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Court ruling partial victory for baymen, Oyster Bay Town

The focus of a bitter legal battle waged by independent baymen against a competing shellfishing firm and its landlord, Oyster Bay Town, has been narrowed by a court decision.

The State Supreme Court ruled that the North Oyster Bay Baymen's Association could not seek to have Frank M. Flower & Son's lease voided on the basis of "material indefiniteness and mutual mistake."

But the court this month also allowed the baymen's case to proceed on claims the town illegally renewed Flower's lease for a 30-year period in 1994.

Justice Stephen Bucaria, in considering a motion by the town and Flower to dismiss the case, ruled in favor of the town and Flower on four claims and in favor of the baymen on five -- a partial victory for all.

Flower and the baymen have for decades been fighting over boundaries in Oyster Bay Harbor marking where each can harvest shellfish. The baymen's suit, filed in June 2011, alleges illegal and unchecked shellfishing practices by Flower.

Among the wins this month for the town and Flower, Bucaria ruled against a baymen claim that the leased land is owned by the state, not the town.

Among the wins for the baymen, he agreed that Flower could potentially be kept from using mechanical dredges until it complies with state and federal environmental standards.

Flower's lawyer, Gary Ettelman, of Garden City, said the heart of the baymen's case -- that the lease was based on boundaries staked improperly by Flower, giving the firm an unfair advantage -- was lost.

"The case is still alive, but for practical purposes it's dead," he said.

The town in a statement said it may appeal the ruling that it illegally renewed the lease.

"Based on the Town Code and procedures that occurred in 1994, the Town maintains its position that the renewal lease . . . was proper and valid," it said.

The baymen's lawyer, Darrin Berger, of Huntington, said Bucaria had ruled on nine causes of action when an amended complaint had 11. He said the baymen plan to continue with the case. He called the ruling that the land is not state-owned "mystifying."

Bayman Bill Painter, 51, of Bayville, said he was pleased.

"I knew we were going to lose some of the causes, but I'm hopeful it's going to get resolved," he said.

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