Sixteen months after their honeybee hive was destroyed, a Lynbrook couple is stinging back against village officials with a $5 million lawsuit.
Daryl Altman and her husband, Robert Shepard, filed the suit on Aug. 31, alleging that their rights and property were violated in June 2017 when the hive was removed from the backyard of their home on Rowe Avenue while they were at work.
“Basically, the village took the property when my clients were away from their home and destroyed it without any due process,” said Lee Snead, the Bellport-based attorney who is representing Altman and Shepard.
The couple said that on June 26, 2017, an inspector from the village, members of the building and police departments and a professional beekeeper entered their backyard and destroyed the hive, vacuuming up some 60,000 bees. Officials said the hive violated village code, and fined the couple more than $300 after it was removed.
The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court in Central Islip and assigned to a federal court in Brooklyn. Among the listed defendants are Mayor Alan Beach, who was deputy mayor at the time; Deputy Mayor Hilary Becker, who was a trustee at the time; Trustees Mike Hawxhurst and Ann Marie Reardon; Trustee Robert Boccio, who had not yet been elected; former Village Attorney Peter Ledwith, who retired in April; Building Department Superintendent Brian Stanton; Building Inspector Terrance Daly; and Walter Blohm, a beekeeper who works for the Queens County Farm Museum and who allegedly vacuumed up the bees.
Snead said the individuals were served on Sept. 24 and 25. Beach said he would not comment on the lawsuit because it is pending, as did Village Attorney Tom Atkinson. “Although I would love to, unfortunately I can’t comment on a pending litigation,” Atkinson said, “and I would respectfully defer to counsel.”
The lawsuit also takes aim at the way in which the warrant to search the property was obtained. According to the suit, Ledwith went to Atkinson, who is his son-in-law and a partner at his law firm, to obtain the warrant, which the suit alleges is a conflict of interest. Atkinson was serving as assistant village justice at the time, a position appointed by the mayor. William McLaughlin was the acting justice, an elected position. The lawsuit claims that Ledwith should have requested the warrant from McLaughlin. It adds that Altman and Shepard were not notified of the intent to search their property.
“The village failed to comply with the procedures spelled out in its village code for obtaining warrants,” the complaint reads. “Procedures that would have notified the homeowners of the intent to seek an administrative search warrant, and provided them time to have been heard on the matter.”
Calls to Atkinson and Ledwith’s law office had not been returned at press time.
Altman, who works as an allergist in Queens, said that she and Shepard, a clerk for the Town of Huntington, have studied the process of caring for bees and maintaining a hive, and attended workshops before starting their own. They wanted to work with bees, she said, after they learned about how beneficial they are to the environment and food production. They maintained the hive for a year, harvesting 40 pounds of honey, most of which they gave to friends and neighbors, Altman said. The couple also earned an honorable mention from the Long Island Beekeepers Club, where they bought the hive, in the “light amber” honey category.
Ledwith told the Herald in June 2017 that the hive was in violation of Article 185-7 of the village code, which reads, “Grounds, buildings and structures shall be maintained free of insect, vermin and rodent harborage and infestation. Methods used for exterminating insects, vermin and rodents shall conform to generally accepted practice.”
Altman and Shepard said they contacted village officials in April 2016 before setting up the hive, but never got a response. In May 2017, village officials left a notice on their door that the hive was in violation of village code, citing complaints from neighbors. The following month, as the couple hired a lawyer to plead their case, village officials ordered the hive’s removal. The only remnants left behind were empty wooden crates that once housed the hive.
At the time, Altman told the Herald that owning the hive should not be considered an infestation, because honeybees are used for agriculture. She added that they are docile, and that she and her husband were not selling the honey for profit. “My gripe is with the Village of Lynbrook on a number of counts,” she said. “Honeybees are harmless. They don’t spread human diseases. They are not aggressive. I don’t see how it represents an infestation.”
Village officials have until early next week to respond to the lawsuit unless an extension is negotiated between the parties.