Thursday, June 30, 2016

Bridgeton Board of Education to pay $25,000 to settle teacher's discrimination claim.

In a June 7, 2016 e-mail, Bridgeton Board of Education Secretary Nicole Albanese advised the Board's attorneys that the Board authorized a $25,000 settlement of a lawsuit filed by a third grade teacher who claimed that school officials discriminated against her by failing to accommodate her back injury.  According to a letter from the Board's insurer, the Board (i.e. the taxpayers) will be liable for a $15,000 deductible.

In her suit, Teresa Torres stated that she missed a month of work in October 2011 because of herniated discs in her back which she claimed "render[ed] her disabled within the meaning of the [New Jersey Law Against Discrimination] LAD."  She said that the pain got worse during Summer of 2012 which caused her doctor to order, at the start of the 2012-13 school year, "sedentary work restrictions and lifting of no more than 10 lbs."  She claimed that both Principal Rebecca Guess and HR Director Terrell Everett told her that they could not accommodate her doctor's restriction and that "you can't be in the building."

Torres said that she remained out of work until February 12, 2013 when she was able to return because school officials were then able to make proper accommodations.  But, on February 25, 2013, Torres' doctor issued new restrictions calling for her to "sit for six out of the eight hours in a working day, no lifting of more than 8 lbs, and no climbing or descending stairs."  Torres claimed that Leigha Saulin, who was responsible for accommodations, "did not know how to complete the accommodation plan, because she did not know what 'sedentary duties' were."  She said that her request for a teacher's aide was rebuffed.

Torres claimed that the Board refused to renew her contract due to her not having an ESL certificate.  She asserted that other teachers were not held to the same standard.

The case is captioned Torres v. Board of Education of Bridgeton, et al, Superior Court Docket No. CUM-L-1043-13 and Torres's attorney was Kevin M. Costello of Mount Laurel.  Case documents are on-line here.

None of Torres' 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 Bridgeton or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Torres $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.

Note: The court marked the case as having settled.  While it is possible that a dispute will arise prior to the settlement agreement being signed by the Board of Education, this rarely happens because the settlement has been negotiated and agreed to by all the parties.  Readers who wish to be absolutely sure that this case settled according to the terms stated above should submit an Open Public Records Act (OPRA) request for the final, signed settlement agreement.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Dumont Borough pays $275,000 to resolve police sergeant's civil rights complaint.

On May 17, 2016, the Borough of Dumont (Bergen County) entered into a Repayment Agreement under which it agreed to pay $65,580.57 of a $275,000 settlement to a police sergeant who sued the Borough for allegedly refusing to promote him because he was "antagonistic" toward Police Chief Joseph L. Faulborn while acting in his role as a police union official.

The lawsuit, which was provided by Borough Clerk Susan Connelly in response to an Open Public Records Act (OPRA) request, is missing several pages and attempts are being made to obtain those pages.  Once obtained, this article will be updated.  (Update: the full lawsuit has now been obtained) The available pages, however, show that Dumont Police Sergeant Joseph Rizza claimed to have at least once been unfairly passed over for promotion.  Rizza alleged that Faulborn refused to recommend him for promotion because Rizza was an active participant in the Policeman's Benevolent Association Local 377 who was "'antagonistic' over the past ten years."

According to the Repayment Agreement, the Municipal Excess Liability Fund paid Rizza the $275,000 settlement and the Borough will repay the Fund its $65,580.57 share in three annual installments of $21,860.19 each, plus interest.

The case is captioned Rizza v. Borough of Dumont, et al, Bergen County Superior Court Docket No. BER-L-8825-13 and Rizza' attorney was Christopher A. Gray of Clifton.  Case documents are on-line hereUpdate: The settlement agreement is on-line here.

None of lawsuit's 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 Dumont or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Rizza $275,000 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.

Toms River Township confidentially pays $25,000 to resolve police excessive force lawsuit.

On May 14, 2016, the Township of Toms River (Ocean County) agreed to pay $25,000 to an African-American man who claimed that police unjustifiably roughed him up during a January 14, 2011 traffic stop that occurred while police were looking for the killer of Lakewood Police Officer Christopher Matlosz.

