Tuesday, December 29, 2015

State, Camden County Prosecutor poised to pay $180,000 to settle police wrongful death claim.

A November 18, 2015 "friendly hearing" before United State District Court Judge Jerome B. Simandle determined that a lawsuit filed by the estate of a Camden man who died in 2009 while suffocating on a plastic bag will settle for $180,000.  The only issue left to be decided is whether the settlement funds should be given to the deceased's wife or deposited with the Burlington County Surrogate's Office.

According a lawsuit filed by Maria Ortiz, wife of Jorge E. Rivera and the couple's now 12 year old son, Rivera was sitting outside with friends on April 22, 2009 when he was approached by State Trooper Dennis Quinn and Camden County Prosecutor's Office Investigators Peter Longo and Thomas DiNunzio.  Rivera, upon seeing the officers approach, reportedly "attempted to swallow a small plastic bag that was in his possession" when he was attacked by the officers.  Because he was handcuffed, Rivera reportedly could not remove the plastic bag that had become lodged in his throat.

According to the lawsuit, Rivera became unconscious due to the officers' continued beating even while the bag was stuck in his throat.  He was later pronounced dead at Cooper University Hospital and the official cause of death was determined to be asphyxiation.  According to Ortiz's attorney, Mark Frost of Philadelphia, who was quoted in the Courier Post's June 10, 2015 article, the officers "stood idly" by while Rivera was choking and did nothing to help him.  The Courier Post article also reported that the bag that suffocated Rivera contained heroin.

A December 23, 2015 letter, written by John C. Connell, attorney for Longo and DiNunzio, contains several attachments.  Among them are a proposed order and the transcript of the November 18, 2015 hearing before Judge Simandle.  According to the filing, the settlement totals $180,000.  Deducted from that will be $12,901.14 representing Frost's expenses with the balance of $167,098.86 being split in equal shares of $83,549.43 each between Rivera's estate and Frost.  Mr. Frost is quoted in the transcript as saying that had he filed a petition setting forth the true amount of his attorney fees, "it would have been approximately $250,000."  As to the fairness of the settlement, Frost told Judge Simandle that there were "difficulties with the case" because Rivera "was involved in a drug altercation -- a drug transaction during this incident."

It is unknown how settlement will be split between the County Prosecutor and the State.  According to a November 24, 2015 e-mail from Assistant Camden City Attorney Jason J. Asuncion, the City of Camden, while named as a defendant in Ortiz's lawsuit, was dismissed from the suit on June 30, 2014 without having to pay a settlement amount.

UMDNJ pays $91,500, Newark pays $21,000 to settle police excessive force suit.

On January 20, 2015, the City of Newark (Essex County) and the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey (UMDNJ) agreed to pay a total of $112,500 to a Hillsdale man who claimed that Newark and UMDNJ Police broke his femur during an illegal traffic stop.

In his suit, Marcelle Higgs claimed that on August 12, 2008 he was pulled over by UMDNJ police officers, including F. Ferraino, J. Bell and S. Rodriguez, even though he had violated no law or provided any basis for the traffic stop. He said that the officers "after having the opportunity to observe that plaintiff was a black man, initiated a vehicle stop."  After Newark police officers, including Rafael Reyes and Fabian Caicedo, arrived, Higgs said that the officers attacked him after he was ordered to step out of his car.  He claimed that the officer broke his femur which required him to have  metal rod surgically installed. Higgs said that the officers then fabricated a story to justify what he called an illegal motor vehicle stop.

The case is captioned Higgs v. University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey and City of Newark, Essex County Superior Court Docket No. ESX-L-6346-09 and Higgs's attorney was Joshua Denbeaux of Westwood.  Case documents are on-line here.

The settlement agreement with UMDNJ, but not Newark, contains a confidentiality clause, which prevents the parties to the agreement 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 Higgs's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $80,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by UMDNJ, Newark or any of their officials. All that is known for sure is that UMDNJ and Newark or their insurers, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Higgs $112,500 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.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Bridgeton secretly pays $5,000 to woman who claims that cop threatened to jail her unless she had sex with him.

On December 17, 2015, the City of Bridgeton (Cumberland County) agreed to pay $5,000 to a female shoplifting suspect who claimed that a Bridgeton police officer threatened to take her to jail if she did not repeatedly have sex with him.

In her suit, Shakera Brown claimed that she was approached by Officer Braheme Days on January 20, 2014 because she matched the description of a shoplifter.  Days allegedly told her that "there are two ways we can handle this: I can take you to jail, or we can handle this in an adult manner."  Brown claimed that since she could not go to jail because she had children at home, Days told her to put her cell number into his phone.  Thereafter, Days started calling her repeatedly for sex and Brown claimed that she reluctantly gave into Days' demands.  Later, Days allegedly gave Brown a pre-paid cellular phone so that he could reach her whenever he desired.

The suit's dismissal was reported on on NJ.com on December 6, 2015 in an article entitled "Sexual extortion lawsuit against Bridgeton cop dismissed after settlement, court says."  According to the article, Brown's lawsuit was dismissed in November because Brown "missed deadlines and failed to share information during the discovery process."

The case is captioned Brown v. City of Bridgeton et al, Federal Case No. 1:15-cv-1452 and Brown's attorney was Raheem S. Watson of Philadelphia.  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 Brown's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $5,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Bridgeton or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Bridgeton or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Brown $5,000 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, December 17, 2015

Neptune Fire District No. 1 pays $150,000 to settle whistleblower and discrimination lawsuit.

On November 17, 2015, the Neptune Township Fire District No. 1 (Monmouth County) agreed to pay $150,000 to an African-American firefighter, who said that he wasn't being paid for the extra work he was doing, was subjected to racial discrimination and retaliated against for making Open Public Records Act (OPRA) requests.

In his suit, Dwayne Breeden, a paid firefighter who also worked for the District as a fire inspector, said that he was appointed to the position of "Temporary Fire Official" after Kenneth G. Northrup's retirements from the Fire Official position in 2009.  Yet, Breeden claimed, he was being paid much less than Northrup even though Breeden performed duties as a firefighter in addition to his duties as a Temporary Fire Official.

