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Federal Lawsuit Over Disability Discrimination and Severe Mistreatment at Brooklyn Home for People with Disabilities Settles for $2.25 Million

The family of an autistic and disabled man has agreed to a $2.25 million settlement in a civil rights lawsuit against Eihab Human Services, Inc., an operator of homes and other programs for people with disabilities. The lawsuit alleged Eihab abused, neglected, and almost killed the disabled man. The case was litigated for a decade until the settlement was reached in the middle of a nearly week-long jury trial in a New York federal court. The judge who presided over the case approved the settlement on October 13, 2022.

ECBAWM was assisted by noted jury consultant Dan Cooper in preparation for the trial.

The plaintiff, “A.W.”, the mother of “B.W.”, the young man, filed the lawsuit on behalf of her son in 2012. The complaint alleges that while under Eihab’s care, B.W. was rushed to the hospital six different times, nearly choked to death on a corncob, and had to have a feeding tube inserted after his weight sunk below 100 pounds.

“I’m so thankful we have finally been able to achieve some justice for my son,” said A.W.

“After ten long years, we have a measure of justice for B.W. and his family and accountability for Eihab,” said ECBAWM partner Ilann M. Maazel. “We are gratified that B.W. and his family finally have some closure after this terrible period in their lives.”

Article

Federal Lawsuit Over Barbaric Shackling of Pregnant Woman Settles with New Jersey County for $750,000

Today, ECBAWM and co-counsel Gibbons P.C. announced the settlement of a lawsuit on behalf of the family of a woman who was illegally shackled by Middlesex County, New Jersey officers. The magistrate judge who presided over the case in a New Jersey federal court approved the settlement on September 7, 2022, and the agreement was publicly filed earlier today.

The plaintiff, “Jane Doe,” filed the lawsuit in July 2020. The lawsuit stated that, when she was pregnant and incarcerated in the Middlesex County Jail on a non-violent charge, Middlesex County officers and supervisors shackled her by the wrists, ankles, and waist during prenatal visits, while she was being transported to the hospital, throughout the labor process, up until the moment of an emergency Cesarian section, and even while she was recovering and attempting to bond with her newborn son. When she arrived at the hospital, the officers refused to let Ms. Doe contact her family, forcing her to endure this traumatizing experience alone.

Under the settlement, Middlesex County will pay $750,000 to Ms. Doe’s estate, believed to be one of the largest settlements ever obtained by a victim of shackling during labor. Ms. Doe tragically passed away during the litigation, but her mother “Mary Doe” continued to prosecute and settle the case on behalf of Jane Doe’s estate, and specifically her young son.

“Through this litigation, our daughter sought to inform pregnant incarcerated women of their legal rights,” Ms. Doe’s parents said. “She wanted to bring attention to the horrific harm and injustices that she endured and that so many like her continue to endure. We hope this case has served as a wakeup call to Middlesex County and to law enforcement agencies around the country. They should immediately reform their policies and respect the humanity of the people in their custody.”

Medical experts, correctional experts, and maternal and fetal health experts unanimously agree that pregnant women should not be shackled absent the most extraordinary circumstances. The American Medical Association, the Federal Bureau of Prisons, the U.S. Marshals Service, and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, all prohibit and/or oppose shackling pregnant women during labor, delivery, and postpartum recovery because it poses a grave risk of harm to a pregnant woman’s health, and to the health and safety of her baby.

“According to a 2021 study, there are an estimated 58,000 admissions of pregnant women into U.S. jails and prisons every year, and thousands give birth or have other outcomes while still incarcerated. Our client Jane Doe filed this case to protect the health and dignity of incarcerated pregnant women and their babies. This settlement is an important step in ending shackling of pregnant women,” said Katie Rosenfeld, a partner at Emery Celli Brinckerhoff Abady Ward & Maazel LLP and one of Jane Doe’s lawyers.

Lawrence S. Lustberg, another of Jane Doe’s lawyers, lauded both her courage in bringing the lawsuit and her parent’s tenacity in continuing it. “Were it not for people like Jane Doe and her parents, these kinds of injustices would never be redressed,” Lustberg said. Lustberg also expressed the Doe family’s appreciation for the Court’s assistance in reaching the settlement.

Article

Mamaroneck Racial Bullying Settlement Requiring Significant Reforms Is Approved

A federal court in White Plains has approved a settlement agreement resolving claims of racial bullying against the Mamaroneck school district. The settlement seeks to redress years of racist bullying the plaintiffs endured in Mamaroneck schools. In addition to compensation for the family, the settlement requires significant reform over a two-year period, including the continuation of the District’s Three-Year Diversity and Equity Strategic Plan and District Equity Team; climate surveys with results to be publicized on the District’s website; supplemented teacher training; augmentation of policies concerning student discipline, restorative practices, and counseling; tracking of race-related incidents; and revisions to reporting and investigations of race-related bullying or harassing incidents. The goal of these reforms is to fundamentally change the climate in Mamaroneck’s schools.