In his lawsuit, Delovi Canales said that on the night of of Matlosz's death, he and a friend were at Christopher's Pub which is adjacent to a Howard Johnson's where police believed Matlosz's killer was located.  While driving home from the pub, Canales' car was stopped by several police officers.  At least two of the Toms River officers on the scene, Sgt. Scott Kenny and Officer Pat Jacques, had their guns drawn and were present when Canales was allegedly pulled out of his car and "slammed" to the ground by an unidentified plain-clothes officer and was told by that officer "Don't [f***ing] move or I'll blow your head off."  After remaining handcuffed on the ground for eleven minutes, Canales claimed that the officer lifted him off the ground by his handcuffs and slammed him onto the hood of the police car.  He claimed that being lifted by the handcuffs while his hands were behind him injured his shoulder.

Both Kenny and Jacques argued that Canales' claims against them should be dismissed because he could not prove that either of them was the plain-clothes officer who allegedly assaulted him.  But Judge Mary L. Cooper rejected that argument in a February 20, 2014 ruling because Canales' friend identified Kenny as the plain-clothes officer and because even if Kenny wasn't the unknown plain-clothes officer, "he may be directly liable . . . where he fails to intervene when a constitutional violation by another officer takes place in his presence."

Also named in the suit were Toms River Officers Ed Mooney, Jim Carey, Chris McDowell, P.J. Gambardella, Kevin Scully and unnamed State Troopers.  All of these officers were dismissed from the suit and the claims by Canales' co-plaintiffs, Alex Valcourt and Terrance Williams, were also dismissed.

The case is captioned Canales v. Township of Toms River, et al, Federal Case No. 3:11-cv-03159 and Canales' attorney was Donald M. Stanzione of Edison.  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 lawsuit's 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 Toms River or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Canales $25,000 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.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Freehold Township confidentially pays $80,000 to resolve racial profiling, false arrest lawsuit.

On June 2, 2016, the Township of Freehold (Monmouth County) agreed to pay $80,000 to an African-American man from Neptune who said that he was profiled, forcibly handcuffed and falsely arrested and imprisoned.

In his lawsuit, Mateek U. Pugh said that police were called when his arm was struck by a pickup truck's side-view mirror while he was crossing the street.  When Officer Jack Mandala arrived at the scene with Officer William Gallo, Mandala allegedly "transform[ed Pugh] from a pedestrian struck by a motor vehicle into a stereotypical angry, intoxicated, black male suspect."  According to the complaint, Mandala asked Pugh "do you understand who I am?" and told him "I have been looking for you." Thereafter, Mandala allegedly grabbed Pugh's injured right arm, placed him in a compliance bold and forced him onto the hood of the patrol vehicle and handcuffed his arms behind his back. 

After finding a television remote control in Pugh's pocket, Mandala allegedly accused him of committing burglaries in the area.  Mandala also allegedly approached Brian R, Graga, the driver of the pickup, and told him that "he did not drive into Mr. Pugh and strike him with his driver side mirror [but] that Mr. Pugh had run over to his truck and intentionally struck the driver side mirror with his hand/arm or with the remote control he had in his possession."  Graga was was allegedly "in a dating relationship with Sergeant [Raymond] Piccolini's daughter." 

Pugh was charged with criminal mischief, resisting attest, 4th aggravated assault on a police officer.  He was held at the Monmouth County Jail until he could post $3,500 bail.  Pugh said that after his release from jail, "he went to Jersey Shore Medical Center where he was diagnosed with and treated for an injury to his right arm that was untied by the motor vehicle accident."

The case is captioned Pugh v. Township of Freehold, et al, Federal Case No. 3:14-cv-03778 and Pugh's attorney was Kevin E. Daniels of Asbury Park.  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 lawsuit's 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 Freehold or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Pugh $80,000 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.

Hudson County to confidentially pay $50,000 to settle sheriff detective's lawsuit alleging retaliation for supporting current Sheriff's election opponent.