Breeden claimed that before he could be paid more, state officials needed to approve his "Firefighter/Fire Official" position.  After he began to suspect that he was being "given the proverbial run-around" regarding the approval, he submitted an OPRA request to the District.  He said that he was initially pleased when, in April 2011, the Board agreed to negotiate with him.  Although he responded promptly to the District's overtures, Breeden claimed that the District reneged on its promise to negotiate and pay him extra for his Fire Official duties.  He claimed that his further inquires and OPRA requests resulted in harassment and retaliation.

Responding to the retaliation, Breeden said that he "blew the whistle" on what he claimed was the District's "attempts at compromising fire safety and prevention in Neptune Township."  In support of that claim, Breeden asserted that since he took over Northrup's job, the Board did not reappoint a fire inspector.  Accordingly, Breeden said he was aggrieved by having to simultaneously perform the Fire official's job, the inspector's job as well as function as a paid firefighter.

Breeden said that he also contacted Frank Clark of the New Jersey Division of Fire Safety to complain about the Board not enforcing violations in a timely manner and for committing "financial improprieties."   This, he said, caused Clark to perform a field visit to the District and issue an unfavorable report.

The next allegation of retaliation came shortly after the Board learned of Breeden's call to Clark.  At the October 15, 2013 meeting, the Board voted to remove Breeden from his "Firefighter/Fire Official" position and establish an "office of Fire Marshall" who would be paid $55,000 per year. The Board then gave Breeden the "Hobson's Choice" of keeping his firefighter position or resigning as a firefighter in order to be the Fire Marshall.  Since he was making more than $55,000 as a firefighter, Breeden knew that the Board realized that he couldn't take the Fire Marshall position.  He said that all of this was a conspiracy "to effect the wrongful de facto discharge of Breeden as Fire Official."

Breeden based his racial discrimination claim on Fire Commissioner Frank Martuscelli's alleged comment that Breeden was "different" than Northrup. He said that that comment caused him to realize that his lesser pay and other negative treatment"stemmed from the fact that he was African-American."

The case is captioned Breeden v. Fire District of Neptune et al, Monmouth County Superior Court Docket No. MON-L-3367-14 and Breeden's attorney was Stephan T. Mashel of Morganville.  Case documents are on-line here.

None of Breeden'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 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 Breeden $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.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Port Authority secretly pays $271,000 to settle wrongful termination suit.

On June 12, 2012, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey agreed to pay $271,000 to a former employee who claimed that she was pushed out of her job by Governor Chris Christie's office because of "her lack of affiliation with the Republican Party."

In her suit, Hannah Shostack claimed that on August 11, 2010, eight months after Christie took office, her supervisor, Cruz Russell, "informed her that the decision to discharge her came straight from Governor Christie's office and there was nothing he could do to save her job."  According to a January 29, 2012 NorthJersey.com article "Dozens of Port Authority jobs go to Christie loyalists," Christie recommended fifty contributors, campaign workers and their families to the Authority for employment. A Princeton University Professor who has studied the Authority was as saying that "the Christie administration looks like it has made more of an effort to try to reward people who have been useful to him and his associates," an accusation that Christie has denied.

The reason it took so long for this settlement agreement to come to light is explained on NJ Open Government Notes.

The case is captioned Shostack v. Township of Port Authority et al, Federal Case No. 2:11-cv-00177 and Shostack's attorney was Daniel S. Sweetser of Lawrenceville.  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 Shostack's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $271,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Port Authority or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Port Authority or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Shostack $271,000 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, December 15, 2015

Little Egg Harbor school board secretly pays $25,000 to settle wrongful termination suit.

On November 25, 2015, the Little Egg Harbor Board of Education (Ocean County) agreed to pay $25,000 to a former school Cafeteria/Playground Aide who alleged that she was fired for complaining about special needs children, including her sister's children, being supervised by non-certified aides.

In her suit, Joette Montee, who worked for the school district's Frog Pond Elementary School, claimed that whenever her sister contacted the school to complain about how the sister's children were educated, Principal Troy Henderson would become very upset and order Montee to "stop talking to parents," specifically her sister, about what goes on at school.  She claimed that she was fired "for making a comment of a personal and private nature to a third party in a conversation that [she] reasonably believed to be confidential in nature."

In contrast, a December 13, 2012 school incident report claimed that Montee walked into the school cafeteria loudly repeating that school Principal Troy Henderson "needs to keep his d*** in his pants" and that he does not know how to run a school or control children.  According to the report, Montee, who was escorted off school grounds by officers while saying "I've had it with this f***ing place," was using profanity loudly enough for children to hear and was "making people in the cafeteria feel uncomfortable."

The case is captioned Montee v. Little Egg Harbor Board of Education, et al, Superior Court Docket No. OCN-L-3835-13 and Montee's attorney was Benjamin B. Brenner of Galloway.  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 Montee'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 Little Egg Harbor or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Little Egg Harbor or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Montee $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.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Wayne secretly pays $25,000 to settle false arrest suit.

Christopher P. Vergano
Mayor of Wayne
On November 23, 2015, the Township of Wayne (Passaic County) agreed to pay $25,000 to a former Wayne Hills High School football player who alleged that he was falsely arrested for an assault that occurred after he had left the Halloween party at which the assault occurred.

In his suit, Troy Zaffino claimed that he arrived at an October 29, 2011 Halloween party at 8 p.m. and left at 9:45 p.m.  According to media reports, he and eight other Wayne Hills players were later charged with aggravated assault after an attack on two teens left one of them unconscious.  Zaffino and the others were suspended from playing in a state championship game in December where Wayne Hills defeated Old Tappan.

While seven of the other players received probation and one entered pre-trial intervention, charges against Zaffino were dropped, allegedly because prosecutors had no proof that he was at the party at the time of the assault.

Oddly, the lawsuit also alleged that Wayne Mayor Christopher P. Vergano "commanded that [Zaffino's] arrest be carried out after Election Day so as to avoid political fallout from any potential media coverage and to assure that the candidates his political party supported would not lose political support from voters." The candidates that Vergano allegedly sought to protect included Robert Ceberio, who was mounting what was to be an unsuccessful bid for Passaic County Freeholder, and Franco Mazzei, who was running for and ultimately elected to a Wayne Council seat.

