2007-09-14 / Community

BCAC: Lawsuit Driving Kids Out Of Business

Costs Of Fighting Suit At $20,000 And Climbing
By Howard Schwach

The piece of property that stirred the lawsuit between the American Legion and the Broad Channel Athletic Club on Cross Bay Boulevard. The piece of property that stirred the lawsuit between the American Legion and the Broad Channel Athletic Club on Cross Bay Boulevard. While officials of the Broad Channel Athletic Club are confident that they will win the lawsuit that the American Legion Post brought against them to claim a piece of land sold to the athletic club by the city, they worry that the cost of fighting that suit might well put them out of business, jeopardizing a sports program that is used by hundreds of local kids.

In December of 2005, American Legion Post 1404 in Broad Channel sued both the city and the BCAC, asking to recover a 30-by-100 foot piece of land that abuts the northern wall of the Legion's headquarters on Cross Bay Boulevard.

That piece of land is presently owned by the BCAC and is used as part of a parking lot and for its sports facility.

The suit alleges that the city promised to sell the land to the American Legion and then reneged on that deal by turning the land over to the BCAC in August of 2002.

Now, both sides have asked for summary judgment in the case before it actually goes to trial.

Depositions were recently taken from Margaret Wagner, an official of the BCAC and Frank Harnisher, a long-time resident of Broad Channel, who is a member of the Sons Of The American Legion, but not the Legion itself, according to his own deposition, obtained by The Wave.

Wagner told The Wave this week that she and the others fighting the "frivolous" lawsuit are sure that they are going to win.

It might well be a victory that destroys the youth-based organization.

"Fighting the suit has cost us nearly $20,000 to date, destroying some programs that we wanted to run this year," Wagner said, providing a bill from Citak & Citak, a law firm in Manhattan. "We're a non-profit organization, and we can't afford to spend that kind of money. Even if we win, if the Legion appeals, we're out of business for good."

While nobody from the American Legion would comment for this story, an earlier interview with a Legion member close to the controversy said that he doubted that the suit would cause financial harm to the BCAC because "there are many lawyers in Broad Channel who would do pro bono work for the BCAC."

Wagner, however, says that the contention is not true.

"This suit is costing the kids money," she says, and it's a frivolous suit."

"We're very frustrated," she added. "We wonder who is funding the Legion's suit."

A spokesperson for the city's Corporation Counsel told The Wave that he could not comment on issues still in litigation.

In court papers in support of a motion to dismiss the suit, however, which were filed in August of this year, Jack Stoller, an assistant corporation counsel, said, "There is no legally cognizable basis upon which [the American Legion] could be entitled to the relief it seeks. The statute authorizing the City to sell [the land] to BCAC confers discretionary authority to sell its property in Broad Channel, so that there is no basis to [force] the city to convey the disputed premises to Plaintiff."

Stephen Holihan, the attorney for the American Legion, commenting for an earlier story, said, "Neither the Legion nor I care to comment on the suit at this time. We'll let whatever the court decides stand as our comment."

There was no indication from either side or the court clerk as to when a final decision on the summary judgment motions would be made.

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