of limitations.
Doyle (left) also concluded that SMI did not establish the basis for a due process violation. He noted that Local Law 3 did not cause revocation of any permit, but rather allowed its permit to remain in force through December 31, 2025. That date coincides with the expiration of a state permit and a town host agreement.
The judge said SMI could not claim to be entitled to operate beyond 2025 based on ‘certainty or a very strong likelihood’ that it would obtain necessary permits to do so.
Doyle also held that the down did not overstep its legal authority in an arbitrary way.
“Local Law #3 of the Year 2016 does not deprive (SMI) of substantive due process rights in violation of the Fifth and Fourteen Amendments to the United States Constitution,” he concluded.
Zamelis, who stated in an affidavit that he had been the architect of Local Law 3, said he was pleased by the ruling.
SMI has the right to appeal to the state Appellate Division’s Fourth Judicial Department in Rochester.
Peter is a three-time Pulitzer nominated reporter covering environmental issues through his first-of-its-kind digital publication The Water Front. He’s won an array of Associated Press, UPI, and Society of Professional Journalist awards. His reporting on environmental issues continues to be featured in prominent New York publications and is available on FingerLakes1.com through an exclusive content partnership. Have a question or lead? Send it to [email protected].