The case is captioned Zaffino v. Township of Wayne et al, Federal Case No. 12-cv-05411 and Zaffino's attorney was David P. Kreizer, of New York.  Case documents are on-line here. Other than the Township, Mayor Vergano, Councilman Mazzei and Freeholder candidate Ceberio, Police Chief John Rearon, Captain James Clark, Detective Jerowitz, Wayne School Superintendent Michael Roth, Board of Education President Donald Pavlak and Board members Kim Essen, Jane Hutchison, Robyn Kingston, Allan Mordkoff and Laura Stinziano were named as defendants.

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 Zaffino'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 Wayne or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Wayne or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Zaffino $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.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Long Branch school district secretly pays $347,500 to settle lawsuits by 7 years olds were wrapped in tape by school janitors.

I'm trying to develop a complete list of settlements that arose out of lawsuits filed by the parents of four second-grade boys at the Gregory Elementary School in Long Branch who claimed that school janitors wrapped them with tape in a school restroom.

There are conflicting stories regarding the janitors' motivations. The  parents' lawyers in the two lawsuits (here and here) say the incidents were"outrageous," "shocking" and part of a "sick desire" while media reports (here and here) quote school officials as saying that the students' movement was never restricted and that it was just "a joke gone bad."

Whatever happened, I have secured three settlement agreements showing that the parents settled for a total of $347,500.  Due to the redactions applied to the settlements, I am having trouble determining whether I have all the settlements that arose out of the cases.  This is what I do know:
  • The first settlement shows an unidentified student receiving a $108,746.93 payment on his 25th birthday on July 22, 2029.  The $108,746.93 has a present value of $73,103.68 which, together with attorney fees of $24,367.89 and litigation expenses of $7,528.43 makes the settlement value $105,000.
  • The second settlement shows an unidentified student receiving a $108,631.00 payment on his 25th birthday on July 11, 2029.  The $108,631.00 has a present value of $73,103.68 which, together with attorney fees of $24,367.89 and litigation expenses of $7,528.43 makes the settlement value $105,000.
  • The third settlement shows an unidentified student receiving a $143,894.87 payment on his 25th birthday on July 19, 2029.  The $143,894.87 has a present value of $96,297.63 which, together with attorney fees of $32,099.20 and litigation expenses of $9,103.17 makes the settlement value $137,500.
So, in total, the students received present value payments of $242,504.99 while the law firm of Tacopina & Segal P.C got $80,834.98 in fees and $24,160.03 in expenses.

The settlement agreements each contain 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 students' allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the  payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Lakewood or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Long Branch or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay the students and their lawyers $347,500 than take the matters 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.

South Bound Brook settles with its former police chief.

On November 12, 2015, the Borough of South Bound Brook (Somerset County) entered into a settlement agreement with its former police chief who had been charged with leaving the scene of an April 4, 2015, 2 a.m. accident.

According to a police report, South Bound Patrolman Richard Meinsen responded to Chief William C. King's residence at about 2:25 a.m. and noticed that King's vehicle, which fit the description of the hit and run vehicle, was parked in his driveway.  When King came out of his home to speak with the officer, he had alcohol on his breath.  King explained that he had a few drinks while at home.

According to the settlement, King agreed to retire on December 1, 2015 and to "release any and all claims against South Bound Brook "without any admission of liability or otherwise related to his employment."  In return, the Borough agreed to pay King a total of $109,874.81 in three annual installments which covers King's accrued sick, vacation and personal time as well as retroactive pay and compensatory hours owed.  In addition, King's pay will increase to $148,561 retroactive to January 1, 2015, but King waives any rights he has to further health insurance.  The agreement also calls for King's retirement to be in good standing and will allow him to keep his Smith & Wesson service weapon along with three magazines and holsters.

Jersey City pays $20,000 to settle improper, warrantless search lawsuit.

Philip D. Zacche
Jersey City Police Chief
On November 10, 2015, the City of Jersey City (Hudson County) agreed to pay $20,000 to a man who, according to a state judge's written opinion, was subjected to an illegal search of his apartment by Jersey City Police.

In his suit, Keith Pantaleon claimed that on January 24, 2013, Jersey City Police Officers Sean Francis Licata and E. Abdelaziz (presumably Ehab R. Abdelaziz) responded to his apartment building in response to another tenant's 911 call complaining of no heat. Pantaleon alleged that the officers entered his apartment without warrant or probable cause, discovered a gun and brought firearms possession charges against him. Pantaleon backed up his claim by attaching to his lawsuit a January 15, 2014 written opinion by Hudson County Superior Court Judge John A. Young, Jr. suppressing the gun as having been the fruits of an illegal search.  Pantaleon claimed that he was jailed for 35 days with an HIV positive inmate and that the imprisonment caused him to lose his job with a Fortune 500 firm.

The case is captioned Pantaleon v. City of Jersey City et al, Federal Case No. 2:15-cv-0045 and Pantaleon's attorney was David H. Huang of Eatontown.  Case documents are on-line here.

None of Pantaleon's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement resolution expressly states that the $20,000 payment does not admit wrongdoing by Jersey City or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Jersey City or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Pantaleon $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, December 4, 2015

Lakewood secretly pays $55,000 to settle police false arrest suit.

Robert Lawson
Lakewood Chief of Police
On November 20, 2015, the Township of Lakewood (Ocean County) agreed to pay $55,000 to a man and woman who said they were wrongfully arrested for burglary.

In their suit, Victor Wilson and Maria Rizzolo claimed that they were put under surveillance by Lakewood Police Sergeant Greg Staffordsmith and Detectives Michael Cavallo, Peter Aakjer and Thomas Delia on January 16, 2013 even though the burglary under investigation was reported to have been committed by a white male with bushy hair while Wilson is a dark-skinned African-American who never had bushy hair.  The surveillance resulted in Wilson's and Rizzolo's arrest.  A search of the car the pair was in at the time of the arrest contained what the police referred to as "bolt cutters, a sledgehammer and wire cutters."  The complaint alleged that the items were actually "hedge clippers with long wooden handles for trimming shrubs, an ordinary hammer, or maul, and a pair of pliers."

