Lawsuit Over Ownership of Liberty, Ellis Islands DismissedAP , Associated Press
Mar. 18, 1986 3:16 PM ET
JERSEY CITY, N.J. (AP) _ With the 100th anniversary of the Statue of Liberty barely four months away, a state judge on Tuesday dismissed a lawsuit that questioned whether the island on which the landmark rests belongs to New Jersey or New York.
Superior Court Judge Burrell Ives Humphreys said he did not have the jurisdiction to rule on the suit brought by Rep. Frank Guarini, D-N.J., and 10 other residents of the state.
The lawsuit asked the court to declare invalid an 1833 compact between the two states that handing to New York jurisdiction of Liberty and neighboring Ellis islands, both of which sit in the Hudson River, the states' boundary.
The lawsuit is ''not only an appropriate case for the U.S. Supreme Court, but a classic one,'' he said.
''If this suit were allowed to stand, a Pandora's box would surely be opened'' because of the jurisdictional issues, Humphreys added.
Guarini and the others who sued did not have the legal standing to do so because they were not harmed personally, he said. ''The plaintiffs have no property rights on the islands,'' he added.
Their interests ''are equal to the interests of any U.S. citizen as the statue belongs to all of us,'' he added.
Humphreys also said the doctrine of sovereign immunity prevents individuals from suing the state in such cases.
''If successful, the plaintiffs would interfere in New York's sovereign responsibility over those islands under the 1833 compact,'' he said.
Guarini called the ruling ''unfortunate'' and said he would appeal to the Appellate Division of the Superior Court.
''The people of New Jersey have a right to be heard on the substance of this issue,'' he said, adding that he would ask New Jersey Gov. Thomas H. Kean to take the case to the U.S. Supreme Court through the federal judicial system.
Kean spokesman Paul Wolcott said that he did not think the state would become involved, but that the governor would listen to Guarini's presentation.
''We hope this is the end of a very silly lawsuit,'' said David Fishlow, spokesman for New York Attorney General Robert Abrams.
Originally filed in state court in November 1984 and then transferred to federal court, the lawsuit was sent back to state court last August.
In addition to seeking an invalidation of the 1833 treaty, the lawsuit asked that sales tax collected for decades on Liberty Island by New York be returned to New Jersey.
Liberty Island, which was dedicated on Oct. 28, 1886, lies 1,750 feet off the Jersey City shore. Ellis Island, which began its service as the nation's premier immigration station on Jan. 1, 1892, is about 1,200 feet from the New Jersey coast.
The federal government holds title to the islands, which are more than a mile from Manhattan, but New York reaps tax revenues from concession stand sales and the incomes of workers there.
Guarini said money and jobs were part of the reason he filed the lawsuit, but pride also played a role, especially because New Jersey residents believe New Yorkers look down on them.
The 1833 pact was limited to navigational and commercial purposes that are no longer relevant, he said.