On June 23, 2016, the County of Hudson produced a draft agreement that calls for a $50,000 settlement of a retaliation lawsuit filed by a detective who supported present Sheriff Frank X. Schillari's opponent, former Sheriff Juan M. Perez, in the 2011 election. In addition to the $50,000, the plaintiff, who said that he was demoted in 2012, will be reinstated to his previously held position of Detective II and receive a $2,000 stipend retroactively to January 1, 2016 and "with appropriate allocation and contributions to the PFRS pension."

In his suit, Mark Borchert, who started his employment with the Sheriff's office in 1991 and who achieved the rank of Detective II in 2008, claimed that he was retaliated against for supporting Perez in his failed election bid.   Borchert said that after hurting his back in at work, his "light duty" assignment was to the Court Bureau where he "had to wear a heavy gun belt and was placed on the front door security detail causing him to be on his feet for a long period of time causing him pain."  He said his assignment was against the normal practice of assigning light duty to the Detective Bureau.  After returning to full duty, Borchert claimed that he was assigned tasks that were well below his level of training and competence. 

On February 24, 2012, the complaint alleges, Borchert was demoted to Sheriff's Officer and moved back to the Court Bureau after a meeting with Captain William Joy, Chief Warrant Officer Oliver King and Sergeant John Karras.  He said that he was demoted because of Sheriff Schillari's desire to retaliate against him for having supported Perez.  He said that Schillari replaced him "with individuals who are younger and less experienced" and that Schillari was "promoting and favoring those "who continue to support and buy fundraising tickets for his campaign."

The case is captioned Borchert v. County of Hudson, et al, Federal Case No. 2:13-cv-06531 and Borchert's attorney was Robert M. Anderson of Allenhurst.  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 Borchert's 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 Hudson or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Borchert $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.

Note: The court marked the case as having settled.  While it is possible that a dispute will arise prior to the settlement agreement being signed by the County, this rarely happens because the settlement has been negotiated and agreed to by all the parties.  Readers who wish to be absolutely sure that this case settled according to the terms stated above should submit an Open Public Records Act (OPRA) request for the final, signed settlement agreement.

Fairfield pays $75,000 to settle former mayor's discrimination and malicious prosecution lawsuit.

On March 17, 2016, Fairfield Township (Cumberland County) paid a former mayor $75,000 to settle his lawsuit that accused another former mayor and others of calling him "boy" and referring to other members of the Township Committee as "monkeys."

In his lawsuit,former Mayor Michael Sharp accused Joanne Servais's late husband Richard and her son Joseph, along with local resident and frequent meeting attendee Russell Pierce, of violating the Township's civil rights policy by referring to Sharp as "boy" in mid-2013.  Sharp also alleges that Pierce referred to current Mayor Benjamin Byrd and his running mate, Deputy Mayor Troy L. Pitts, Sr., as "monkeys."  Sharp, Byrd, Pitts and Defendant Michael Morton are African-American while the rest of the defendants are Caucasian. He alleged that the comments "served to humiliate and degrade" him, Byrd and Pitts.

Separately, Sharp alleged that Joanne Servais maliciously prosecuted him by filing a harassment complaint against him that lacked probable cause.  He claimed that the complaint was dismissed on June 2, 2014 by the Millville Municipal Court.  Sharp alleged that Joann Servais, after the court dismissed her complaint, "began to make threats against witnesses who were present to testify" on Sharp's behalf and accused the judge of being "related in some fashion to Ms. Servais' political enemies thereby indicating that the Court was biased against her."

Sharp's lawsuit also took issue with a November 20, 2013 report by Moorestown attorney Kathleen McGill Gaskill that determined that the "boy" and "monkey" comments were insufficient to support a claim of racial harassment under the Township's civil rights policy. In his suit, Sharp calls Gaskill's report "wholly contrived," "founded upon specious analysis" and intended to exculpate Defendants.

Also named in the suit were Don Taylor and Viola Thomas-Hughes.