At the police station, Rizzolo was allegedly told that she would not see her children again unless she cooperated.  In order to increase the pressure, the complaint alleges that police retrieved Rizzolo's 9 year old children from their schools and took them to the police station so that they could see their mother in handcuffs.  The complaint alleges that Rizzolo cracked under the pressure and told police that Wilson had committed the burglaries.  They claimed that Cavallo falsely testified at grand jury proceedings.  Wilson claimed that he spent eleven months in jail and that a judge suppressed the evidence against him for want of probable cause. The pair also claimed to have been harassed by Lakewood Police as a result of having filed their civil suit.

The case is captioned Wilson and Rizzolo v. Township of Lakewood et al, Federal Case No. :15-cv-0Q229 and Wilson' and Rizzolo's attorney was Michael A. D'Aquanni of Springfield.  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 Wilson and Rizzolo's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $55,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Lakewood or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Lakewood or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Wilson and Rizzolo $55,000 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, December 3, 2015

Willingboro secretly pays $250,000 to settle police shooting lawsuit.

On October 27, 2015, the Township of Willingboro (Burlington County) agreed to pay $250,000 to a man who was shot in the back and whose dog was killed during a 2011 SWAT raid.

In his suit, Christian M. Whichard claimed that on September 27, 2011 a SWAT team consisting of Willingboro Sergeants James McKendrick and Christopher Vetter and Patrolman Bennie Langford and Cinnaminson Lieutenant Timothy Young broke down the front door of Whichard's home and ordered him and others to get down on the floor.  Whichard claims that while he was face down on the floor, "he was shot in the back with an assault rifle by an officer executing the search warrant."  The complaint alleges that Langford was the shooter.

Whichard's girlfiend, Jessica Evans, testified that the officers shot and killed Whichard's pit bull. Her testimony caused a federal judge to write that "[t]here is evidence in the record from which a reasonable jury could conclude that Officer Langford intentionally fired his weapon into Plaintiff’s back as he lay prone on the floor."

The case is captioned Whichard v. Township of Willingboro et al, Federal Case No. 1:13-cv-03606 and Whichard's attorney was Charles H. Nugent of Marlton.  Case documents are on-line here.  Cinnaminson Township and Lieutenant Young were dismissed from the lawsuit on July 17, 2014 and, according to a December 16, 2015 e-mail from Cinnaminson Township Clerk Pamela McCartney, "there was no monetary agreement for dismissal."

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 Whichard's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $250,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Willingboro or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Willingboro or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Whichard $250,000 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.

Cumberland County pays $1,540,000 to settle jail beat down lawsuit.

On September 4, 2015, the County of Cumberland agreed to pay $1,540,000 to a jail inmate who claimed that he was severely beaten by County Corrections Officers.

In his suit, Michael Alan Ewing claimed that on June 30, 2008, he was transported to the Cumberland County jail in Bridgeton by Vineland Police Officer James Day.  After having a cut above his left eye attended to by jail medical staff, Ewing claimed that Sergeant Clint Ciangaglini threw him head first into a door without provocation.  This incident caused Ewing to be transported to the hospital and upon his return to jail he claimed that "the correctional officer defendants" proceeded to beat him, "repeatedly punching him, kicking him, strangling him, pepper spraying him until they realized the severity of his injuries."  Ewing's lawsuit names the following as "correctional officer defendants": Lieutenant Dale Sciore, Sergeants Clint Ciangaglini and Brad Pierce and Correctional Officers Edwin Pratts, Kevin Still, Joshua L. Minguela, Drew Ford, John Fazzolari, Rena Miller and Marvin Church.  He claimed that the injuries that he sustained required him to be flown via helicopter to the emergency room at Cooper Hospital where he was placed in the intensive care unit on a ventilator.  He further claimed that jail officials falsified reports and tried to cover up the incident.

Of the officers named in the suit, John Fazzolari, Drew Ford, Joshua Minguela, Kevin Still and Kevin Pratts were indicted in July 2009 for aggravated assault, official misconduct and other charges.  Still was cleared at trial in early 2013 and charges against the other four officers were dismissed in July 2013.

Also named in the suit were Vineland Officers James Day and Steven Houbary.  The lawsuit accused the two Vineland officers of standing "idly by while Mr. Ewing was assaulted and battered."

The case is captioned Ewing v. County of Cumberland et al, Federal Case No. 1:09- cv-05432 and Ewing's attorney was Martin P. Duffy of Cherry Hill.  Case documents are on-line here.

According to an August 25, 2015 County Freeholder resolution, $250,000 of the amount was paid for by the County as its "self-insured retention" and the balance was paid by the County's insurance carrier.  It is presently unknown how much, if any, Vineland contributed.

None of Ewing's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $1,540,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Cumberland or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Cumberland or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Ewing $1,540,000 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.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Shore Regional school board pays $125,000 to settle wrongful termination suit.

On June 10, 2015, the Shore Regional Board of Education (Monmouth County) agreed to pay $125,000 to a female bus driver who claimed she was fired because she filed a worker's compensation claim.

In her suit, Susan J. Collins claimed that she was fired on December 11, 2012 after she had injured her left shoulder and neck during work on January 30, 2012.  She claimed that "the sole or one of the substantial reasons for [school district's] mistreatment of [was its] retaliation against [her] for seeking Workers' Compensation Benefits under the Workers' Compensation Laws of the State of New Jersey."  Collins similarly claimed that the Board violated her rights under the Family Medical Leave Act.

The case is captioned Collins v. Shore Regional High School District et al, Monmouth County Superior Court Docket No. MON-L-3138-13 and Collins's attorney was Neal M. Unger of East Brunswick.  Case documents are on-line here. Also named in the suit are Donna Applegate, Dennis Kotch and Matilda Lukanovic.

None of Collins'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 Shore Regional or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Shore Regional or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Collins $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.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Hanover secretly pays $100,000 to settle woman's strip search suit.

On November 5, 2015, the Township of Hanover (Morris County) agreed to pay $100,000 to a Randolph woman who claimed that she was strip searched after having been arrested on a warrant for not paying a speeding ticket.

In her suit, Stephanie E. Drouillard claimed that Hanover Police Sergeant Ryan Williams arrested her on August 23, 2014 on an outstanding warrant due to Drouillard's failure to pay a speeding ticket.  According to the complaint, an unidentified female officer then arrived and told Drouillard "I'm here to baby sit you. I'm here to make sure your rights are protected and his rights are protected."  About a half hour later, Drouillard claimed that Williams told her "We haven't searched her yet. We should probably do that. We haven't done it yet."  Thereafter, Drouillard was allegedly taken into a jail cell and "ordered to take off her shirt and pants and strip searched with the door of the holding cell remaining open."

