Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Weehawken pays $105,000 to settle police excessive force suit

On November 18, 2009, the Township of Weehawken (Hudson County) agreed to pay $105,000 to a Palisades Park man who sued members of the Weehawken Police Department for allegedly applying excessive force upon him during an arrest.

In his suit, Richard Sedell, said that on June 30, 2006, he was arrested by Weehawken Police Officers William Paynter and John Mulvaney. During the arrest, the suit alleges, the officers force Sedell's "previously compromised left shoulder beyond the range of motion that it could tolerate, despite [his] prior advice and contemporaneous protests."

The case is captioned Sedell v. Weehawken, Federal Case No. 2:08-cv-03151 and Sedell's attorney was Jonathan Koles of Jersey City. 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 Sedell's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $105,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Weehawken or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Weehawken or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Sedell $105,000 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.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Highlands Fire Department pays $7,500 to settle sexual assault lawsuit

On March 22, 2010, the Borough of Highlands (Monmouth County) and the Highlands Fire Department agreed to pay $7,500 to a Colts Neck woman who claimed that she was sexually assaulted by a member of the fire department in the firehouse.

In her suit, the woman said that she became separated from her boyfriend on September 3, 2005 while she was at the Sugar Shack in Highlands. She claimed that while she was walking around town looking for her boyfriend, she was approached by Gary Branin, Jr., who was on a bicycle, who "under the pretext and ruse of helping [the woman], coaxed and lured her inside the confines of the Highlands Fire Department." She claims that Branin sexually assaulted her, that she reported the assault to the police and that Branin "was convicted and ultimately sentenced to serve a term in State Prison."

She based her suit against the fire department for "retaining Branin as a member of the Highlands Fire Department and permitt[ing] him to have unsupervised access to the premises . . . when they knew or should have known that he was not fit to be a member."

The lawsuit continues against Branin individually. The woman's attorney was Darren M. Gelber of Woodbridge. The lawsuit and settlement agreement are on-line here.

None of the woman's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $7,500 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Highlands, the fire department or any of their officials (except for Branin). All that is known for sure is that Highlands or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay the woman $7,500 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.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Long Beach pays $125,000 to settle retaliation lawsuit

On December 21, 2009, the Township of Long Beach (Ocean County) agreed to pay $125,000 to a local man who claimed that Township officials "commenced and continued an outrageous, despicable, year long campaign of retaliation against" him. Named in the suit were Mayor DiAnne C. Gove, Commissioner Ralph H. Bayard, Zoning Official Francis A. Rowen, Construction Official Ron Pingaro and Municipal Attorney Richard Shackleton.

In his suit, Anthony Majer, claimed that Township officials set their sites on him after he complained about health and safety code violations committed by his neighbor Eugene Kelly, who is also named in the suit, who Majer claims has family and friends employed by the Township. According to Majer, the retaliation campaign included confiscation of his "open house" signs, issuance of "baseless Notices of Violation," "amendment of ordinances without any rational basis in order to prevent [him] from renting his home," and "effecting a 'local ordinance arrest'" against him.

Majer claims that he has, since 2000, owned a duplex on Long Beach Island that he rents out during the summer months. In 2003, he claims he was permanently disabled after being hit by a drunk driver, making the rental income more critical than before. In March 2004, Majer alleges, he called the police about Kelly's dog running loose and defecating on the lawn of another neighbor named Rohr. According to the complaint, the "fecal matter left on the Rohr lawn by the Kelly dog accumulated over many months and filled a thirty pound garbage bag."

Kelly, Majer claimed, was a long-time resident whose family had lived in the Township for over seventy five years. According to Majer, Kelly felt that he was entitled to special privileges because of the length of his residence and his family ties. He allegedly called Majer a "f------ a--hole" and told him that he did not know who he was "messing with."

After not being successful with court mediation, Majer claims he filed two citizen complaint against Kelly on May 23, 2005 because his dog allegedly still was running loose. Kelly allegedly threatened him by saying he would not be able to "rent his property anymore." Majer allegedly responded by filing harassment charges against Kelly.

Shortly thereafter, Majer alleges, John Jones, the DPW supervisor, confiscated one of Majer's "Open House-For Rent" signs. He also received a Notice of Violation on the same day alleging that placing the sign in the right-of-way violated a municipal ordinance. Then a day later, Pingaro allegedly went to Majer's home and confiscated three additional signs. Majer claims that many other residents put out similar signs and that none of them had any ordinances enforced against them.

After the signs were confiscated, Kelly allegedly told Majer "See what happens you fat f---, you're out of business now! We can settle his another way, why bother going to Court. I'll f------ kill you next time." These comments reportedly resulted in Majer filing another harassment claim against Kelly.