The case is captioned Sharp v. Township of Fairfield, et al, Cumberland County Docket No. CUM-L-162-15 and Sharp's attorney was John C. Eastlack of Cherry Hill. Case documents are on-line here.

None of Sharp's 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 Fairfield or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Sharp $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.

Salem County pays $49,500 to settle inmate's jail assault lawsuit.

On March 4, 2016, Salem County paid a Minotola man $49,500 to settle his lawsuit claiming that county jail officers allegedly beat him after they "misinterpreted his disability as resistance and contempt."

In his suit, Harold Jones, a diabetic and schizophrenic, claimed that on June 27, 2013, he suffered a "medical episode" that caused him to drive his vehicle until it ran out of gas.  While sitting in his car on Route 40 in Woodstown, Jones was arrested by New Jersey State Trooper J.J. Smith who found an outstanding traffic warrant against him.  After telephoning Jones' sister and learning of his condition, Smith took Jones to the Salem County Correctional Facility where he remained until he was admitted to Salem Hospital on June 29, 2013.  He said that hospital staff "observed [him] to have an altered mental status in association with elevated blood sugars up to 1000, fractured ribs, and injured toes."

Also named in the suit were Sheriff Charles M. Miller and Warden Raymond C. Skradzinski.  Trooper Smith and the State Police were dismissed from the suit by Judge Noel L. Hillman on March 15, 2016.

The case is captioned Jones v. County of Salem, et al, Federal Case No. 1:15-cv-03093 and Jones's attorney was Joseph C. Grassi of Wildwood. Case documents are on-line here.

None of Jones's 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 Salem or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Jones $49,500 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.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Lakewood school board confidentially pays $174,000 to settle former employees' "whistleblower" and wrongful termination lawsuit.

On April 13, 2016, the Lakewood Board of Education (Ocean County) quietly paid $174,000 to settle a lawsuit jointly filed by its former Business Administrator and Assistant Board Secretary who claimed that they were fired for objecting to discriminatory practices against the school district's African-American and Hispanic families and for objecting to paying improperly documented vendors.  They also claimed that the school board's lawyer advised them to ignore legitimate Open Public Records Act (OPRA) requests.

In their suit, former Business Administrator Arlene Biesiada and Assistant Board Secretary Lisa Miller said that school officials "inexplicably" told parents of students who attended the After-School Tutoring Program that they needed to make weekly payments for the program even though federal Title I funds covered the program's costs.  Miller said that she complained to school officials that the program's clients "were near or at poverty level and/or primarily working poor, with the overwhelming majority of them being Hispanic and/or African American."  Miller claimed that Board members had "an obvious bias and discriminatory view toward the African American and Latino population in the District," and claimed that one unnamed Board Member stated that "it did not matter how much money was 'pumped' into the public schools since it was all Latino and African American students anyhow and they would never amount to anything anyway."

The pair also alleged that Board members and other officials chastised them for insisting that certain vendors have their documentation in order before being paid.  They allege that Board of Education President Carl Fink and Board members Yechezkel "Chesky" Seitler and Jonathan Silver approached Biesiada in November 2012 and told her to give a vendor called Tree of Knowledge "an advance of $200,000 so that [the vendor] could make their payroll."  Biesiada said that after reviewing Tree of Knowledge's September and October 2012 bills, she found that the "bills were incorrect and improper" and that Tree of Knowledge was "billing the District in excess of $10,000.00 over and above what should have been billed."

Another vendor that the pair claimed received special attention from Board members was Catapult Learning Center. According to the lawsuit, Seitler "was actively and directly negotiating a contract with Catapult" and that Fink and Seitler held "many meetings [with] Catapult representatives" from which Biesiada and Miller were excluded.  When they raised concerns, Biesiada and Miller claimed that they were told by Neva Musella, the school district's grant secretary, "to 'fix' the bills on behalf of [Catapult and Tree of Knowledge]." 

The pair also claimed that Supervisor of Purchase Helen Tobia requested them to "put through Purchase Orders for individual ink jet printers for certain non-public schools connected to the District."  Such a purchase, the lawsuit claimed, would have violated the terms of New Jersey's Non-Public Technology Grant unless it was approved by the New Jersey Department of Education.