The case is captioned Drouillard v. Township of Hanover et al, Federal Case No. 2:14-cv-06650 and Drouillard'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 Drouillard's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the `$100,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Hanover or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Hanover or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Drouillard $100,000 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, November 29, 2015

Elizabeth school board secretly pays $80,000 to settle custodian's worker's comp and wrongful termination suit.

On October 21, 2015, the Elizabeth Board of Education (Union County) agreed to pay $80,000 to the estate of a female custodial worker who claimed that she was terminated because she filed a worker's compensation claim.  $30,000 of the amount was attributed her wrongful discharge suit and $50,000 was for the underlying worker's compensation claim.

In her suit, Bernny Montaguth claimed that when she returned to work after having been injured "as a result of work-related incidents on the job and as a result of repetitive occupational activities," she was placed in the "rubber room" and was not allowed to perform her regular duties.  She claimed that the Board fired her on June 10, 2011 "without a statement of reasons or the opportunity to be heard."

The case is captioned Montaguth v. Elizabeth Board of Education, et al, Union County Superior Court Docket No. UNN-L-2920-11 and Montaguth's attorney was Matthew T. Rinaldo of Clark.  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 Montaguth's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $80,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Elizabeth or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Elizabeth or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Montaguth $80,000 than take the matters 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, November 28, 2015

Belmar pays $15,000 to settle suit by DPW laborer who claimed he was canned for reporting on the job drug use.

On June 3, 2015, the Borough of Belmar (Monmouth County) agreed to pay $15,000 to a Department of Public Works laborer who said he was fired because he had reported on the job alcohol and drug use by other DPW employees.

In his suit, Gregory Vasil, who claimed that Belmar hired him despite his former substance abuse issues, became concerned in July 2013 when he saw other DPW employees working on the McCleary Park boardwalk project "openly using illegal controlled dangerous substances and consuming alcohol on the job."  Since he was in recovery at the time, Vasil claimed to have feared for "his own personal safety and sobriety."

Instead of reporting what he saw to Belmar officials, Vasil said that he called the head of the National Emergency Grant program that provided funding for the McCleary Park boardwalk project.  He said that his report forced Belmar to shut down the project and drug test all the employees.  Vasil claimed that four employees were fired after testing positive for illegal substances.

Vasil claimed that he was fired one day after making his report.  He claimed Borough officials were upset with him reporting the drug and alcohol use because it required the Borough "to spend money to shut down the job and drug test the employees at the project."

The case is captioned Vasil v. Borough of Belmar et al, Monmouth County Superior Court Docket No. MON-L-2642-14 and Vasil's attorney was Mark F. Casazza of Hazlet.  Case documents are on-line here.

None of Vasil'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 Belmar or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Belmar or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Vasil $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.

Pleasantville secretly pays $50,000 to settle police K-9 attack, excessive force lawsuit.

On October 7, 2015, the City of Pleasantville (Atlantic County) agreed to pay $50,000 to a local man who said that a police canine was ordered to attack him and other officers beat him after he was already handcuffed and face down on the ground.

In his suit, Jalal Whitted, who suffers from a pre-existing psychiatric condition, said that police were called to his home on December 6, 2013 because he had a knife in his possession.  After his mother convinced Whitted to drop the knife, he and his mother stumbled and fell to the sidewalk in front of their home.  Whitted said that while he was on the ground, police handcuffed him.

Despite being handcuffed, Whitted claimed that Officer Angel Valentin "released his K-9 animal ordering it to attack" him.  At the same time, he claimed that Officers John Payne, Angelo Maldonado, Mays (presumably Miracle G. Mays), Stocks (presumably Brandon K. Stocks) and Wright (presumably Robert J. Wright) "continued to beat him with batons, clubs, and weapons including a service revolver and/or shotgun."

The case is captioned Whitted v. City of Pleasantville et al, Federal Case No. 13-cv-07316 and Whitted's attorney was David R. Castellani of Northfield.  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 Whitted's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $50,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Pleasantville or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Pleasantville or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Whitted $50,000 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, November 27, 2015

Weehawken pays $747,000 to settle two lawsuits brought by police official.

Richard F. Turner
Weehawken Mayor
On October 30, 2015, the Township of Weehawken (Hudson County) agreed to pay $747,000 to a Township Police lieutenant to settle his two lawsuits, two disciplinary actions and to provide for the lieutenant's retirement.

In his federal suit filed in 2008, Richard DeCosmis claimed that Mayor Richard F. Turner led a campaign of retaliation against him because he publicly criticized Weehawken's alleged misuse of state funds intended for a Park and Ride to develop a parking lot "to benefit a private building developer and political contributor to Mayor Turner and his allies."  DeCosmis claimed that the alleged retaliation was also sparked by his refusal to allow Union City Mayor Brian Stack's campaign signs on his property, because of his support of "another political candidate running against Mayor Turner's political faction," and because DeCosmis filed a 2007 civil rights lawsuit against Turner "because [of] his unlawful interference with the day-to-day interference with the Weehawken Police Department and public corruption."

The alleged retaliation came in the form of Jorge Chemas allegedly "conducting an unannounced and illegal building code inspection" of DeCosmis' home in Weehawken, which was under renovation and Building Inspector Frank Tattoli issuing a stop work order on the renovation after Chemas, who DeCosmis claimed to had not been property licensed to conduct inspections, was arrested for trespassing.  DeCosmis claimed that Chemas filed a citizen complaint against him which was ultimately determined in DeCosmis' favor.

After his acquittal on Chemas' citizen complaint, DeCosmis claimed that Mayor Turner, working through Deputy Chief William McLellan, Director of Public Safety Jeffrey Welz and Business Manager James Machetti, brought baseless disciplinary charges against him.

