First Department Unanimously Allows Tenants’ Suit to Go Forward

A five-judge panel of the Appellate Division, First Department, unanimously affirmed a lower court ruling allowing a claim brought on behalf of tenants of London Terrace Gardens, a Chelsea apartment complex, against their landlords to proceed. The case, Dugan v. London Terrace Gardens, N.Y. County Clerk No. 603468/09, concerns the improper deregulation of rent-stabilized apartments in buildings participating in the City’s J-51 tax abatement program. The appellate court rejected the landlord’s argument that the State Department of Housing and Community Renewal, and not the courts, was the appropriate venue for the case. A motion for class certification is now pending in the lower court. The case was argued by ECBAWM associate Adam Pulver. ECBAWM partner Matthew Brinckerhoff and co-counsel Himmelstein, McConnell, Gribben, Donoghue & Joseph worked on the briefs and represent the plaintiffs in this ongoing litigation. ECBAWM is also counsel in four other cases brought on behalf of tenants in similar circumstances.

The court’s decision is available here.


Landlord and Superintendent of Large Queens Apartment Building Sued for Discriminating Against African-Americans

The Fair Housing Justice Center (FHJC) and three African-American testers filed a lawsuit today in federal court alleging that the landlord and superintendent of a large apartment building in a predominantly white area of Sunnyside, Queens discriminate on the basis of race. While white testers sent to the building were shown an available one-bedroom apartment, the African-American testers were told that there were no apartments available in the building. The superintendent, who refused to show the African-American testers any apartments in the building, told the white testers, “I chose the people…. You look like nice people, that’s why I show you.” The suit seeks compensatory and punitive damages, as well as injunctive relief to stop the discrimination and ensure future compliance with fair housing laws. The FHJC and three African-American testers are represented by Elizabeth Saylor, Diane L. Houk, and Vasudha Talla of ECBAWM.

“Lawsuit Claims Racial Discrimination at a Building in Sunnyside,” New York Times


Judge Finds Two Real Estate Firms Discriminate Against Individuals with HIV/AIDS Housing Subsidy

Following a week-long bench trial in October, U.S. District Court Judge Samuel Conti ruled in Short v. Manhattan Apts., Inc., et al. (SDNY) that two New York City realty companies, Manhattan Apartments, Inc., and Abba Realty Associates, Inc., discriminated against Plaintiff Keith Short because he received a housing subsidy from New York City’s HIV/AIDS Services Administration (“HASA”). The discrimination was corroborated by a testing investigation conducted by the Fair Housing Justice Center (“FHJC”), Co-Plaintiff in the case. Judge Conti’s decision found that both Manhattan Apartments, one of the largest realty companies in New York City, and Abba Realty “weeded out the HASA clients before they could submit an application,” in violation of the New York City Human Rights Law.

The decision is the first to find discrimination against a HASA client under Local Law 10, passed by the City Council in 2008 to prohibit housing discrimination based on lawful source of income. Compensatory damages were awarded to Mr. Short and the FHJC, and a three-year injunction was ordered by the court. In addition to prohibiting the defendants from continuing to discriminate on the basis of source of income, Manhattan Apartments and Abba Realty will be required to adopt non-discrimination policies and to undergo fair housing training.

The Plaintiffs are represented by Diane L. Houk of ECBAWM, along with co-counsel Armen Merjian and Robert Bacigalupi of Housing Works.


Lawsuit Filed on Behalf of Miami Commissioner Michelle Spence-Jones Against Miami Mayor and Miami-Dade State Attorney

ECBAWM filed a federal civil rights lawsuit in Miami this morning on behalf of Miami City Commissioner Michelle Spence-Jones against Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado, Florida State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle, Assistant State Attorney Richard Scruggs, and an SAO investigator.

The Complaint asserts 16 claims for fabrication and concealment of evidence, false arrest, malicious prosecution, civil rights conspiracy, and violations of the First Amendment, Fourth Amendment, and Due Process Clause of the United States Constitution. The Complaint also alleges that Rundle, Regalado, and others engaged in a conspiracy in violation of the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO).

Ms. Spence-Jones is represented by ECBAWM attorneys Ilann M. Maazel, Debra Greenberger, and Jennifer Keighley, Ray Taseff in Miami, and Prof. Charles J. Ogletree.

To read the complaint, click here.



