Lewis Family Farm v. APA
In 2009, the Supreme Court Appellate Division ruled that houses built by Sandy and Barbara Lewis on Lewis Family Farms in Essex County for their farmworkers were agricultural use structures and not under Adirondack Park Agency (APA) jurisdiction and thus were not subject to permit requirements. The Lewises, backed by New York Farm Bureau, had argued successfully that because farms located in the Park are largely exempt from APA jurisdiction, farmworker housing was exempt as well. The Lewises then sued the APA for attorney’s fees.
In 2010, Essex County acting Supreme Court Judge Richard Meyer ruled in favor of the Lewises and ordered the APA to reimburse Lewis Family Farm funds they had spent suing the APA. The court awarded the Farm $72,000 in attorney’s fees under the state’s Equal Access to Justice Act. Although Sandy Lewis was seeking fees in excess of $200,000 and the two sides argued over the amount, Lewis’ attorney, John Privitera stated that $72,000 was, to his knowledge, the largest award ever granted under the Act.
According to Sandy Lewis, the APA attempted to make vacating Judge Meyer’s decision a condition of the settlement, so that it could not serve as legal precedent. Mr. Lewis declined when asked by the APA and the AG to make vacating the rulings a condition of a settlement.
New York Farm Bureau sees this final disposition of Lewis Family Farm and the APA as a victory for farmers throughout the state.