Sunday, February 21, 2010

Trespass Suit Against NYPD & NYCHA

The NAACP LDF and the Legal Aid Society filed suit to challenge the NYPD and New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) practices of allowing regular vertical patrols (uniformed officers conducting patrols in the interiors of buildings, up each stairwell to the roof and back down again) in public housing buildings in New York City. Many residents have complained that they were inappropriately stopped, searched, questioned, and falsely charged with offenses, including false charges of "trespass" coming in and out of their own homes.

The complaint is here, and cites the NYCPR report No Place Like Home -- which was delivered to officials in the NYPD and NYCHA in 2008 -- for the propositions that the NYPD knew that its police officers were engaging in these practices leading to illegal stops and false charges, and also for the results of the surveys of NYCHA residents in East Harlem and Brooklyn.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Weinstein decision in Colon v. City of New York

Colon v. City of New York, 09-CV-8

Decided: November 25, 2009 District Judge Jack B. Weinstein


ORDER Defendant the City of New York (the "City") moves to dismiss plaintiffs Jose and Maximo Colon's claims as against it. Argument on the motion was heard on November 25, 2009. Plaintiffs bring federal civil rights claims pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §1983and pendant state-law claims against the City, four named police officers, and ten unnamed police officers. Their Complaints are largely identical, and contain corresponding numbered paragraphs. See Complaint of Jose Colon, dated Jan. 2, 2009; Complaint of Maximo Colon, dated Jan. 3, 2009 (together, the "Complaints"). The Colons were arrested in a nightclub on January 5, 2008, and were arraigned on charges of selling narcotics to an undercover police officer. See Complaints ¶¶16-20, 28-29.

The criminal charges against the Colons were dismissed by the Queens County District Attorney on June 26, 2008. See Complaints ¶33. It is alleged that the arrests and criminal charges were based on false claims by undercover police officers that they were sold cocaine by the Colons. Complaints ¶¶34-36.

The Colons claim to have been falsely arrested, imprisoned, subjected to an illegal strip search, and maliciously prosecuted. See Complaints ¶¶46, 49, 64-73. The City is said to be liable under section 1983 for the Colons' injuries, pursuant to Monell v. Dept. of Social Servs., 436 U.S. 658 (1978), because the acts complained of were the result of the "customs, policies, usages, practices, procedures, and rules" of the City. Complaints ¶83. The following are alleged to be City customs or policies: (a) wrongfully arresting minority individuals on the pretext that they were involved in drug transactions; (b) manufacturing evidence against individuals allegedly involved in drug transactions; (c) using excessive force on individuals who have already been handcuffed; (d) unlawfully strip-searching pre-arraignment detainees in the absence of any reasonable suspicion that said individuals were concealing weapons or contraband; and (e) arresting innocent persons in order to meet "productivity goals" (i.e. arrest quotas). Complaints ¶84.

The Colons assert that such customs and policies may be inferred from the existence of other similar civil rights actions that have been brought against the city, Complaints ¶85 (listing example cases), and from a January 2006 statement by Deputy Commissioner Paul J. Browne that police commanders are permitted to set "productivity goals," Complaints ¶86. In support of its motion to dismiss, the City argues that the Colons fail to identify any actual custom or policy of the city, and that their allegations are too speculative and inconclusive to meet the pleading standard established inBell Atlantic v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007) and Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. 1937 (2009). Absent a viable federal claim against the City, the court is urged to decline supplemental jurisdiction over the Colons' state-law claims with respect to the City. "[D]etermining whether a complaint states a plausible claim is context-specific, requiring the reviewing court to draw on its experience and common sense." Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. at 1940 (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556).

Informal inquiry by the court and among the judges of this court, as well as knowledge of cases in other federal and state courts, has revealed anecdotal evidence of repeated, widespread falsification by arresting police officers of the New York City Police Department. Despite numerous inquiries by commissions and strong reported efforts by the present administration—through selection of candidates for the police force stressing academic and other qualifications, serious training to avoid constitutional violations, and strong disciplinary action within the department—there is some evidence of an attitude among officers that is sufficiently widespread to constitute a custom or policy by the city approving illegal conduct of the kind now charged. It would be desirable to quantify this general reputation, but such quantification is beyond the scope and capacity of the court on this motion.

Upon inquiry at oral argument, neither party was able adequately to address what documentation may exist supporting or refuting the existence of such a policy or custom. See Nov. 25, 2009 Hr'g Tr. at 6:14-8:16, 9:21-11:6. Nevertheless, there are substantial issues: first, whether this reputation is predicated on a significant number of misstatements by police officers—even though the overwhelming majority of the police force does not engage in such fabrications; and, second, whether failure to train, supervise, or discipline members of the police force that do commit such fabrications constitutes a policy or custom under Monell. See, e.g., Walker v. City of New York, 974 F.2d 293 (2d Cir. 1992). While the charge may prove to be completely unfair to the city and its generally outstanding police force, there are sufficient issues of fact to warrant further proceedings under Monell.

