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MINEOLA � A group of Long Island residents trying to shut down the busiest emergency room in Suffolk County may not be pushing the most popular cause, but their effort has the backing of three different courts. That was, however, until last month. On Feb. 17, Suffolk County Supreme Court Justice Arthur G. Pitts issued a decision allowing Good Samaritan Medical Center’s emergency room in West Islip to remain open until May. The hospital had completed construction of its facility by the time a court enjoined its operation in a suit brought by a group of homeowners over increased traffic and congestion. The court in October 2002 found the Town of Islip failed to follow state environmental law in approving the facility. The injunction was stayed pending appeals. The Appellate Division, Second Department, upheld the lower court’s decision in October 2003, and the State Court of Appeals denied hearing an appeal from the hospital. The stay of the lower court’s decision in October 2002 expired after the Court of Appeals refused to hear the case. Justice Pitts wrote in his recent decision in Coppola v. Good Samaritan Hospital Medical Center, 24276-03, that in May, he will conference with attorneys from both sides of the lawsuit. (The decision will be published tomorrow.) Next Step While Justice Pitts’ decision to grant two more months of the emergency room’s operation in a four-year lawsuit may seem inconsequential, plaintiffs’ attorney Eliot F. Bloom is wasting no time. In fact, Mr. Bloom, whose practice is in Mineola, has drafted a writ of mandamus that he plans to file with the Second Department this week. Such a strategy, he hopes, will direct Justice Pitts to “follow the lower court” and retract the stay. The attorney for Good Samaritan, Robert L. Folks, said that he was aware of Mr. Bloom’s plans. He also said he is confident that Justice Pitts appropriately issued the stay. “When you’re dealing with a situation where an application is pending that threatens the lives of people in the community, he did what was justified” under civil procedure law, said Mr. Folks, with Robert L. Folks & Associates in Melville. The problem between the residents and the facility arose when the Town of Islip in June 2000 granted Good Samaritan a permit to expand one of its buildings at the West Islip site to accommodate a larger emergency room. Good Samaritan’s emergency room recorded almost 80,000 visits in 2002, which was 8,000 more than any other emergency room in Suffolk County, Justice Pitts’ decision stated. The judge also wrote that those figures represented an increase of more than 10 percent over the previous year. After the town issued the permit, the hospital proceeded to add a wing to the existing structure. It later moved the emergency room from its former location on its West Islip property to the new, larger facility on the same plot. But residents objected to the move, arguing that it had created a traffic pattern where hospital employees and visitors to the emergency room sped through their neighborhood. Residents Confused In October 2002, Suffolk County Supreme Court Justice Thomas F. Whelan in Matter of Coppola v. Good Samaritan Hospital Medical Center, 10881-01, annulled the decision made by the Town of Islip granting the building permit. Justice Whelan, who has since recused himself from the case, determined that the town failed to take the requisite “hard look” at the potential environmental impact to the neighborhood, as required by state environmental law. The ruling remitted the matter back to the town board for the appropriate environmental review. Importantly, Justice Whelan also enjoined the operation of the emergency room. His decision was affirmed by the Second Department in October 2003, and on Jan. 14, the Court of Appeals refused to hear the hospital’s appeal, at which time a stay in the case expired. A day after the Court of Appeals decision, Newsday published an article about “confusion” among Long Island residents regarding yet another news story that ran on a local cable news station Jan. 14 about the high court’s refusal. Apparently, some viewers believed that the emergency room had ceased operations that day. According to Mr. Bloom, the emergency room should have done just that. But because it continued to provide services, Mr. Bloom went back to State Supreme Court, this time in front of Justice Pitts, with a motion for contempt against Good Samaritan. He sought a $50,000 fine and the imprisonment of the hospital’s chief executive officer, Richard Murphy. In response, the hospital filed a cross motion to stay enforcement of a judgment, arguing that public policy demanded that the facility remain open. Justice Pitts appeared convinced by that argument in the Feb. 17 ruling. “[T]he court cannot imagine consequences more irreparable than those which might flow from the improvident and premature closing of a hospital emergency room,” he wrote. The judge added, however, that he was “equally sensitive” to the residents’ concerns for public safety and their quality of life claims. Accordingly, he granted the hospital’s cross motion “for a stay of enforcement of the portion of Justice Whelan’s October 22, 2002 order which enjoined Good Samaritan from operating its emergency room . . . .” Validity of Stay Questioned The stay is effective until May 13, “at which time all issues presented herein will be revisited,” Justice Pitts wrote. He also denied without prejudice the plaintiffs’ motion for contempt. In addition, he suggested that the plaintiffs add the Town of Islip Planning Board as a party to “expedite a conclusion to the proceedings.” But Mr. Bloom asserts that Justice Pitts overstepped his bounds in staying the enforcement of Justice Whelan’s order. In a draft of a writ of mandamus the attorney said he will file with the Appellate Division this week, Mr. Bloom asserted that Justice Pitts’ ruling “has rendered the previous order of Justice Whelan, a Justice of the same court, worthless.” He also cites a 1994 Court of Appeals decision, McCain v. Dinkins, for support. In McCain, the Court considered a contempt motion against New York City for its failure to follow a directive to provide emergency housing for homeless people. Ruling that the city was liable for civil contempt, the Court held that noncompliance based on feasibility was not excusable. John Sheridan, with Herrick, Feinstein in New York, said that “at first blush,” Mr. Bloom’s argument regarding Justice Pitts’ decision to stay Justice Whelan’s injunction appears viable. Mr. Bloom, he said, essentially is making an argument that Justice Pitts has circumvented the “law of the case.” But Mr. Sheridan added that injunctions are equitable matters, which give a judge more room to consider the fairness of each party’s positions. Mr. Sheridan, not affiliated with the Good Samaritan case, is of counsel with Herrick, Feinstein and focuses his practice on real estate-related litigation. In the meantime, Mr. Folks said his client has submitted documents to the Town of Islip for its reconsideration as to whether the facility complies with state environmental law. What remains is whether the town, this time, will approve the now-completed project.

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