A couple who had their beehive confiscated by officials in 2017 recently reached a $50,001 settlement with the Village of Lynbrook. The case continues, though, as they seek damages for the legal fees that they have incurred.
Daryl Altman and her partner, Robert Shepard, cared for thousands of honeybees in their backyard hive for over a year, but village officials had the bees and the hive removed on June 26, 2017, which began a legal battle between the two sides.
“It’s a civil rights case, a matter of invasion of privacy, lack of due process, search and seizure,” Altman said. “This is a constitutional case, and you’re usually entitled to legal fees, and that was a part of the deal that the settlement never specified.”
Altman said that she and Shepard originally sought more than $1 million, and have incurred up to $75,000 in legal fees. They would not accept the village’s offer of $50,001, they said, until officials also agree to cover their legal expenses.
Lynbrook Mayor Alan Beach said on Friday that he had not heard about an official settlement, and noted that the village confiscated the bees after neighbors complained. “The concern is the safety of the neighborhood, of the surrounding properties,” he said. “Having a 50-by-100 plot with 20,000 bees on it, that’s a concern of the village’s.”
Altman said she and Shepard were both at work on the day that their hive was removed four years ago. The couple had spent a year learning about beekeeping and had joined the Long Island Beekeepers Club before taking on a hive in April 2016. The experience ended, however, when a village inspector and a professional beekeeper from the Queens County Farm Museum confiscated the hive and some 20,000 bees, and the couple were fined $308.50. Officials said the hive violated 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.”
But Altman said the hive was not an infestation because honeybees are used for agriculture, adding that they are docile, and many of her neighbors supported the hive because it created 40 pounds of honey in the first year, which the couple often gave away. She also said village officials dragged out the case, filing for its dismissal four times, which increased the couple’s legal fees.
Altman and Shepard have been represented by Bellport-based attorney Will Snead, while the Village of Lynbrook was represented by the Garden City-based Vigorito, Barker, Porter & Patterson, LLP. Both firms did not return requests for comment at press time.
Altman said she didn’t want to take the $50,001 settlement, but if the couple hadn’t agreed to it and the settlement was brought before a judge, they could have ended up with less than what was offered, so they felt compelled to agree to it and then seek compensation for the legal fees separately. She said the village has yet to pay the initial settlement.
“So now we have to go back to court,” she said. “They’re forcing us to go back to court to have the judge make the decision, and now they’re wasting more of our time and money and the taxpayers’ money, too, because we’re being forced to go to court to get what we’re entitled to.”
After the bees were confiscated, village officials returned the empty wooden boxes that once housed their hives. They now sit in front of the couple’s home.
“It was horrible,” Altman said. “We took care of those bees, and it’s almost like you have a relationship with them, and they’re in the backyard and every morning you take a look and see how they’re doing. And the bees have a relationship with that hive, and that evening when we came home and the hives weren’t there, there were several bees right in our backyard sort of circling around, and there was no hive to go in.”
The case is pending in the U.S. Eastern District of New York Court and was assigned to a new judge last month. Altman said she and Shepard hope to move upstate in the near future to avoid dealing with village officials, and said she wished people cared more about bees.
“People should appreciate bees,” she said. “They’re pollinators. Without bees, we don’t have fruits or vegetables or flowers.”