Sunday, February 22, 2015

West Wildwood pays $350,000 to settle retaliation lawsuit filed by local couple.

On December 31, 2014, the Borough of West Wildwood (Cape May County) agreed to pay $350,000 to settle a lawsuit a local couple filed on July 9, 2012 against the Borough and its then Mayor Herbert Frederick and Commissioner Gerard McNamara.  The lawsuit, which spans 235 paragraphs, claims that Borough officials retaliated against the couple because they took a role in a seeking a recall election.

In their suit, James and Lori Perloff claimed that Frederick and McNamara had a sixty-six foot wall built in the public right of way adjacent to their property that prevented them "from utilizing the garages and driveway on their property."   According to the Perloffs, this was just one of many retaliatory actions Frederick and McNamara took against them for politically opposing them.

The case is captioned the James and Lori Perloff v. Borough of West Wildwood, et al, Federal Case No. 10-cv-05408 and the Perloffs's attorney was Dominic R. DePamphilis of Egg Harbor Township.  Case documents are on-line here.

None of the Perloffs' allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $350,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by West Wildwood or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that West Wildwood or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay the Perloffs $350,000 than take the matter to trial. Perhaps the defendants' decision to settle was done to save further legal expense and the costs of trying what were in fact exaggerated or meritless claims. Or, perhaps the claims were true and the defendants wanted to avoid being embarrassed at trial. This is the problem when cases settle before trial--it is impossible to know the truth of what really happened.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Ocean City pays $150,000 to settle police assault/excessive force suit

On December 31, 2014, the City of Ocean City (Cape May County) agreed to pay $150,000 to a local woman who sued the Ocean City Police Department and one of its officers for allegedly assaulting her without justification.

In her suit, Monica Raab said that on May 11, 2010, she observed Ocean City Police Officer Jessie Scott Ruch in front of her home looking at a garden trailer that was parked there.  She said that when she went outside to inquire as to what Ruch was doing, he told her that he "getting rid of the trash on the street," referring to the trailer, which had been parked there for about a month.  The trailer was owned by Raab's brother-in-law who lived about two blocks away. When Ruch said that he intended to tow the trailer, Raab, her daughter and another person offered to put it in Raab's driveway and, by pushing, got it over the curb and into her driveway.

Raab claimed that Ruch then pushed her to the ground without provocation and handcuffed her, injuring her in the process.  He allegedly also "continued to pull and twist [her] right arm over and over again causing her to repeatedly hit her head on the pavement." Ruch also allegedly pushed Raab's daughter into the bushes.

Raab's suit claimed that a second officer named Campbell then arrived and ordered Ruch to take the handcuffs off of her.  Ruch complied and Raab claims that she was not charged with any crime arising from the incident.

The case is captioned Raab v. Ocean City, Federal Case No. 1:11-cv-06818 and Raab's attorney was Paul R. Rizzo of Warren.  Case documents are on-line here.

None of Raab's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $150,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Ocean City or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Ocean City or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Raab $150,000 than take the matter to trial. Perhaps the defendants' decision to settle was done to save further legal expense and the costs of trying what were in fact exaggerated or meritless claims. Or, perhaps the claims were true and the defendants wanted to avoid being embarrassed at trial. This is the problem when cases settle before trial--it is impossible to know the truth of what really happened.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Monmouth County pays $20,000 to settle whistleblower suit, withdraws firing and allows employee to resign.

On November 29, 2014, the County of Monmouth agreed to pay $20,000 to its Transportation Division's former Operations Manager who sued the County for allegedly firing her after she complained that her supervisor was having her and another employee use County resources to campaign for a Republican Freeholder candidate.

The plaintiff, Jean A. Meroni, served the County's Transportation Division since 1997 and was the Program Coordinator for the Senior Citizen's Area Transportation [SCAT] Program.  According to her complaint, Meroni's employment with the County was smooth until her supervisor, Henry Nicholson, was replaced by new Division Director Kathleen Lodato.

In her complaint, Meroni said that Lodato was "highly politically active" within the Republican Party.  She allegedly had campaign literature in her office and "regularly dropp[ed] the names of Lieutenant Governor Kim Guadagno, 'Tommy' (Republican Freeholder Tom Arnone) and 'Curley' (Republican Freeholder John Curley.)"  Meroni alleged that Lodato "wrongfully and illegally required her assistance with political campaigning for the Republican Party during work hours."  She claimed that on May 25, 2011, Lodato had her and another worker "photocopy Republican campaign literature for Republican Freeholder candidate Gary Rich on the County copier, as well as stuff envelopes for mailing."