The plaintiffs were represented by firm attorneys O. Andrew F. Wilson and Emma Freeman, and law clerk Julian Oppenheimer.

Press
“Mamaroneck schools settle racial harassment lawsuit, call hurt ‘regrettable’,” Lohud.com

Article

ECBAWM Announces an Adult Survivors Act Practice

ECBAWM announces that it is creating an Adult Survivors Act (ASA) practice to represent survivors to pursue sexual abuse cases under New York’s ASA, which became law on May 24, 2022. The new law allows adult victims (people who were 18 or older at the time of the abuse) a one-time opportunity to file civil lawsuits in New York, even if any statutes of limitations have otherwise run out. The one-year window to file claims will open in November 2022 and ECBAWM is actively representing survivors now.

Article

LGBTQ Students Win Right to Form Official Student Club at Yeshiva University

On Tuesday, June 14, 2022, the Supreme Court of the State of New York, New York County, ordered that Yeshiva University immediately recognize an undergraduate LGBTQ student organization, the YU Pride Alliance, and grant the YU Pride Alliance “full and equal accommodations, advantages, facilities and privileges of all other student groups at Yeshiva” as required by the New York City Human Rights Law.

The LGBTQ student group and four current and former students filed the civil rights lawsuit against Yeshiva University in April 2021, arguing that the university’s ongoing refusal to recognize the club was discriminatory and harmful to students. The court’s decision affirms that as an institution of higher education in New York, Yeshiva University must follow the City’s anti-discrimination law and cannot treat LGBTQ students worse or differently than other students on campus. As the Court, Justice Lynn L. Kotler, held: “What plaintiffs seek is simply equal access to the tangible benefits that Yeshiva affords other student groups on its campus.”

ECBAWM partner Katie Rosenfeld, who along with ECBAWM attorneys Max Selver and Marissa Benavides represented the Plaintiffs, said: “The court’s decision paves the way for LGBTQ students and allies at Yeshiva University to fully participate in their community as equal members, just as the New York City Human Rights Law guarantees. Now the students can move on with the true work of their organization: peer support, discussions groups, community service projects, social events, speaker series, and other positive and important student efforts. It’s fitting that the court’s important ruling comes this month, as we celebrate June as LGBTQ Pride Month.”

Documents
Decision and Order
Press Release

Press Coverage
“Yeshiva University Must Recognize L.G.B.T.Q. Club, Judge Says,” NewYork Times
“Yeshiva University LGBTQ group wins first round in fight for recognition,” Gay City News
“Push to have LGBTQ club at Yeshiva University recognized,” FOX 5 New York

Article

ECBAWM Files Civil Rights Lawsuit on Behalf of George Bell, Wrongfully Imprisoned for Over 24 Years

ECBAWM, together with co-counsel Scott Stevenson, has filed a civil rights lawsuit against the city of New York and eight former New York City police officers on behalf of George Bell. The suit alleges that as a result of rampant misconduct by the police and prosecutors within the Queens County District Attorney’s Office, Mr. Bell was convicted of a double homicide that he did not commit. Mr. Bell faced the death penalty before being sentenced to life in prison. He was 19 years old at the time of his arrest. Mr. Bell’s conviction was vacated and he was finally freed at the age of 44, having spent over 24 years incarcerated.

During the criminal investigation of the crimes for which Mr. Bell was charged the police pursued Mr. Bell based on an unreliable tip, interrogated Mr. Bell through the night on Christmas Eve, and then brutally beat him until he agreed to falsely confess. After Mr. Bell’s arrest, the prosecution and/or police came into possession of exonerating evidence that they did not disclose to Mr. Bell. This evidence made clear that a local armed robbery gang called Speedstick, not Mr. Bell, had committed these murders, and law enforcement knew it years before Mr. Bell was even tried. Rather than admit that they had the wrong man, police and district attorneys suppressed this evidence and fabricated additional evidence to implicate Mr. Bell. These civil rights violations were part of a pattern of the Queens District Attorney’s Office under District Attorney Richard Brown that has recently come to light and has formed the basis for multiple wrongful conviction claims against the City of New York. When vacating Mr. Bell’s conviction, Queens County Supreme Court Justice Zayas concluded that law enforcement’s handling of Mr. Bell’s case “leaves the distinct impression that the suppression of the [exonerating] information was not an isolated instance of misconduct, but part of a larger pattern of behavior that was calculated to deprive the defendants of fair trials, which is particularly egregious given that the death penalty was being sought against 19-year-old George Bell.”

Mr. Bell is represented by Richard Emery, Earl Ward, Debra Greenberger, and David Berman of ECBAWM, as well as co-counsel Scott Stevenson.