Also named in the lawsuit were Superintendent Laura A. Winters and Board member Joel Schwartz.  According to the school district's website, Fink, Seitler, Silver and Schwartz no longer serve on the Board of Education. 

The case is captioned Biesiada and Miller v. Lakewood Board of Education, et al, New Jersey Superior Court Docket No. OCN-L-1041-14 and Biesiada and Miller's attorney was Patrick J. Whalen of Trenton.  Case documents are on-line here.  Of the $174,000, Miller received $57,857.21, Biesiada received $43,457.21 and the remaining $72,685.58 went to Whalen. 

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.

The settlement agreement states that it has no effect on another lawsuit, bearing Docket No. MON-L-4025-14, that Biesiada and Miller filed against attorney Michael I. Inzelbuch.  The pair refers to this lawsuit as a "Legal Malpractice action against their former attorney, Michael Inzelbuch, Esquire (who also happened to be the former Lakewood Board attorney), in relation to this action."  According to court records, the malpractice action was settled on April 15, 2016 and Whalen was Biesiada's and Miller's attorney.

None of Biesiada's and Miller's 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 the Lakewood school district or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Biesiada and Miller $174,000 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 18, 2016

Department of Children and Families pays $17,500 to resolve male employee's gender discrimination lawsuit.

On May 13, 2016, the Department of Children and Families (formerly the Division of Youth and Family Services) agreed to pay $17,500 to a male employee who said that less qualified female employees were repeated promoted ahead of him and that the Department's Atlantic County office "systematically promote females to Supervisory Positions over male employees."

In his lawsuit, Lewis Shocket of Egg Harbor Township, who was originally hired by the Department in 2003, claimed to have sought promotion to "Supervising Family Service Specialist 2" but was bypassed several times by sometimes less qualified females. 

Shocket claimed that he "attain[ed] one of the highest scores on the Civil Services Test and one of the highest rankings on the Civil Services Certified List for this position," but that Amy Palm and Cynthia Ginnetti were promoted over him in 2009.  Shocket did not allege that Palm or Ginnetti were less qualified than him.

Shocket said that in 2010, he "received the Civil Services Notification that he was ranked #1 in Atlantic County for the Position of Specialist II."  Yet, Lauren Kisel, Stephanie Schleckser, Jennifer O'Kane, Kelly Grimes and Sharon Oliveri were reportedly promoted instead of him despite having allegedly ranked lower on the Civil Service list.  He said that he more than once served in the supervisor's position temporarily only to be returned to original position.

Named in the suit were Atlantic East Manager Megan McKeever, Atlantic West Manager Michele Stone, as well as other Department officials Linda Dobron, Holly Kane and Charles Jones.

According to a June 15, 2016 response to an OPRA request, "Lewis Shocket holds the title of Supervising Family Service Specialist 2 as of April 19, 2014."  Accordingly, it appears that Shocket was promoted after his lawsuit was filed on March 27, 2014.

The case is captioned Shocket v. State of New Jersey, et al, Docket No. ATL-L-1163-14 and and Shocket's attorney was David R. Castellani of Northfield.  Case documents are on-line here

None of lawsuit's 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 Paterson or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Shocket $17,500 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.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Camden County paid $16,000 to paraplegic inmate who claimed abuse by corrections officers.

On March 1, 2016, Camden County paid $9,000 to settle a wheelchair-bound inmate's claims against corrections officers that had previously been dismissed by a federal judge but were later reinstated by the Third Circuit Court of Appeals.  This settlement was in addition to $7,000 the inmate received on March 1, 2011 to settle his claims against a jail guard who allegedly pepper-sprayed himout of anger and not to protect himself.

The plaintiff in the lawsuit is Robert L. Small who brought suit against jail guards alleging abuse--most of it relating to his wheelchair--while he was lodged at the Camden County Jail in 2005 as a pretrial detainee.  He claimed that various officers confiscated his wheelchair which forced him to remain in bed and in some cases gave him a jail-issue wheelchair that lacked leg rests. 

