Saturday, December 20, 2008

Lover of Backyard Pigeons Is Dealt a Setback in Court by Cara Buckley -

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A man whose devout feeding of pigeons in his Queens backyard resulted in fines was told by a State Supreme Court judge on Thursday that he had failed to abide by all the proper legal avenues before filing a lawsuit against the city.

The Queens man, Cecil Pitts, who has been feeding pigeons for 50 of his 66 years, was cited by the health department last year for causing a nuisance because his daily feedings caused excessive waste. He was also cited for failing to show proof that one of his dogs had been vaccinated for rabies.

One of Mr. Pitts’s neighbors had complained about the birds, calling 311 to report an “unsanitary pigeon condition” at Mr. Pitts’s modest three-story home in South Ozone Park.

After learning that he faced $500 in fines, Mr. Pitts, who lives on $450 a month from Social Security, decided that his only option was to sue the city. Unable to afford a lawyer, he represented himself, and claimed that the health inspector trespassed without a court document, gave no warning of the inspection and overstated the number of pigeons that were there (the inspector put the bird count at 150 that day). He wanted the city to pay him $1,000 in damages and to have the fines waived.

But Justice Charles J. Markey of State Supreme Court in Queens denied Mr. Pitts’s claim, saying that he had not filed an appeal with the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene before suing the city.

In February of this year, Judge Markey froze the late fees and penalties on the fines that Mr. Pitts owed, but lifted that stay on Thursday.

Mr. Pitts did not answer calls to his home.