Citing the cost of the litigation, Maynard Baker has dropped his federal lawsuit against the state that sought floatplane access for the disabled to more than three dozen remote ponds and lakes in the Adirondacks.
"I just can't afford it anymore," the former Warrensburg town supervisor told the Enterprise Wednesday. "I had to quit."
A stipulation of discontinuance was filed in the case on Nov. 21. It is signed by Baker's attorney, Matthew Norfolk of Lake Placid, and state Assistant Attorney General Susan Taylor.
A family boards a Helms Aero Service floatplane for a scenic ride Aug. 4 at Tupperpalooza, on the shore of Tupper Lake’s Raquette Pond.
(Enterprise file photo — Peter Crowley)
"It is not a settlement. It is dismissal with prejudice," Taylor told the Enterprise in a phone message this morning.
The lawsuit was filed in 2010 against the state Department of Environmental Conservation and Adirondack Park Agency by Baker and five other disabled men who claim the state's ban on the use of floatplanes, motorized vehicles and bicycles to access a list of 38 lakes and ponds in wilderness, primitive and canoe areas - including Lake Lila, Clear Pond, Round Pond and Silver Lake - violates the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Unlike wild forest areas, where some motorized use is allowed, motors are generally prohibited on state land that's classified as wilderness, canoe or primitive.
"I was hoping the state would realize they have discriminated against disabled American veterans and the mobility-impaired people of our nation by closing those 38 lakes to seaplanes," said Baker, who's also a licensed pilot.
The state argued that the ADA doesn't require it to provide motor vehicle access to each and every location on state-owned land but requires "meaningful access to the Adirondack Park as a whole.
"A substantial portion of the entire Adirondack Park is accessible to the plaintiffs, including many lakes and ponds on which floatplanes are permitted to land and from which they are permitted to take off," the state wrote in its response to the lawsuit.
The lawsuit sought a permanent injunction prohibiting the state from restricting floatplane access to the lakes. Baker and the other plaintiffs also sought an award of attorney fees and costs incurred in bringing the complaint.
In June of this year, U.S. Northern District Chief Judge Gary Sharpe tossed out some of the claims, some of the plaintiffs and some of the defendants in the lawsuit. He allowed the case to move forward under the lead plaintiff, Baker, but limited its scope to only one of his arguments: that the state failed to make him a "reasonable accommodation" to access the lakes.
The case had been scheduled to go to trial sometime next year, but in a Nov. 20 filing, Norfolk wrote that the parties "are discussing the potential of having the action discontinued by agreement."
Baker told the Enterprise Wednesday that he's accumulated $31,000 in attorney fees, has already paid $25,000 out of pocket and can't afford to pay any more.
"I just can't compete dollar-wise with the state," he said.
Norfolk said the decision to drop the lawsuit was based "solely on the substantial amount of money and other resources that this case would have required to properly present a colorable challenge under the ADA.
"My hat goes off to Maynard Baker for his valiant efforts," Norfolk said. "But, as I said to him, no person of modest means, like many of us in the Adirondack Park, can singlehandedly challenge the state on such issues. Help from deep pockets is needed."
Norfolk added that the decision to drop the case doesn't compromise or undermine any similar challenge under the ADA in the future.
While he can't afford to continue the litigation, Baker said he hopes someone else will. He said he's going to ask the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association and the Seaplane Pilots Association to get involved.
"If they want to take this fight on, I'll stay with them," Baker said. "I've got over $30,000 worth of material I can give them that will save them a lot of mileage. Is this going to happen? I don't know."
Contact Chris Knight at 891-2600 ext. 24 or firstname.lastname@example.org.