All of Small's complaints were dismissed by a June 25, 2010 Order except for his claim that Officer Joseph Whittick sprayed him in the face with pepper spray even though Small posed no threat to him.  According to a judge's written decision, another Corrections Officer, Donna Webster, witnessed the spraying and testified that right before Whittick sprayed him, Small "was actually backing away from the door with his hands in a surrender motion." 

A July 20, 2013 decision by the appeals court reinstated Smalls complaints against Officers' conduct occurring on June 18 and June 28, 2005 where Small alleged that Officers (no first name given) Worlds,  David Crossan and Sergio Monroe, Sergeant (no first name given) Melendez and Captain Charles Walker improperly confiscated his wheelchair.

The case is captioned Smalls v. Camden County, et al, Federal Case No. 1:06-cv-01363 and Small's attorneys were J. Philip Kirchner, Lizanne V. Hackett, Nina M. Varughese, and Rachel S. Wolfe of Cherry Hill.  Case documents are on-line here.

None of lawsuit's 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 Camden or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Small $16,000 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.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Paterson confidentially pays $50,000 to resolve police wrongful death lawsuit.

On June 8, 2016, the City of Paterson (Passaic County) agreed to pay $50,000 to the estate of a man who was shot in the back and killed by Paterson Police on January 1, 2012.

The plaintiff in the lawsuit is Michael Hyatt who, according to a January 5, 2012 newspaper article, is a Corrections Officer.  Hyatt claimed that his brother, Jacobe Hyatt, was killed by a single shot fired by Officer Javier Gutierrez, who "discharged his weapon without provocation and without just cause."  The newspaper, however, reports that Gutierrez said he fired only after having ordered Hyatt to drop a loaded handgun that police later claimed to have found underneath his body. 

The case is captioned Hyatt v. City of Paterson, et al, Federal Case No. 13-7792 and Hyatt's attorneys were Pamela Lynn Brause of Metuchen and Lucas E. Phillips of East Orange.  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 lawsuit's 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 Paterson or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Hyatt $50,000 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.

Gloucester County Fire District pays $45,000 to settle wrongful termination lawsuit.

On February 24, 2016, the Washington Township Fire District (Gloucester County) agreed to pay $45,000 to settle a lawsuit filed by a fireman who claimed that he was improperly fired in 2014.

In his complaint, Glenn A. Rosenstiehl claimed that District Fire Chief Everett J. Hoffman brought administrative charges against him that were predicated on an on-duty accident where Rosenstiehl fell in the fire station's shower and suffered a concussion.  The suit claimed that the charges against Rosenstiehl involved "failing to report for duty, abusing family medical leave, and failing to communicate with the Washington Township Fire District medical provider."

The lawsuit alleged that John P. Jehl, who was designated to preside over Rosenstiehl's disciplinary hearing, and Jerry Lonabaugh, the Fire District's lawyer, refused to grant Rosenstiehl an adjournment that Rosenstiehl said he needed because the Fire District hadn't yet responded to his discovery demands.  According to the lawsuit, "the hearing was conducted in the absence of Rosenstiehl and Rosenstiehl's counsel, without any notice thereof."  The hearing resulted in Rosenstiehl being fired.

The suit received attention from the South Jersey Times on October 22, 2014. 

The case is captioned Rosenstiehl v. Washington Township Fire District, Gloucester County Superior Court Docket No. GLO-L-1434-14 and Rosenstiehl's attorney was Thomas A. Cushane of Vineland.  Case documents are on-line here.

The settlement agreement is marked "confidential" at the top, but no confidentiality clause appears in the agreement itself.  Even if a confidentiality clause was included, such clauses do not trump the public's rights under OPRA to obtain copies of settlement agreements that arise out of lawsuits in which a government agency or official is a defendant.

None of lawsuit's 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 Washington or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Rosenstiehl $45,000 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.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Pennsauken confidentially pays $87,000 to resolve EMT's whistleblower lawsuit.