Meroni said that she brought her complaints about Lodato to Monmouth County Freeholder Amy Mallet, who, at the time, was the sole Democrat on the Freeholder Board.  She also discussed her complaints with Mallet's confidential aide, Keith Rella, and Human Resources Director Kevin Burke.  County officials were allegedly concerned that Meroni's allegation would start a "political maelstrom." Meroni alleged that Monmouth County Special Counsel Steven W. Kleinman recommended that she "retract her allegations against Ms. Lodato" and eventually told her "that this was her 'last chance' to withdraw her claims."  When she wouldn't retract her claim, Meroni said that County officials "joined Ms. Lodato's campaign of retaliation, seeking to conceal Ms. Lodato's wrongdoing and to focus the negative attention on [Meroni] instead."

Meroni claimed that she was thereafter was stripped of her job duties and was made the subject of "a bogus internal investigation" that clamed that she knew of and participated in a "sick-out" that occurred six months prior. She alleged that she was subjected to a hostile work environment and that Lodato even made her perform "housekeeping tasks, such as cleaning and vacuuming."  On September 15, 2011, a "farcical" disciplinary hearing was held which resulted in her being fired.  Her firing was sustained on appeal after a 15-day hearing before Administrative Law Judge John R. Futey.  Meroni's appeal of her firing to the Appellate Division of the Superior Court was dismissed as part of the settlement.

In addition to the $20,000 payment, the County also agreed to allow Meroni to resign effective August 22, 2011 provided that she never again seeks future County employment.  Any future prospective employers who inquire about Meroni's previous employment with the County will be told that she resigned.

The settlement agreement contains a confidentiality clause, which prevents the parties to the suit from publicly disclosing the settlement terms.  Fortunately, however, these confidentiality clauses do not trump the public's right to obtain copies of settlement agreements that arise out of lawsuits in which a government agency or official is a defendant.  Meroni and the County also agreed not to disparage or defame each other.

The case is captioned Meroni v. County of Monmouth, Docket No. MON-L-2193-12.  Meroni was represented by Gina Mendola Longarzo of Chatham and Steven A. Varano of Totowa.  Case documents are on-line here: (complaint part 1) (complaint part 2) (settlement agreement).

None of Meroni's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $20,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Monmouth or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Monmouth or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Meroni $20,000 than take the matter to trial. Perhaps the defendants' decision to settle was done to save further legal expense and the costs of trying what were in fact exaggerated or meritless claims. Or, perhaps the claims were true and the defendants wanted to avoid being embarrassed at trial. This is the problem when cases settle before trial--it is impossible to know the truth of what really happened.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Stafford pays $13,750 to settle police assault/excessive force suit

On January 22, 2015, the Township of Stafford (Ocean County) agreed to pay $13,750 to a Manahawkin man who sued members of the Stafford Police Department for allegedly assaulting him and applying excessive force.

In his suit, Ian Wolfer said that on October 15, 2011, he was "assaulted without justification and with excessive force by" Stafford Police Officers Christopher Smith, Albert Haldenwang and Robert Woodring.

Also named in the suit were Stafford Police Chief Joseph Giberson.

The case is captioned Wolfer v. Stafford, Federal Case No. 3:13-cv-06096 and Wolfer's attorney was Thomas J. Mallon of Freehold.  Case documents are on-line here.

None of Wolfer's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $13,750 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Stafford or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Stafford or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Wolfer $13,750 than take the matter to trial. Perhaps the defendants' decision to settle was done to save further legal expense and the costs of trying what were in fact exaggerated or meritless claims. Or, perhaps the claims were true and the defendants wanted to avoid being embarrassed at trial. This is the problem when cases settle before trial--it is impossible to know the truth of what really happened.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Stafford pays $27,500 to secretly settle police excessive force suit

On September 20, 2011, the Township of Stafford (Ocean County) agreed to pay $27,500 to a Barnegat man who sued members of the Stafford Police Department for allegedly assaulting him.

In his suit, Michael Piechowski said that on October 2, 2009, he was waiting for a bus with his friend.  He claimed that after Officers Christopher Smith, R. Mullin arrested his friend, they also "assaulted [Piechowski] without justification, handcuffed him and maced him while he was restrained."

Also named in the suit was Stafford Police Chief Thomas Conroy.

The case is captioned Piechowski v. Stafford, Federal Case No. 3:10-cv-04252 and Piechowski's attorney was Thomas J. Mallon of Freehold.  Case documents are on-line here.