Article

Post-Release Supervision Class Action to Proceed to Damages Trial

In Betances v. Fischer, ECBAWM represents a class of over 3000 individuals who were administratively, unilaterally, and unlawfully sentenced to terms of post-release supervision (“PRS”) by New York State corrections and parole officials. The Plaintiff class was certified by the Court in 2015 and the Court subsequently granted summary judgment on liability to Plaintiffs, holding the Defendant State corrections and parole officials personally liable for violating Plaintiffs’ due process rights.

In advance of trial, the Defendant State officials moved to decertify the Plaintiff class on the basis that Plaintiffs’ general damages—which stem from the liberty Plaintiffs lost while on PRS or incarcerated for violating PRS—cannot be determined on a class-wide basis. In a March 14, 2022 decision, United States Magistrate Judge Robert W. Lehrburger denied Defendants’ motion to decertify the class and ruled that “the class should be maintained for the purposes of trial to determine damages for loss of liberty.”

In denying the Defendants’ decertification motion, the Court held that Plaintiffs’ lost liberty “is inherent in any unlawful detention and is compensable as general damages” and “can be determined on a class-wide basis.” The Court further determined that these common injuries “predominate over other, individualized issues” and can therefore be determined on a class basis at trial.

ECBAWM attorneys Matthew D. Brinckerhoff, Nick Bourland, and Max Selver, and law clerk Julian Oppenheimer represent the Betances Plaintiff class.

Article

ECBAWM Achieves $1.5M Settlement for Developmentally Disabled Individual Abused in New York State-Run Group Home

ECBAWM has obtained a $1.5 million settlement from the State of New York on behalf of M.F., a developmentally disabled resident of a New York State-run group home who experienced serial abuse by caretakers.

As set forth in the lawsuit, for years, M.F. was subjected to constant abuse by staff members while in residence at the Union Avenue IRA in the Bronx, run by New York State’s Office for People with Developmental Disabilities (OPWDD). Union Avenue staff testified that M.F. was constantly covered in bruises throughout their stay, and staff also witnessed colleagues subjecting M.F. to physical abuse, inhumane confinement, and forced feedings. In spite of the heinous abuse they witnessed, not one staff member or supervisor reported the abuse to law enforcement, the state’s abuse hotline, or M.F.’s family.

The lawsuit also revealed that the State failed M.F. by turning a blind eye to reports showing systemic abuse at Union Avenue and failing to train staff and supervisors on incident reporting.

The New York Times previously reported on this case and the conditions at Union Avenue in Episode 27 (“The Promise”) of The Weekly.

M.F. is represented by Ilann Maazel and Max Selver.

Press
“NY To Pay $1.5M To End Group Home Resident Abuse Suit,” Law.com

Article

ECBAWM Obtains $8 Million Settlement for Wrongful Conviction Under Queens DA Richard Brown

ECBAWM, together with co-counsel Thomas Hoffman and Joel Rudin, has reached a settlement of $8 million with the City of New York on behalf of Kareem Bellamy, a man who was wrongfully convicted in 1995 and served more than 14 years in prison for a crime he did not commit.

Kareem Bellamy was an innocent man charged by the Queens District Attorney’s Office for a 1994 murder in Far Rockaway, NY. During the criminal investigation, the prosecution and/or police came into possession of exonerating evidence that they did not disclose to Mr. Bellamy and fabricated evidence to implicate Mr. Bellamy. The prosecution also engaged in misconduct during Mr. Bellamy’s trial by making inflammatory comments while speaking to the jury. These civil rights violations were part of a pattern of the Queens District Attorney’s Office under District Attorney Richard Brown that has recently come to light and has formed the basis for multiple wrongful conviction claims against the City of New York.

After the New York state court released Mr. Bellamy based on new evidence showing his innocence, Mr. Bellamy sued the City of New York for the constitutional violations that led to his wrongful imprisonment. During this lawsuit, ECBAWM and co-counsel uncovered a document from Richard Brown to top aide Jack Ryan stating, “Jack, I think we’ve been getting away with this sort of thing for a long time.”

Mr. Bellamy was represented by Earl Ward, Ilann M. Maazel, and Marissa Benavides, as well as co-counsel Thomas Hoffman and Joel Rudin.

Article

ECBAWM Partner Zoe Salzman Published in City & State: The Adult Survivors Act Is Needed Legislation

In an opinion piece published in City & State, ECBAWM partner Zoe Salzman draws on her experience representing sexual assault survivors to explain why the proposed Adult Survivors Act should become law. Under current New York law, the time to file a civil case for a sexual assault that happened before 2019 is usually very short.

Based on the previously enacted Child Victims Act, the Adult Survivors Act would create a new “lookback window” so that survivors whose sexual assault occurred prior to 2019 would be allowed a one-year window to revive any civil lawsuits that would otherwise be barred under the statute of limitations.

“The Adult Survivors Act passed the state Senate unanimously last spring but for unclear reasons failed to advance in the Assembly,” writes Salzman. “With a new governor at the helm and a new legislative session that began this month, New York’s leaders have another chance to pass this important law.”

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