Sunday, April 4, 2010

Dennis Township pays $50,000 to settle suit alleging that Code Officer caused vehicles to be destroyed

On December 7, 2009, the Township of Dennis (Cape May County) agreed to pay $50,000 to a man who sued the Township Code Enforcement Official as well as his neighbor and a local auto salvage yard for allegedly improperly taking two cars, a boat and a school bus off his property and for destroying the two cars.

In his suit, Fletcher Mack, claims that that he is the attorney in fact for Jack Lee Colins, who is the owner of a property at 264 Stipson Island Road in Dennis Township. Mack first claims that Thomas V. Whelam--an adjoining property owner--made an anonymous offer to purchase the Stipson Island Road property in June 2006 and subsequently had his attorney send a letter to Dennis Code Enforcement Official Robert Milcarck complaining about the condition of the property.

Then, in March 2007, Mack claimed that he noticed that Mr. Colins' 41 foot boat, and 1998 Saturn, as well as Mack's own 1979 Cadillac and a school bus were missing from the property and that the yard had been dug up by heavy equipment tires. He alleges that he met with a State Trooper at Ray's Auto Salvage, owned by Ray Bozarth, and observed that "the two cars had already been destroyed and crushed and that the bus was parked in the yard [but] the whereabouts of the boat was unknown."

Bozarth allegedly told the Trooper that Code Enforcement Officer Milcarck had instructed him to enter on to the Stipson Island Road property and seize and remove the school bus, the cars and the boat. After learning this, Mack claims that he went to the Dennis Township municipal building and confronted Milcarck. He claims that Milcarck presented him with a notice, dated October 15, 2006, that apparently authorized the removal of the boat and vehicles from the property. Mack claims that he had never before seen that notice, that Milcarck couldn't produce evidence that it had been mailed to him and "that the ink on the document appeared and smelled fresh."

Mack claimed damages of $50,000 for the value of the boat, bus and two cars and claimed that the defendants--Dennis Township, Code Officer Milcarck, neighbor Whelam and Ray Bozarth/Ray's Auto Salvage--were liable for these damages.

The case is captioned Mack v. The Township of Dennis, et al, Federal Case No. 08-cv-00537 and Mack's attorney was David R. Castellani of Northfield. Case documents are on-line here.

None of Mack's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $50,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Dennis Township or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Dennis or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Mack $50,000 than take the matter to trial. Perhaps the defendants' decision to settle was done to save further legal expense and the costs of trying what were in fact exaggerated or meritless claims. Or, perhaps the claims were true and the defendants wanted to avoid being embarrassed at trial. This is the problem when cases settle before trial--it is impossible to know the truth of what really happened.