ECBAWM Files “Friend of the Court” Brief on Behalf of Documentary Filmmakers in Dispute Over “Central Park Five” Outtakes

ECBAWM has filed an amicus curiae brief on behalf of the International Documentary Association, Film Independent, and a host of award-winning documentary filmmakers opposing a New York City subpoena seeking outtake footage from the Ken Burns documentary The Central Park Five. Five young men were convicted of the notorious 1989 rape and assault of a jogger in Central Park and served lengthy prison terms as a result. All five were later exonerated by DNA evidence. The men then brought suit against the City of New York, prosecutors, and police detectives for wrongful conviction. (In re McCray, et al., No. 03 Civ. 9685.) As part of its defense, the City issued a subpoena to Florentine Films, Ken Burns’ production company, seeking outtake footage from interviews conducted for The Central Park Five, which explores the case, the historical context, and the lives of the five men. The amicus brief argues that the subpoena would violate the federal common law “reporter’s privilege,” and undermine the efforts of documentary filmmakers to report on controversial topics. The brief was prepared by ECBAWM’s Andrew G. Celli, Jr. and Julia Fong Sheketoff, along with co-counsel Michael Donaldson of the firm Donaldson & Callif LLP in Los Angeles.


ECBAWM Named Law Firm of the Year in Civil Rights Law

U.S. News & World Report has named Emery Celli Brinckerhoff Abady Ward & Maazel as Law Firm of the Year for 2013 in the Civil Rights Law Practice Area. The award is ranked nationally and is given to one law firm each year based on that firm’s overall performance in a given practice area. In determining the award, lawyers voted on expertise, responsiveness, integrity, and whether they consider the firm a worthy competitor. The firms’ client profiles, significant cases, and demographics were also taken into consideration.


ECBAWM Settles Race Discrimination Case Against Brooklyn Landlords

On October 11, 2012, a federal judge approved a settlement agreement in FHJC, et al. v. Revlyn Apts., LLC, et al., a case alleging racial discrimination at Brooklyn apartment buildings. The lawsuit, which was filed in March 2012, was based on a testing investigation conducted by the Fair Housing Justice Center (“FHJC”) in 2010 and 2011. The Complaint alleged that white testers sent by the FHJC to the buildings were told about available apartments and given truthful information about rent amounts while their African-American counterparts were told that there were no availabilities and/or quoted higher rents.

The settlement agreement provides $225,000 for the FHJC and the four African-American testers who were given false information about rental availabilities to cover damages, attorney’s fees, and costs. The settlement also includes injunctive relief, which will cover a period of three years and apply to three rental buildings in Bay Ridge, Gravesend, and Sheepshead Bay. Defendants Revlyn Apartments LLC and Shorefront Apartments LLC will adopt, display, and distribute a non-discrimination policy; advertise available apartments; maintain rental records and make them available for FHJC inspection; and provide training for all employees on fair housing laws. The plaintiffs are represented by ECBAWM’s Diane L. Houk and Julia Einbond.


Judge Awards Sanctions in HIV/AIDS Housing Discrimination Case

Plaintiffs’ motion for sanctions against Manhattan Apartments in Short v. Manhattan Apts., et al., was granted by the Hon. Kimba Wood on October 11, 2012. The lawsuit alleges that Defendants Manhattan Apartments and Abba Realty discriminate on the basis of both disability and source of income. Ignoring repeated requests from the Plaintiffs and flouting multiple court orders, Defendant Manhattan Apartments refused to produce its rental listings database.

Judge Wood found that Manhattan Apartments “had a culpable state of mind in failing to produce the requested documents” and that it “acted with intentional bad faith.” Accordingly, the Court awarded attorneys’ fees to the Plaintiffs in the amount of $23,100 and designated the following fact: for the relevant time period, Manhattan Apartments’ rental listing database included directives from landlords that the company not assist clients with governmental housing subsidies in applying for or renting those landlords’ apartments.

Plaintiffs are represented by ECBAWM’s Diane L. Houk, along with co-counsel Armen Merjian and Robert Bacigalupi of Housing Works. In awarding attorneys’ fees, Judge Wood praised the “exceptionally high quality” of Plaintiffs’ counsel’s work, while citing their extensive experience and positive track records. Further, the decision takes note of the novel subject matter of the case, housing discrimination against individuals living with AIDS and using a rental subsidy provided by the City’s HIV/AIDS Services Administration (“HASA”).


Disabled Son of New York State Assemblyman Harvey Weisenberg Files Federal Lawsuit After Abuse at AHRC Nassau

New York State Assemblyman Harvey Weisenberg and his wife Ellen Weisenberg filed a lawsuit on behalf of their disabled son Ricky in federal district court for physical and psychological abuse suffered at AHRC Nassau, a chapter organization of NYSARC, Inc., and Dwayne Edwards, an AHRC employee.

The complaint alleges that Mr. Edwards cruelly and repeatedly struck Ricky, and taunted him, calling him a “f***ing Jew,” “nasty,” “evil,” and “worthless.” An internal investigation into the misconduct ultimately concluded: “the allegation of physical and psychological abuse is substantiated.”

The Weisenberg family is represented by Ilann M. Maazel and O. Andrew F. Wilson of ECBAWM.

“Lawmaker to File Suit Charging Abuse of His Disabled Son,” New York Times