The case is captioned DeCosmis v. Township of Weehawken et al, Federal Case No. 2:08-cv-05221 and DeCosmis's attorney was Louis A. Zayas of North Bergen.  Case documents are on-line here.  In addition to the federal case, the settlement also resolved a whistleblower lawsuit DeCosmis filed in state court in 2013 against the Township, Richard Turner, Weehawken & You Action Committee and Christopher Douglas (Docket No. HUD-L-2990-13) as well as two disciplinary cases pending before the Office of Administrative Law--Docket No. OAL CSV-10084-12 (demotion from Lieutenant to Sergeant) and Docket No. OAL CSV-10673-14 (15 suspension without pay).

Beyond the $747,000 payment the settlement calls for DeCosmis to retire on November 1, 2017 while being placed on terminal leave effective as of his signing of the settlement agreement as well as certain salary concessions.  In return DeCosmis will accept two letters of reprimand for the disciplinary matters pending in the Office of Administrative Law.

None of DeCosmis's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $747,000 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 DeCosmis $747,000 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.

Elizabeth pays $22,500 to settle medical malpractice suit.

On July 20, 2015, the City of Elizabeth (Union County) agreed to pay $22,500 to settle a local man's vague medical malpractice claims against two emergency medical technicians (EMTs) employed by the City of Elizabeth or its fire department.

In his suit, Justin D. Conklin claimed that on September 1, 2011 he suffered injuries while being treated by several doctors and other medical staff including EMTs Kenroy Sealy and Antonio Rodriguez.  The civil complaint, unfortunately, sets forth no facts indicating the nature of the malpractice alleged.  Besides the two EMTs, ten doctors and nurses as well as Trinitas Regional Medical Center were named in the suit.  The $22,500 settled Conklin's claims againt the City, Sealy and Rodriguez only.  The amounts for which the doctors, nurses and the medical center settled, if any, are not known.

The case is captioned Conklin v. City of Elizabeth et al, Monmouth County Superior Court Docket No. UNN-L-4463-11 and Conklin's attorney was Barry M. Packin of Roseland.  Case documents are on-line here.

None of Conklin's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $22,500 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Elizabeth or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Elizabeth or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Conklin $22,500 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.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Winslow pays $2,500 to settle wrongful detention suit.

Robert Stimelski
Winslow Police Chief
On November 2, 2015, the Township of Winslow (Camden County) agreed to pay $2,500 to a local man who sued police for wrongfully detaining him.

In his suit, James E. Tice claimed that on May 7, 2013, Winslow Patrolman Michael Gibson took his cell phone and frisked him without probable cause. When Tice asked Gibson why he was being detained, Gibson allegedly arrested him for disorderly conduct and released him an hour later without charging him.  Tice, who represented himself in the lawsuit, claimed that Gibson violated his Fourth Amendment rights "as there was no probable cause tostop, detain, search or arrest plaintiff for being on a street in a town where he resides."  Tice claimed that he filed an Internal Affairs complaint against Gibson and that his complaint was sustained and resulted in Gibson being discplined.

The case is captioned Tice v. Township of Winslow et al, Federal Case No. 1:13-cv-06894 and Tice represented himself.  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 Tice's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $2,500 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Winslow or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Winslow or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Tice $2,500 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, November 24, 2015

Holmdel secretly pays $80,000 to settle gender discrimination suit.

On July 6, 2015, the Township of Holmdel (Monmouth County) agreed to pay $80,000 to a female applicant who, allegedly because of her gender, was not hired as a police officer.

In her suit, Stephanie Geisel claimed that even though she ranked 2nd on the civil service eligibility list and was otherwise highly qualified, Holmdel offered positions to three men "two of whom were less qualified than [Geisel], they had less formal education, less police experience and scored lower than Geisel on the Civil Service examination."  She claimed that Chief John Mioduszewski simply did not want female police officers to serve on the force.  Geisel appears to have later secured a position with the Middletown Police Department.

The case is captioned Geisel v. Township of Holmdel et al, Monmouth County Superior Court Docket No. MON-L-3138-13 and Geisel's attorney was David F. Corrigan of Keyport.  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 Geisel's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $80,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Holmdel or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Holmdel or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Geisel $80,000 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, November 23, 2015

Tinton Falls Borough pays $527,500 to settle police lieutenant's whistleblower lawsuit.

John A. Scrivanic
Tinton Falls Police Chief
On July 7, 2015, the Borough of Tinton Falls (Monmouth County) agreed to pay $527,500 to a retired police lieutenant who claimed he was disciplined and harassed out of his position for reporting a police sergeant's alleged theft to the county prosecutor.

In his suit, Kevin Pierson said that in or about 2008 he reported Sergeant (now Lieutenant) David Scrivanic to the Monmouth County Prosecutor's office for "knowingly and illegally placing a device on his home water pipes to divert water for his personal use without charge."  Pierson's report allegedly caused the prosecutor to direct "the Tinton Falls Police Department to institute a major disciplinary action against Scrivanic."

But, according to Pierson, instead of disciplining Scrivanic, the Borough disciplined him for reporting Scrivanic's alleged activities to the prosecutor.  Upon learning of Tinton Falls' actions against Pierson, the prosecutor allegedly threatened to take over the Tinton Falls Police Department's Internal Affairs Unit unless the disciplinary charges against Pierson were withdrawn.  After Tinton Falls withdrew the charges, former Chief (now Mayor) Gerald M. Turing, current Chief John A. Scrivanic (David's brother) and David Scrivanic, along with other Borough officials, allegedly "began to engage in repeated retaliatory and harassing conduct directed towards" Pierson.  Among the specific instances of retaliation cited by Pierson are being passed over for overtime, withholding information, denying training opportunities, filing Internal Affairs complaints against him and tampering with his computer. Pierson also claimed that the same officials harassed his brother, Craig Pierson, who is also a police officer.

According to Paragraph 62 of his complaint, on August 19, 2014, Pierson entered into an agreement with the Borough under which he would retire and agreed to accept a written reprimand on one of the Internal Affairs charges brought against him.

The case is captioned Pierson v. Tinton Falls Borough et al, Monmouth County Superior Court Docket No. MON-L-377-13 and Pierson's attorney was Richard P. Flaum of Warren.  The case documents are on-line here.

None of Pierson's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $527,500 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Tinton Falls or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Tinton Falls or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Pierson $527,500 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, November 19, 2015

Keyport secretly pays $40,000 to settle hostile work environment suit.