Neither Twombly nor Iqbal can trump the Constitution. Under these circumstances, the Colons have "nudged their claims across the line from conceivable to plausible," and state viable section 1983 claims against the City. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570; see also Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. at 1952. The City's motion is denied. Because the federal claims against the City survive, supplemental jurisdiction over the Colons' state-law claims against the City is appropriate. See 28 U.S.C. §1367.

SO ORDERED. ¦ EasternDistrict Judge Weinstein

Monday, November 2, 2009

November 17, 2009 - Legal Training

November 17, 2009 - Legal Training:

Ethical Considerations
Collaboration Between Private Attorneys and Non-Profits.
A Role Play in Three Acts.

This course will explore the ethical considerations that arise when civil rights practitioners team up with non-profits and community organizations. Each entity brings something to the table. Community based organizations play important roles in grassroots outreach and education about legal rights, and in organizing community responses to unlawful practices; non-profit legal offices often identify emerging trends by bridging the divide between various legal disciplines, and they conduct synergistic policy campaigns; and private attorneys can work via fee-shifting statutes and pro bono cases to bring civil rights cases that might otherwise go unheard. When all are working collaboratively, they can leverage each others’ efficacy and enhance the power of the communities they serve. But, ethical issues will arise. The devil is in the details and ethical issues crop up with retainers, plaintiff searches, fee agreements, privilege, confidentiality
agreements, avoiding the unlicenced practice of law, and more.

We will engage in a moderated — yet lively —discussion between practitioners
from non-profits and firms, organized around three hypothetical types of collaborations — to explore the ethical issues that can arise, and to develop shared expectations about how to work through them.

Elizabeth Howell, Esq., Center for Appellate Litigation
Amanda Masters, Esq., Giskan Solotaroff Anderson & Stewart LLP

LOCATION: 74 Trinity Place, Parlor Room (2nd floor).
Nearby trains are N/R, 1,2,3, 4, 5, A,C.

TIME: Sign in and Mingle at 6, Course 6:15 - 7:45.

CLE: Pending, expected to be 1.5 ethics credits

COST: Free

TO REGISTER: Send an email to
Please include name, workplace, phone number,
and preferred email address.

DATE: November 17, 2009
*Materials will only be provided to attendees. Latecomers would receive partial CLE credits, and are encouraged to attend. Doors will remain open. Networking and refreshments at conclusion of event

Thursday, October 1, 2009

November meeting

NYCPR will hold a Continuing Legal Education (CLE) workshop for ethics credits in November 2009. Our regular meeting will follow the CLE presentation.

Volunteers for the CLE should contact

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

NYCPR Meeting

The next NYCPR meeting will be in September, location TBD. Details will be posted on the listserv.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Next Member Meeting

Our next member meeting will be June 2, 2009.
Members should contact Amanda Masters at if you are not already aware of the details.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Congrats to Alex Vitale for Fulbright to Continue Studying Policing

BC Professor Wins Prestigious Fulbright Award


Alex Vitale

Brooklyn College sociology Professor Alex Vitale won a Fulbright Scholarship to study policing in South Korea. He will spend about five months there next spring conducting his research and lecturing at a university that is still to be determined.

"It’s a big deal to get a Fulbright so I was pretty happy when I first heard. I’ve already started watching some Korean movies and reading as much as I can about the history and culture," he says.

Vitale has studied policing for some two decades, first at the San Francisco Coalition of the Homelessness, where he worked on litigation, monitored police practices and assisted the police with training protocols for dealing with the homeless. He then came to New York to complete a Ph.D. in sociology at the CUNY Graduate Center. He has taught at the College since 1999.

The author of several books that examine New York City’s policing practices, including 2008’s City of Disorder: How the Quality of Life Campaign Transformed New York Politics, Vitale says he has long been interested in introducing some international comparisons to his scholarship. His research is largely concerned with how economic, political and social changes can impact policing.

"In many ways the themes are the same here and abroad," he says, noting that he would also like to study how global climate change and emerging diseases have impacted policing in Africa. "Globalization and de-industrialization with the manufacturing industry created a whole new set of policing problems in New York City. Up until about 25 years ago, South Korea had a closed political system and a closed economy. But as both have opened up recently in the form of free trade and elections, there are some new problems for the police like an increase in street crimes."

Along with conducting his research in South Korea, Vitale says he will also be lecturing at his host university.

The Fulbright U.S. Scholar program—part of the flagship international exchange program sponsored by the State Department and created to foster international understanding—annually sends some 1,100 faculty members to nearly 125 countries to teach and conduct research.