The settlement agreement contains a confidentiality clause, which prevents the parties to the suit from publicly disclosing the settlement terms.  Fortunately, however, these confidentiality clauses do not trump the public's right to obtain copies of settlement agreements that arise out of lawsuits in which a government agency or official is a defendant.

None of Piechowski's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $27,500 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Stafford or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Stafford or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Piechowski $27,500 than take the matter to trial. Perhaps the defendants' decision to settle was done to save further legal expense and the costs of trying what were in fact exaggerated or meritless claims. Or, perhaps the claims were true and the defendants wanted to avoid being embarrassed at trial. This is the problem when cases settle before trial--it is impossible to know the truth of what really happened.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Spring Lake pays $275,000 to settle podiatrist's malicious prosecutor suit.

On November 24, 2014, the Borough of Spring Lake (Monmouth County) agreed to pay $275,000 to a Saddle River podiatrist who sued the Borough's police chief and sergeant for falsely prosecuting him for attempting to steal a multimillion-dollar estate of Spring Lake widow.

Sollito was accused of befriending Madeleine Stockdale, a Spring Lake widow and Sollito's neighbor, and persuading her to change her will and leave him the bulk of her $6 million estate.  According to newspaper accounts, Sollito was tried in 2007 for forgery, falsifying records and endangerment or neglect of an elderly person.  All charges were dismissed after a mistrial was declared.

In his suit, he said that Police Chief Robert J. Dawson and Sergeant William Coyle conspired to have Coyle testify falsely before a Grand Jury in 2004.  Sollito claimed that Coyle perjured himself and that absent his "vindictive acts and false testimony, a grand jury would not have indicted Dr. Sollito, because there was no probable cause to support the charges."  He further claimed that Dawson and Coyle conspired against him "to steer Ms. Stockdale's fortune to their friends and fellow public safety officers, who comprise the Borough of Spring Lake's First Aid Squad."

The case is captioned Sollito v. Coyle, Docket Nos. MON-L-1990-10 and OCN-L-1763-14 and Sollito's attorney was John S. Furlong of West Trenton.  Case documents are on-line here.

None of Sollito's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $275,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Spring Lake or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Spring Lake or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Sollito $275,000 than take the matter to trial. Perhaps the defendants' decision to settle was done to save further legal expense and the costs of trying what were in fact exaggerated or meritless claims. Or, perhaps the claims were true and the defendants wanted to avoid being emb
arrassed at trial. This is the problem when cases settle before trial--it is impossible to know the truth of what really happened.

Friday, January 2, 2015

Ocean County secretly pays $25,000 to settle inmate's excessive force suit against jail guard.

On November 26, 2014, the Ocean County Department of Corrections agreed to pay $25,000 to a county jail inmate who claimed that he was assaulted by a jail guard.  Additionally, the jail guard was charged with aggravated assault and resigned from his job after entering the Pretrial Intervention Program (PTI).

In his suit, Armando Penales said that on December 22, 2012, while he was in the Ocean County Jail awaiting sentencing on a robbery charge, he was assaulted "without justification" by Corrections Officer Timothy Browning.  He also claims that he was denied medical treatment for the injury he received and that Browning filed a disciplinary charge against him for "Refusing to Obey an Order of any Staff Member" which was later dismissed.

Court records also reveal that Browning, who was 49 years old at the time of the incident, was charged with Aggravated Assault by jail officials.   In August 2013, Browning was accepted into the PTI Program.  As a condition of his acceptance, Browning had to pay $657.66 in restitution and agreed to "resign his position as a corrections officer with the Ocean County Department of Corrections and agree not to seek future public employment in New Jersey."

Also named in the suit was Ocean County Jail Warden Theodore Hutler.

The case is captioned Penales v. Ocean, Federal Case No. 3:14-cv-01277 and Penales' attorney was Thomas J. Mallon of Freehold.  Case documents, including the criminal charges and PTI enrollment paperwork, are on-line here.

The settlement agreement contains a confidentiality clause, which prevents the parties to the suit from publicly disclosing the settlement terms.  Fortunately, however, these confidentiality clauses do not trump the public's right to obtain copies of settlement agreements that arise out of lawsuits in which a government agency or official is a defendant.

None of Penales's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $25,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Ocean or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Ocean or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Penales $25,000 than take the matter to trial. Perhaps the defendants' decision to settle was done to save further legal expense and the costs of trying what were in fact exaggerated or meritless claims. Or, perhaps the claims were true and the defendants wanted to avoid being embarrassed at trial. This is the problem when cases settle before trial--it is impossible to know the truth of what really happened.