Then,on July 10, 2005, Kelly allegedly "made a false statement to the Township police that Mr. Majer 'lived in a shack with no bathroom." The police allegedly responded to Majer's home at 9:30 in the evening with three patrol cars with flashing lights to investigate whether or not Majer's home had a bathroom. The, other Township officials inspected Majer's bathroom but "broadened" their inspection to other rooms in Majer's house. The officials "questioned the validity of Mr. Majer's Certificate of Occupancy and hinted that his property taxes would be raised."

Majer claims that on September 29, 2005, he met with Township officials regarding the Notices of Violation. Attorney Shackleton, who was at the meeting, allegedly said that a temporary measure that allowed for temporary "open house" signs would be withdrawn and that all such signs, going forward, will be banned. Shackleton allegedly cited safety concerns for withdrawing the policy and also wanted to ensure that Mr. Majer didn't feel discriminated against.

Thereafter, the Township reportedly issued Majer another Notice of Violation for putting out an "open house" sign. Majer allegedly responded by documenting fifty other residence who had similar signs. One of those residents was reportedly sent a Notice of Violating, listing Majer as the "complainant" while the other forty-nine cases went unaddressed.

On November 10, 2005, the Township allegedly passed an ordinance banning "Open House-For Rent" signs while permitting "Open House-For Sale" signs. Majer claims that he was the only resident who put out "Open House-For Rent" signs, so the ordinance unfairly targeted him.

The complaint goes on to allege additional acts of retaliation including a Township street sweeper dumping sand and stones in front of Majer's house.

The case is captioned Majer v. Long Beach, Federal Case No. 3:06-cv-02919 and Majer's attorney was Steven Siegler of East Brunswick. The lawsuit, a court opinion and settlement agreement are on-line here.

None of Majer's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $125,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Long Beach or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Long Beach or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Majer $125,000 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, June 14, 2010

Middletown pays $125,000 to settle abuse case that resulted in officer's suicide

Middletown pays $125,000 to settle abuse case that resulted in officer's suicide

On December 11, 2009, the Township of Middletown (Monmouth County) agreed to pay $125,000 to the family of Middletown Auxiliary Police Officer who sued the Middletown Police Department, particularly Police Lieutenant Robert Morrell for the officer's wrongful death.

In her suit suit, Kathleen Prevost, the wife of the late Robert Prevost, said that her husband, then age 39, committed suicide on November 2, 2005 after having been berated and arrested by Morrell and other members of the Middletown Police Department.

Prevost alleged that her husband Robert, who had Attention Deficit Disorder, was a cocaine addict who overcame his addiction in 1998. While clean and sober, he allegedly reinvented himself and dedicated himself to his family and community. In 2004, he "realized his dream of becoming an auxiliary police officer" with Middletown Township.

The complaint further alleges that unlike most others in the police department, Lieutenant Morrell "harbored a sinister dislike of" Prevost because he was a recovering drug addict. Morrell's contempt for Prevost was allegedly well known throughout the department and Prevost "became intimidated and fearful of Lt. Morrell and sought to avoid personal contact with him whenever possible." Morrell is alleged to have also abused other officers and reportedly "sent boxes filled with horse manure" to the homes of four officers he had a dispute with. Despite complaints from others and questions arising as to Morrell's emotional and mental stability, Police Chief Robert Oches and others in the administration "were deliberately indifferent to numerous recurring complaints about Lt. Morrell and his increasingly obvious emotional problems."

On the day of his suicide, Prevost was assigned to traffic control detail at a funeral. Allegedly fearful of running into Morrell, Prevost reportedly took his own licensed B92-5 Beretta pistol with him instead of retrieving his identical, department issued pistol from the police station. When Morrell learned that Prevost was carrying his personal pistol, he allegedly "became enraged." Even though Morrell's direct supervisor allegedly ordered him to handle the issue as a minor disciplinary matter, Morrell "issued an all points bulletin ordering that [Prevost] be arrested and brought to the the Police Department headquarters."

After officers arrested Prevost and brought him in, he was locked in "the cage" and Morrell allegedly went into a "an ear-splitting, hysterical rage that could be overheard throughout headquarters." He allegedly "mercilessly berated, cursed and threatened [Prevost] in a vile, malevolent manner. Morrell then allegedly charged Prevost with unlawful possession of a hand gun and bail was set at $7,500. After making bail, Prevost went home, "wrote two poignant notes, one to his wife and one to Morrell [and] ended his life with a single rifle shot to the head."

$75,000 of the $125,000 was paid to Prevost's estate to settle the federal civil lawsuit and the other $50,000 was paid because of a dependency claim filed with the New Jersey Division of Worker's Compensation.

The case is captioned Prevost v. Middletown, Federal Case No. 3:07-cv-5260 and Prevost's attorney was Robert F. Vardy of Union. The lawsuit and settlement agreement are on-line here.

