New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims

LANSING v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, #2003-009-60, Claim No. 103052, Motion No. M-67142


Synopsis


Case Information

UID:
2003-009-60
Claimant(s):
THE TOWN OF LANSING
Claimant short name:
LANSING
Footnote (claimant name) :

Defendant(s):
THE STATE OF NEW YORK
Footnote (defendant name) :

Third-party claimant(s):

Third-party defendant(s):

Claim number(s):
103052
Motion number(s):
M-67142
Cross-motion number(s):

Judge:
NICHOLAS V. MIDEY JR.
Claimant's attorney:
THALER & THALER
BY: Richard T. John, Esq.,Of Counsel.
Defendant's attorney:
HON. ELIOT SPITZER
Attorney General
BY: Patricia M. Bordonaro, Esq.,
Assistant Attorney GeneralOf Counsel.
Third-party defendant's attorney:

Signature date:
December 9, 2003
City:
Syracuse
Comments:

Official citation:

Appellate results:

See also (multicaptioned case)


Decision

Defendant has brought this motion seeking an order of summary judgment dismissing the claim.

The following papers were considered by the Court in connection with this motion:
Notice of Motion, Affirmation in Support, with Exhibits 1,2


Memorandum of Law (Defendant) 3

Affidavit (In Opposition) 4


Memorandum of Law (Claimant) 5


Reply Affirmation, with Exhibits 6

The essential facts which form the basis of this claim are not in dispute. On January 23, 1999, a motor vehicle accident occurred on New York State Route 34B in the Town of Lansing. A tractor trailer slid into a ditch along the side of the road and turned over on its side. The State Police investigated the accident and requested wrecker trucks to pull the tractor trailer out of the ditch. During the course of this operation, the State Police decided to close Route 34B to thru traffic and all such traffic (both eastbound and westbound) on Route 34B was diverted to Drake Road, a town road owned and maintained by the Town of Lansing, which provides a direct connection between Route 34B and New York State Route 34. All traffic on Route 34B was re-routed to Drake Road for the entire time that it took to pull the tractor trailer from the ditch and remove it from the accident scene, a process which took approximately two and one-half hours. Drake Road, however, had a weight limit in effect at that time, which prevented certain truck traffic on the road. Since Drake Road was made available for all types of traffic for the period of time in which Route 34B was closed, the Town alleges in its claim that the overweight vehicle traffic directed onto Drake Road by the State Police caused damage to the road, for which it seeks damages. The State asserts that it is immune from liability pursuant to the "Emergency Rule" provisions of Vehicle and Traffic Law § 1602, and therefore seeks dismissal of the claim.

It is well settled that summary judgment is the procedural equivalent of a trial (Andre v Pomeroy, 35 NY2d 361) and should be granted only when it has been established that there is no triable issue (Moskowitz v Garlock, 23 AD2d 943). The role of the Court, therefore, on a motion for summary judgment is not to resolve material issues of fact, but instead is to determine whether any such issues exist (Sillman v Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp., 3 NY2d 395). If such material issues of fact exist, the motion for summary judgment must be denied (Rotuba Extruders v Ceppos, 46 NY2d 223). In other words, the issue is not whether claimant can ultimately establish liability, but rather, whether there exists a substantial issue of fact requiring a plenary trial (Scarpulla v County of Suffolk, 128 AD2d 603). However, only bona fide issues of fact are sufficient to defeat an application for summary judgment, and not issues "based on conclusory or irrelevant allegations" (Rotuba Extruders v Ceppos, supra at 231).

Claimant contends that there are issues of fact which preclude summary judgment. Specifically, claimant has alleged that there are questions of fact as to whether it was necessary to close Route 34B to both eastbound and westbound traffic in order to remove the tractor trailer from the ditch, and whether there was an available alternate route for the diverted traffic other than Drake Road.

Vehicle and Traffic Law § 1602(a), however, specifically provides a police officer in emergency situations with the authority "temporarily to close any street or part thereof to vehicular traffic, ... or to divert the traffic thereof". The State Police were clearly acting within such statutory authority when they closed Route 34B and directed traffic onto Drake Road, and such discretionary acts cannot therefore provide a basis of liability.

Claimant also contends that even in situations where the "Emergency Rule" provisions of Vehicle and Traffic Law § 1602 have been invoked, there is no such provision which immunizes the State from liability for such actions. Section 1602(b), however, specifically authorizes the State Police to "direct traffic as conditions may require notwithstanding the provisions of this chapter or of local laws, ordinances, orders, rules or regulations regulating traffic." Since the State Police have been granted the specific statutory authority to disregard local laws and traffic regulations while directing traffic in emergency situations, it would be directly contrary to the legislative intent of this section if the State could then be held liable in negligence for such discretionary actions. Accordingly, under the facts as presented in this claim, and pursuant to the "Emergency Rule" provisions of Vehicle and Traffic Law § 1602, the Court finds that it does not have the authority to grant the relief sought by claimant in this claim.

Therefore, it is

ORDERED, that Motion No. M-67142 is hereby GRANTED; and it is further

ORDERED, that Claim No. 103052 is hereby DISMISSED.


December 9, 2003
Syracuse, New York

HON. NICHOLAS V. MIDEY JR.
Judge of the Court of Claims