Court Finds Department of Health’s Review Of Denied Application Insufficiently Detailed

In 2011, Petitioners Sean and Dawn Menon sought purchase property for a vacation home. Prior to making an offer, Petitioner spoke with John Konefal, President of the Wanaksink Lake Club, Inc.  Konefal advised Petitioners that construction of a new house needed approval of the Lake Club and the Town of Thompson's Zoning Board of Appeals (“ZBA”). Petitioners later bought the property, and the Lake Club approved Petitioners' proposed construction plan.  However, the ZBA conditioned the necessary area variances upon Respondent's approval of the proposed well and septic system. Later, in a letter to Konefal, Respondent's Director of the Division of Environmental Health Protection wrote that “this vacant property is too small to be developed for a new home of any size. For this reason, the requested specific waiver ... cannot be issued.” In a separate letter, an engineer in Respondent's district office advised Petitioners that the waiver application was denied solely because “the vacant property is too small to be developed for a new home of any size.” Petitioners and the Lake Club commenced this CPLR Article 78 proceeding to annul Respondent's determination. The Supreme Court granted the petition, and Respondent appealed.

On appeal, Respondent claimed that the engineer’s affidavit sufficiently articulated the basis for Respondent’s determination by explaining why the property's small size did not warrant granting the waiver application. However, the Court noted that the affidavit explained only how the number of bedrooms, but not the size of the property or proposed house, correlated to the sufficiency of a well and septic system. Moreover, the size of the property was never raised as a disqualifying factor during the application process, including site visits and discussions with Petitioners. Accordingly, Respondent’s denial shed “no light upon the manner in which Petitioners’ proof was deemed to be deficient and falls far short of delineating the particular grounds for Respondent’s determination.”  The Court thus affirmed the grant of the petition.

The case was Menon v New York State Department of Health, 140 A.D.3d 1428 (3d Dep’t 2016).

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