A man’s attempts to get permission to land his helicopter on his property instead landed himself in a judge’s doghouse. After landing his helicopter on a helipad in his backyard for three years, the town passed a law prohibiting private aircraft from taking off or landing in the city. Claiming the law unfairly targeted him, he sued, was dismissed, and sued again, resulting in a nice legal zinger from the presiding judge.
Our story goes back to 2002, when businessman John Casciani earned his pilot’s license. He soon acquired a helicopter and built a helipad in his backyard in a subdivision of Webster, a suburb of Rochester, New York (house location). He began flying the chopper regularly and landing in his yard. The flights caused outrage in his neighborhood, and the city received a flood of complaints, primarily noise and safety-related. In 2006, after two public hearings on the matter, town officials passed a law prohibiting the landing of helicopters on Webster property. Two years later, claiming the law unfairly targeted him, he filed his first lawsuit.
Filing in the U.S. District Court in Rochester, Casciani alleged the city violated his First, Fifth and Fourteenth Amendment rights when it banned helicopter landings. He based his First and Fifth Amendment arguments on the fact the city did not allow him to use his property as a heliport, and claimed in his Fourteenth Amendment that the city acted against him because he is Italian (despite the fact his father had been previously appointed to the city’s planning board). The episode caused him “severe mental anguish, humiliation and economic hardship as a consequence … of town supervisor’s actions.”
The original case was dismissed by U.S. District Judge David Larimer, who noted the complaint was rife with hearsay but devoid of factual allegations or substance. Undeterred, Casciani and his attorney filed a second lawsuit, which attracted the Judge’s scorn.
In his decision, written on October 4, 2011, Judge Larimar observed that “While the maxim, ‘If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again’ may be sound advice for everyday living, it is not always a good rule to follow where litigation is concerned.” Annoyed that the new complaint consisted mostly of allegations that were “virtual duplicates of the allegations in Casciani I”, he described the second suit as “so egregious as to be potentially sanctionable.” Still, he held back from pursuing sanctions on Casciani or his attorney, but noted “that further efforts on their part to pursue these patently meritless claims may result in sanctions being imposed on them.”