On May 6, 2015, the Borough of Keyport (Monmouth County) agreed to pay a total of $40,000 to three Borough police officers who claimed that they were subjected to a hostile work environment by the Borough Administrator after they had arrested her for assault and other charges in the Borough's parking lot.  Additionally, one of the officers sought damages from the Administrator for the alleged assault.

In their suit, Shannon Hyman Torres, Joseph M. Rendina and Robert L. Aumack claimed that on December 10, 2012, Borough Administrator Lorene Wright hit Torres' unoccupied car in the Borough's parking lot.  Torres claimed that when she approached the scene, Wright "moved towards Torres and bumped, touched, pushed and accosted Torres without the consent or excuse to do so."  Torres, along with Rendina and Aumack who also participated in Wright's arrest, claimed that Wright and other Borough officials created a hostile work environment for them.  Specifically, they claimed that they were threatened with termination and that Wright had "flick[ed] lit cigarettes at" them.

Under the settlement agreement, Torres received $20,000 while Rendina and Aumack each received $10,000.

The case is captioned Torres, Rendina and Aumack v. Borough of Keyport et al, Monmouth County Superior Court Docket No. MON-L-4876-13 and Torres', Rendina's and Aumack's attorney was Timothy D. Lyons 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 Torres', Rendina's and Aumack's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $40,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Keyport or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Keyport or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Torres, Rendina and Aumack $40,000 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, November 17, 2015

Southern Regional Board of Education pays $30,000 to settle age discrimination lawsuit.

On November 11, 2015, the Southern Regional Board of Education (Ocean County) agreed to pay $30,000 to a now 73 year old part time school bus driver who claimed that school district officials discriminated against him because of his age.

In his suit, Thomas E. Pancoast said that his bid for a full-time driver position was rejected even though "he was the most senior applicant from the part time pool without any motor vehicle or other incidents on their record."  He claimed that the full time positions were given to younger drivers with less seniority.  He said that his complaints to the superintendent and business administrator were ignored.

The case is captioned Pancoast v. Southern Regional Board of Education et al, Ocean County Superior Court Docket No. OCN-L-1136-14 and Pancoast's attorney was John P. Brennan, Jr. of Avon-by-the-Sea.  The case documents are on-line here.

None of Pancoast's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $30,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Southern Regional or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Southern Regional or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Pancoast $30,000 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, November 16, 2015

Pemberton secretly pays $150,000 to settle pregnant police officer's discrimination lawsuit.

On October 28, 2015, the Township of Pemberton (Burlington County) agreed to pay $150,000 to a police officer who claimed that she was discriminated against because of her pregnancy.

In her suit, Shannon Sawyer claimed that after she presented her supervisors with a doctor's note confirming her pregnancy, she was relieved of her patrol duty and put on administrative work.  According to the suit, Township Business Administrator Dennis Gonzalez held that Sawyer's request for modified duty was unacceptable and that she would have to either work her normal patrol shift or take sick or vacation time.  Sawyer said that she opted to work in her full capacity as a patrol officer but Gonzalez changed his mind forced her to "take sick leave until further notice."

Through her union, Sawyer filed a grievance that resulted in a "Step Three" grievance hearing before the Township Council.  Despite the Township Council voting 5-0 to return Sawyer to her position as a police officer where she could work on administrative tasks and to reimburse her for her sick time, Gonzalez refused to abide by the Council's decision.  According to Sawyer, her family leave and sick time would have run out about six weeks prior to her baby's expected delivery date.

As part of the settlement, the Township agreed to credit Sawyer for 77 sick days and 13 vacation days.  The agreement also specifically reserves he rights under another lawsuit captioned Stewart, et al. v. Pemberton Township. et al., Federal Action No. 14-6810.

The case is captioned Sawyer v. Township of Pemberton et al, Burlington County Superior Court Docket No. BUR-L-743-15 and Sawyer's attorney was Jeffery D. Catrambone of Clifton.  Case documents are on-line here and 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 Sawyers' 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 Pemberton or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Pemberton or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Sawyer $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.

Manville paid $38,500 to secretly settle heavy equipment operator's discrimination and hostile work environment lawsuit.

On August 21, 2015, the Borough of Manville (Somerset County) agreed to pay $38,500 to a 38-year Department of Public Works employee who claimed that the Borough made him jump through hoops in order to return to work after a shoulder injury.

In his suit, Edwin Zygiel claimed that after recovering from a May 11, 2011 shoulder injury his ability to return to work was allegedly thwarted by Manville's preparation of a "new job task list."  Manville allegedly sent the new task list to Zygiel's physician, without Zygiel's knowledge, and asked the physician to reconsider his decision to let Zygiel return to work with full clearance.  Zygiel said that he first learned of the new list and the Borough's communication with his doctor during a May 10, 2012 meeting with Borough officials Gary Garwacke and Philip Petrone.  Zygiel claimed that Manville required him to get clearances from three different doctors when other employees needed clearance from only one.

The case is captioned Zygiel v. Borough of Manville et al, Somerset County Superior Court Docket No. SOM-L-478-14 and Zygiel's attorney was William J. Courtney of Flemington.  The 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 Zygiel's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $38,500 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Manville or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Manville or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Zygiel $38,500 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.

Union Township to pay $125,000 to secretly settle police false arrest and excessive force lawsuit.

On November 16, 2015, the Township of Union (Union County) provided me with a draft of settlement agreement memorializing its intention to pay $125,000 to a local man who claimed that Union Township police entered his home without a warrant or probable cause and applied excessive force while falsely arresting him.

In his suit, Michael Pagliaroli claimed that he was arrested with unreasonable force on May 17, 2013 by Township Police Sergeant Barry Cohen, Officer Jason Brooks and Officers Ford and Penetra (presumably Timothy J. Ford and Marco J. Penetra).  The lawsuit contains no details regarding the nature or circumstance of the arrest or alleged excessive force.

The case is captioned Pagliaroli v. Township of Union et al, Union County Superior Court Docket No. UNN-L-3475-13 and Pagliaroli's attorney was Joel I. Rachmiel of Springfield.  The 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 Pagliaroli'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 Union or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Union or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Pagliaroli $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.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Lawnside pays $120,000 to settle police excessive force lawsuit.