None of Prevost's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $125,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Middletown or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Middletown or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Prevost $125,000 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.

Dover pays $15,000 to settle police false arrest/excessive force suit

On October 29, 2009, the Town of Dover (Morris County) agreed to pay $15,000 to a Morris County woman who sued members of the Dover Police Department for false arrest, excessive force and malicious prosecution.

In her suit, Angelica Lopez said that on March 7, 2003, when she was 15 years old, she was exiting a teen-party when she was approached by a Dover Police Officer who she believed to be Justin Gabrys who yelled "move along" or words to that effect. Lopez, who was 5'1" tall and weighed 110 pounds, allegedly told the officer that she was waiting for her ride. The officer then allegedly got out of his car, grabbed Lopez by her arm and pushed her against a wall "pressing his body hard against hers."

Gabrys then allegedly spun Lopez around, handcuffed her and called for back-up. The back-up officer, who was alleged to probably be Sergeant Bruce Cole, reportedly sprayed Lopez with mace. Lopez says that she was then "thrown into the police car" and taken to the station. While at the station, she alleges that Cole screamed at her, used obscenities and threatened to have her taken to a mental institution. Lopez says she was charged with aggravated assault, resisting arrest, disorderly conduct and obstructing the administration of justice and held in detention for two days. She alleges to have been acquitted of all charges except for disorderly conduct.

The case is captioned Lopez v. Dover, Federal Case No. 2:2008cv02115 and Lopez's attorney was Jeffrey J. Mahoney of Flemington. The lawsuit and settlement agreement are on-line here.

None of Lopez's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $15,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Dover or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Dover or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Lopez $15,000 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.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Eatontown pays $200,000 to settle police negligence suit

On January 25, 2010, the Borough of Eatontown (Monmouth County) agreed to pay $200,000 to the family of a woman who sued members of the Eatontown Police Department for allegedly failing to warn her about a hazardous road condition that resulted in the woman's death.

In their suit, the parents of Allison M. Lynman, then 19, said that their daughter lost control of her car after hitting a large body of water that accumulated on Route 35. Her car collided with a utility pole causing her to sustain fatal injuries.

Her family alleges that prior to the accident, Eatontown Patrolman Robert Green had been dispatched to the Route 35 location by Patrolman James DiGiovanni after DiGiovanni received a report that the road was flooded and represented a dangerous condition. According to the lawsuit, Green went to the site and observed "the accumulation of at least two (2) to three (3) inches of water on both northbound laes of travel of Route 35 and the shoulder of the roadway."

Green then allegedly reported the flood condition to DeGiovanni and the left the scene "without attempting to correct the dangerous condition or warn the public of its existence." DiGiovanni then allegedly took no further action except to notify the State Department of Transportation of the flooding.

The suit alleges that both DiGiovanni and Green breached their duty to warn Lynam of the dangerous condition and that this failure was the proximate cause of her death. Press reports indicate that in addition to the $200,000 paid by Eatontown, the New Jersey Department of Transportation also contributed $10,000 to the settlement.

The case is captioned the Lynam v. Eatontown, Docket No. MON-L-4522-04 and the Lynams' attorney was James A. Maggs of Brielle. 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 the Lynams' allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $200,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Eatontown or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Eatontown or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay the Lynams $200,000 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, June 10, 2010

Plainsboro pays $12,500 to settle police false arrest suit

On January 21, 2010, the Township of Plainsboro (Middlesex County) agreed to pay $12,500 to a Collingswood man who sued Plainsboro Police Officer Jason Mariano for allegedly arresting him without probable cause.

In his suit, Vincent Capriotti said that on April 5, 2009, he was driving on Route 1 North when Mariano, who was "conducting selective enforcement" pulled him over. He claims to have given Mariano his registration and a lapsed insurance card, but could not produce his driver license because his wallet had recently been stolen. He said, however, that he was able to tell Mariano his driver license number.

After Capriotti got out of his vehicle at Mariano's request, he claims that Mariano "unlawfully requested to search [his] vehicle for his driver's license and insurance card." Capriotti allegedly told Mariano that "he would not allow [Mariano] to search his vehicle without first speaking to his supervisor."

At this point, Capriotti claims that Mariano handcuffed him and took him to the Plainsboro police station where he was released after being held for four hours. Although it is not clear from the complaint, Capriotti was apparently charged with obstructing the administration of law and government function and was later acquitted of that charge.

He sued for the attorney fees he expended fighting the charge, his car's towing and storage charges, lost wages and "severe emotional distress." Also named in the lawsuit was Police Chief Richard Furda.

The case is captioned Capriotti v. Plainsboro, Middlesex County Superior Court, Docket No. L-9620-09 and Capriotti's attorney was Richard T. Silverman of Cherry Hill. The lawsuit and settlement agreement are on-line here.

