Saturday, May 14, 2016

Lindenwold interracial couple receives confidential $80,000 settlement plus $30,000 more when they leave town. Couple also agrees to "cease and desist" using basketball hoops in violation of Borough code.

On April 14, 2016, a member of the Lindenwold Borough Council (Camden County) signed off on a $110,000 settlement agreement that resolved a selective enforcement and racial discrimination lawsuit filed by an interracial couple whose yard is visible from the Council member's home.  The agreement called for the Borough's insurer to pay the couple $80,000 within thirty days with the remaining $30,000 to be held until after the couple leaves town.

In their lawsuit, Alfred D. and Deborah A. Patterson claimed that Strippoli had it out for them since their 2003 move to Elm Avenue which is within view of Strippoli's home.  Strippoli allegedly expressed his displeasure to Deborah that she had married an African-American man and "singled [them] out for unfair and harassing treatment by other Borough of Lindenwold governmental authorities."  The Pattersons alleged that Strippoli used his position as Councilman to have the police sent to their home seventeen times and code enforcement officials sent there fifteen times.

According to the complaint, some of the police and code enforcement officers grew so weary of Strippoli's campaign that they "refus[ed] to do Council Strippoli's bidding."  The lawsuit goes on to allege that Strippoli "forced the resignation" of one of these recalcitrant employees and threatened to fire others.  The couple also accuses Strippoli of trying to amend the Borough Code to prevent Alfred from conducting his used merchandise business from the family's home.

The Pattersons filed their lawsuit in 2012 against the Borough and Strippoli.  After their lawsuit was dismissed in 2014, an appeals court reinstated the claims against Strippoli on February 11, 2016 but did not disturb the dismissal against the Borough.

The case is captioned Patterson v. Strippoli, et al, Federal Case No. 1:12-cv-04688 and the Pattersons' attorney was Thomas Bruno, II 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 the Pattersons' allegations have been proven or disproven in court. Settlement agreements typically state that payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by any of the defendants.  All that is known for sure is that Lindenwold or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay the Pattersons $110,000 than take the matter to trial. Perhaps the defendants' decision 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 resolve before trial--it is impossible to know the truth of what really happened.