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Friends of Thayer Lake LLC v. Brown

ELR Citation: 46 ELR 20086
Nos. No. 55, (N.Y., 05/10/2016)

New York's highest court held that material questions of fact prevent it from ruling on whether a narrow waterway within a remote area of the Adirondack Mountains is navigable-in-fact and therefore open to public use. At issue in the case is the "Mud Pond Waterway," a two-mile-long system of ponds and streams that crosses private property within the Williams C. Whitney Wilderness Area. The state had constructed a 0.8-mile carry trail in order to permit canoe travelers to avoid entering plaintiffs' private property, but the state now asserts that the public is not obligated to use the carry trail because the waterway is subject to a public right of navigation. Although the parties dispute the waterway's navigability, they do not want a trial. Instead, the parties jointly requested a determination as a matter of law upon their respective motions for summary judgment, contending that the material facts are fully and accurately presented in the record and are not in significant dispute. But a waterway's navigability is a highly fact-specific determination that cannot always be resolved as a matter of law, as was the case here. The parties presented conflicting or inconclusive evidence with regard to a number of material facts and the inferences they wish to be drawn from those facts. As such, the court could not award judgment as a matter of law.