On May 17, 2016, the Township of Pennsauken (Camden County) agreed to pay $87,000 to settle a lawsuit filed by an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) who claimed that the chief of the Township's Emergency Medical Services (EMS) engaged in nepotism and secured employment for his wife, step-daughter and son-in-law. 

In his complaint, Dale Wescott said that EMS Chief Michael Coyle hired his wife, Debbie Coyle, to be in charge of medical billing "in spite of a contract with D&M billing."  Wescott claimed that Mrs. Coyle "works from home on a non-secure computer, does not use a time card, and receives a paycheck from EMS."

Wescott also claimed that Coyle hired his step-daughter, Kelly DiSanti, even though Civil Services rules prohibited her hiring.  Similarly, Westcott claimed that Coyle hired his son-in-law, Michael DiSanti, despite him being less qualified than other candidates and having been "formerly charged with violence in the workplace against a fellow employee." 

The lawsuit further claimed that Coyle let ambulances be dispatched "with blood stains, used needles under the seats, and no working oxygen" and allowed an employee to report for duty "in an impaired state."  Coyle also allegedly ordered that no blood or alcohol testing be done on an officer who drove an emergency vehicle to a hospital, "struck a parked car and fled the scene."

Wescott claimed that his complaints against Coyle were met with retaliation.  He claimed that he was suspended pending a fitness for duty exam but that the Township's psychologist found him fit for duty.  He said that his coworkers were openly discussing his suspension even though he was assured that it would remain confidential.

Also named in the suit is Township Administrator Edward Grochowski.

The case is captioned Wescott v. Township of Pennsauken, et al, Camden County Superior Court Docket No. CAM-L-1101-14 and Wescott's attorney was Katherine D. Hartman of Moorestown.  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.

Of the settlement amount, Wescott receives $52,265.55 with the remainder going to his lawyer for costs and fees.

None of lawsuit's 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 Pennsauken or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Wescott $87,000 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.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Pohatcong settles Clerk's unfair pay-cut lawsuit, pays her lawyer $38,000.

On July 23, 2015, the Township of Pohatcong (Warren County) settled a lawsuit in which the Township Clerk alleged that she was improperly forced to work additional hours and give back vacation and holidays with no additional pay.

In her lawsuit, Township Clerk Wanda Kutzman, who earned $79,808 in 2013, complained that the Township Council voted on March 19, 2013 to require her to work an additional five hours per week for no additional pay.  According to the lawsuit, the Council's vote also took away one week of Kutzman's paid vacation and four days from her holiday schedule. 

Kutzman alleged that after she complained about the changes, the Township "began enforcing the provisions of the Pohatcong Personnel Policy manual that were never enforced before" including requiring her to get a doctor's note when she took three sick days off from work.  Her also alleged that she and other female workers were required to coordinate their vacation and lunch schedules to ensure coverage when male employees were not required to do so.  She further claimed that being forced to work extra hours and give back holiday and vacation days was not fair because members of the "Pohatcong Police Department, which consists entirely of men" were given 2% pay raises in 2013 "and there were no give-backs of paid vacation or holiday time or pay."

While not admitting liability, the Township agreed to:

  • Pay Kutzman $2,806.40 for 2013 and 2014 holiday pay;
  • Give her 215 hours of compensation time, valued at $9,245, for the hours she worked in 2013;
  • Provide her with a thirty-five hour work week, twenty-five vacations in 2015 with twenty vacation days in future years.
  • Provide her with the following paid holidays: New Year's Day, Martin Luther King's Birthday, Lincoln's Birthday, Washington's Birthday, Good Friday, Memorial Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, Columbus Day, Election Day, Veterans' Day, Thanksgiving Day, the day after Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and New Year's Eve.
  • Pay her lawyer's fees of $38,000.
The case is captioned Kutzman v. Township of Pohatcong, Warren County Superior Court Docket No. WRN-L-273-13 Kutzman's attorney was William J. Courtney of Flemington.  Case documents are on-line here.

None of Kutzman's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement expressly states that Pohatcong admits no wrongdoing.  All that is known for sure is that Pohatcong or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather settle with Kutzman 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.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Atlantic City confidentially pays $37,500 to resolve lawsuit against police who allegedly used racial slurs.

