Thursday, January 28, 2010

River Vale pays $20,000 to settle "frivolous" lawsuit

On January 25, 2010, River Vale Township (Bergen County) authorized its insurer to pay $20,000 to resident Jeffrey Matfus who had sued the Township claiming that River Vale officials "engaged in continuous, relentless and malicious campaigns of retaliation" against him. Named in the suit were Mayor Joseph Blundo, Township Attorney Holly Schepisi, Councilwoman Denise Sieg, Councilman Dwight de Stefan, Councilman Mark Bromberg, former Police Chief Aaron Back, Lt. Robert Ryan, former Superintendent of Schools David Verducci, Board of Education Business Administrator Kelly Ippolitoa and Board of Education President Lorraine Waldes.

In a January 28, 2010 news article Township Attorney Holly Schepisi was quoted as saying that the settlement "is no admission of any guilt whatsoever" and that "The only reason we're doing this is that it's financially responsible to do so." She is quoted as having said that the amount paid was a "nuisance value payment," which is "generally regarded as a payment to end frivolous litigation." Yet, she declined disclose the amount of the settlement. I learned that the settlement was $20,000 by filing an Open Public Records Act (OPRA) request with River Vale.

The settlement agreement and the news article are on-line here.

None of Matfus' allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement expressly states that the $20,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by River Vale or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that defendants and their insurers, for whatever reason, decided that they would rather pay Matfus $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.