On October 16, 2015, the Borough of Lawnside (Camden County) agreed to pay $120,000 to a woman who claimed that a Lawnside police officer slammed her several times against her car.

In her suit, Tiffany Gilmore claimed that on September 29, 2010 she was driving home from the grocery store with her two children when Lawnside Police Officer Carmen Colon jumped in front of her car and screamed for her to pull over. She said that since she was in a "known drug area" and didn't recognize Colon as a police officer and ordered her daughter to call 911 while she drove to the Lawnside police station.  Colon had followed her to the police station and, according to the complaint, grabbed Gilmore after she exited her car and "slammed her five times into her vehicle and then handcuffed her."  When Gilmore complained about how tightly the Colon had applied the handcuffs, Colon allegedly grabbed the cuffs and pulled on them to direct Gilmore into the police station.

Colon issued Gilmore six traffic tickets and charged her with a disorderly persons offense and resisting arrest.  Gilmore claimed that all the charges were dismissed or terminated in her favor.

In her complaint, Gilmore noted that Colon had been fired from the Camden Police Department but that Lawnside hired her anyway.  Attached to the complaint was a May 22, 2007 letter from Camden Police Lieutenant John A. Sosinavage to the Camden County Prosecutor's Office in which he wanted to make clear that Camden did not give Colon a good or even neutral job reference and wanted to "limit any future liability against the City of Camden based on Lawnside's negligent hiring and retention of Colon."

Colon's conduct was the basis of a $740,000 settlement in early 2015.  According to a newspaper article that covered the settlement, Colon "resigned from Lawnside's police department in 2013 in exchange for dismissal of charges alleging she filed a false report and tampered with public records." Colon herself received a $150,000 settlement from Lawnside as part of her agreement to resign.

The case is captioned Gilmore v. Borough of Lawnside et al, Federal Case No. 1:12-cv-05917 and Gilmore's attorney was Thomas Bruno of Philadelphia.  The case documents are on-line here.

None of Gilmore's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $120,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Lawnside or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Lawnside or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Gilmore $120,000 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.

Elizabeth pays $145,000 to settle police excessive force lawsuit



On October 27, 2015, the City of Elizabeth (Union County) agreed to pay $145,000 to a Newark woman who claimed that an Elizabeth police officer slammed her face into a car window.

In her suit, Jazmine Fortenberry said that on October 8, 2010 she was standing outside of local restaurant when Officer Will Torres ran up behind her and grabbed her and "swung her around with such force that it caused her to crash through a door window of a motor vehicle."  She claimed that the injuries caused "three sets of sutures to her face."

She said that Torres taunted her by saying "that's what, happens when you want to be a man, want to be a gangster" and told her to "put some coco butter on your face and it will go away."   She also claimed that Torres broke her cell phone into pieces and threw it in the water.

The case is captioned Fortenberry v. City of Elizabeth et al, Federal Case No. 2:13-cv-01640 and Fortenberry's attorney was Raymond L. Hamlin of Newark.  The case documents are on-line here.

None of Fortenberry's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. All that is known for sure is that Elizabeth or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Fortenberry $145,000 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.

Fairview pays $7,000 to settle police false arrest lawsuit.

In November 2015, the Borough of Fairview (Bergen County) agreed to pay $7,000 to a Franklin Lakes college student who claimed that Fairview police falsely arrested him and conspired to violate his rights.

In his suit, Manuel Alvarez claimed that on December 8, 2013 the car he was driving was stopped by Fairview Police Detective Joseph Bucco and other officers who accused him, without any factual basis, of possessing illegal drugs.  Alvarez claimed that police told him that if he didn't consent to a search of the trunk of his car, they would "tear up his vehicle and charge him with driving under the influence of alcohol."  Alvarez maintained that he had nothing to drink and did not have any drugs in the car.

When he asked why he was being detained, the police allegedly accused him of being intoxicated and ordered him to do field sobriety tests.  However, when he began to perform the tests, the police allegedly "jeered and made fun of him" and then handcuffed him roughly.  Alvarez, who described himself as a "large muscular individual" claimed that because of his size, police should have used two sets of handcuffs.  He claimed that when he was placed in the police car "he could not feel his hands due to circulation being constricted" by the handcuffs.  When he asked police for help with the cuffs, they allegedly ridiculed him.  He said that the pain was so great that he consented to a search of his trunk in order to get them to loosen the handcuffs.

According to the lawsuit, no drugs were found in the car.  Yet, Alvarez claimed that he was taken to the police station and called a "dumb spic," "faggot" and "pussy" by the officers.  After blowing a 0% on the breathalyzer, Rivera claimed that the police then had a Drug Influence Evaluator test him and that the evaluator determined that he under the influence of marijuana.  This caused him to be charged with drug offenses as well as driving under the influence.  Alvarez claimed that all the charges, except for a driving without a seatbelt ticket, were ultimately dismissed.

The case is captioned Alvarez v. Borough of Fairview et al, Federal Case No. 2:15-cv01851 and Alvarez's attorney was Karam Nahas of Raritan.  The case documents are on-line here.

None of Alvarez's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $7,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Fairview or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Fairview or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Alvarez $7,000 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, October 31, 2015

Kean University pays $75,000 to settle age/gender/race discrimination suit.

On September 23, 2015, Kean University agreed to pay $75,000 to African-American woman in her early 60's who alleged that her employment was terminated because of "her race, and/or age and/or gender."

In her suit, Sherrell S. Holderman, a 30-year employee of Kean University, claimed that she was laid off from her position of Director of the PASSPORT Program (this program services "a large percentage of academically under prepared athletes, as well as non-athletes) on February 28, 2011 despite having had more seniority than many others in her department.  She claimed that eleven other employees were laid off at the same time as her: ten were women, six were African-American, and of the six African-American employees who were laid-off, four were women.  She noted that two who were laid off were Hispanics and at least nine were over forty years of age.  She alleged that "not a single white male was among the 12 individuals laid-off."

The case is captioned Holderman v. Kean University and Dawood Y. Farahi, Federal Case No. 2:12-cv-03120 and Holderman's attorneys were John T. Herbert and Kathy R. Perry of Englewood.  The complaint and settlement agreement are on-line here.

None of Holderman's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $75,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Kean or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Kean or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Holderman $75,000 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.