On March 24, 2016, the City of Atlantic City (Atlantic County) agreed to pay $37,500 to two African-American women and an African-American man who claimed that they were pelted with racial slurs spoken by two city police officers while they were vacationing in the Atlantic City. Each plaintiff received $12,500.

In their complaint, Andria Tooley, Roger Lester and Adrian Tooley said that as they were trying to get into a taxi after leaving the Taj Mahal, they were approached by officers Ermindo Marsini and Marinela Pali who allegedly said that they stopped Lester "because he matched the description of three black males who were suspected of having committed a robbery at Resorts Casino Hotel."  When Lester objected, noting that his two companions were females, Marsini allegedly said "Shut the f*** up" and "That's what all you ni**ers say" and Pali allegedly said "All you ni**ers look alike."

Then the trio said that they were "public servants and were in Atlantic City vacationing"  and Marsini allegedly said "You're just a couple of ni**ers gambling.  What about those other ni**ers robbing and shooting?" and Pali allegedly followed up with "OK teacher lady! What about those ni**ers?"

The case is captioned Tooley, Lester and Tooley v. City of Atlantic City, et al, Atlantic County Superior Court Docket No. ATL-L-1114-14 and the trio's attorney was Kevin M. Costello of Mount Laurel.  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 lawsuit's 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 Atlantic City or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay the trio $37,500 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.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

State pays $1.25 million to settle "boarder baby's" foster home sex assault suit. Appeal filed to bring private referral agency back into lawsuit.

On March 11, 2016, the New Jersey Department of Children and Families agreed to pay $1.25 million to the benefit of a child who alleged that he was subjected to "anal and oral penetration" in foster homes that the Department placed him in when he was less than three and half years old.  On March 31, 2016, the boy, who was born in 1999, appealed the trial court's 2015 decision to release the Department's private referral agency from the lawsuit.

The boy, identified only by his initials, was a "boarder baby" (i.e. an infant abandoned to a hospital because the mother is unable to care for him or her) and claimed that the Department, which put him into foster homes when he was just a baby, "conducted either no background check at all, or an insufficient background check of" the homes into which he was placed.  According to the transcript of a January 23, 2015 hearing before Essex County Superior Court Judge Michael J. Nelson, the boy was allegedly assaulted by "a paramour" of the foster parent "who visits or knows the foster parent." 

The boy's lawsuit alleged that Harvest of Hope, a charitable organization formed by the Rev. Dr. DeForest B. Soaries, Jr., a former New Jersey Secretary of State, had a hand in locating the foster homes in which the alleged sexual abuse occurred.  Judge Nelson dismissed Harvest of Hope from the lawsuit in 2015 after finding that it was protected by the Charitable Immunity Act.  The boy is appealing Nelson's ruling and is seeking to bring Harvest of Hope back into the case.  He argues that the Act should not apply to Harvest of Hope because it was so heavily funded by the government that it effectively functioned as a government agency.

The case is captioned S.B.K. v. The State of New Jersey, et al, Essex County Superior Court Docket No. ESX-L-8102-11 and the boy's attorney Craig J. Hubert of Szaferman Lakind, Lawrenceville.  Also named in the lawsuit were Department Case Workers Diane Smith, M. Olmo, Germaine Curtis-Carter, Lisa Marie Finnegan, M. Baena, B. Blakely, Joe Gorman and H. Torres-Mejias.  The lawsuit and settlement agreement are on-line here.

The court's final order called for an up-front payment of $782,985.67 which was disbursed as follows: $298,009.49 to pay a Medicaid lien, $356,061.42 for the boy's attorney fees, $88,414.76 for the boy's attorney's actual costs and expenses and the remaining $40,500 for other various costs and expenses.  The remaining $467,014.33 will pay for an annuity from which the boy will receive "$1,637.59 per month, for life, guaranteed for 40 years."

None of the boy's 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 the State of New Jersey for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay the boy $1.25 million 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.