None of Capriotti's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $12,500 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Plainsboro or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Plainsboro or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Capriotti $12,500 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.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Springfield Board of Ed pays $20,000 to settle fired bus driver's racial discrimination suit

On July 6, 2009, the Springfield Board of Education (Union County) agreed to pay $20,000 to an Irvington woman who sued the Springfield Board of Education and several Board employees and officials for wrongfully terminating her and for subjecting her to "an intolerable, abusive, and racially hostile work environment.

In her suit, Sharon Moore, an African-American woman, claimed that certain employees and officials of the Board of Education, all of whom are white, treated her disparately "and despite her excellent performance and experience, her responsibilities and shifts were decreased until she was ultimately and wrongfully terminated." Named in the lawsuit were Superintendent Michael A. Davino, Board Secretary Matthew A. Clarke, Human Resources Director Ellyn Atherton, Transportation Coordinator Sheila Hahn, Facilities Supervisor Michael L. Moore and supervisor Jared Moskowitz.

According to the suit, Moore, who was employed by the Board in 2000, said that in 2003, the Board hired another, white bus driver named Dixie Dougherty who received preferential treatment even though she had been newly hired. When Moore complained to Hahn about her treatment, she was allegedly summoned by Michael Moore who told her that she was "stirring the pot." When she asked Moore why Dougherty was receiving preferential treatment, Moore reportedly responded that it was "none of your damn business" and told her that "he would do whatever is necessary to get rid of 'troublemakers.'" Moore also alleged that she was assigned to drive busses that "barely had heat in the winter and no air conditioning in the summer" while a newer bus remained idle in the garage.

Her suit also claims that she was suspended on November 21, 2005 as a result of "a ridiculous and unfounded child abuse charge brought against" her "as direct retaliation" for her discrimination complaints. She claims to have been "cleared on all allegations." She further claims that she was again suspended on January 23, 2006 in response to Moskowitz's "bogus and unfounded complaint [the she] was driving recklessly." She claims that this charge resulted in her being fired as well as being "subjected to an unwarranted DYFS investigation."

The case is captioned Moore v. Springfield Board of Education, Union County Superior Court Docket No. UNN-L-1191-08. Moore's attorney was Gina Mendola Longarzo of Madison. 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 Moore'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 Springfield Board of Education or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Springfield Board of Education or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Moore $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.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Neptune Township pays $65,000 to settle police false arrest/excessive force suit

On April 5, 2010, the Township of Neptune (Monmouth County) agreed to pay $65,000 to a Brick Township man who sued members of the Neptune Police Department for allegedly beating, falsely arresting and maliciously prosecuting him.

In his suit, Carl R. Lepis said that shortly before midnight on March 15, 2008, he and a friend, identified as Vitale, were having a cigarette outside the Jumping Brook Spirits and Bar on State Route 33 in Neptune. While Lepis was standing next to Vitale's truck smoking his cigarette, a Neptune patrol car allegedly approached and shined a spot light on the pair. According to the suit, Patrolman John Jackson asked for Lepis' identification and Lepis handed him his passport.

Jackson then allegedly asked Lepis for his address and Lepis responded that the address was listed on the passport. After asking for and receiving Vitale's identification as well, Jackon allegedly ordered Lepis to turn around because he was under arrest.

Lepis claims that although he complied with Jackson's request, Patrolman J. Hunter Ellison approached and both officers "grabbed" him and "slammed [his] body against Vitale's truck." The two officers then allegedly "slammed [Lepis'] body against Jackson's police vehicle" and pushed him to the ground. Jackson then allegedly sprayed Lepis with OC Spray while Ellison allegedly "punched [him] in the face and back."

According to the complaint, "without any resistance from [Lepis], Defendants Jackson and Ellison continued to beat, punch, kick and pull [his] hair." They then allegedly handcuffed him and "slammed [his] head against the door frame as he was pushed into the police vehicle." These incidents were allegedly witnessed by Neptune Police Officers Fred Faulhaber, Leslie Borges and Bryce Byham, but all of these officers are claimed to have "failed to intervene and prevent the violation of [Lepis'] civil rights."

Lepis was charged with Disorderly Conduct, Resisting Arrest and a local ordinance for being drunk in public. Lepis claims that Jackson "made numerous false statements of fact in order to justify [his] arrest and beating. Lepis alleges that "the criminal proceedings initiated by [the officers] terminated in [his] favor."

Also named in the suit was Neptune Police Chief John O'Neil.

The case is captioned Lepis v. Township of Neptune, et al, Federal Case No. 3:09-cv-00402 and Lepis' 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 Lepis' allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $65,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Neptune or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Neptune or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Lepis $65,000 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.