In a victory for the First Amendment, a New York judge granted ECBA’s motion on behalf of the Avaaz Foundation, a global civic movement, to quash a sweeping document subpoena issued by the Monsanto Company, the multi-billion-dollar agricultural and biotech giant. The subpoena sought access to three-and-a-half years’ worth of Avaaz’s confidential political communications, internal strategy memos, and campaign plans – its political “playbook,” in the judge’s words — for its ongoing, worldwide effort to persuade governments around the world to ban the chemical agent glyphosate, the active ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup® products. The International Agency for Research on Cancer has concluded that glyphosate is “probably carcinogenic to humans,” and a California jury recently found that Roundup® caused a school groundskeeper’s non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
In quashing the subpoena, Justice Shlomo Hagler of the New York County Supreme Court ruled that Monsanto’s request would have a “tremendous chilling effect” on the protected First Amendment activities of Avaaz and other civic organizations. Giving Monsanto access to Avaaz’s internal communications, Justice Hagler explained, would discourage Avaaz and its members from participating in “a movement they feel is just and right.” Justice Hagler also ruled that the documents Monsanto sought were “utterly irrelevant” to a Missouri lawsuit for which it purportedly sought them. If enforced, the subpoena would have required Avaaz to produce its campaign plans, strategy deliberations, and research to Monsanto.
On July 18, 2018, ECBA filed a federal lawsuit against the City of New York and others on behalf of Stanley “Skip” Karol, a lifelong Brooklyn resident, who uses the Airbnb platform to rent out part of his family home. The suit alleges that, in violation of the First Amendment and the Due Process Clause, the City retaliated against Mr. Karol for his remarks criticizing City officials and policy at a public hearing before the New York City Council on June 26, 2018. Concerned that the legislation pending before the Council would put him in the same category as operators of illegal hotels, Mr. Karol exercised his First Amendment rights by participating in a public hearing on the bill. Days later, City enforcement officials appeared at Mr. Karol’s two-family home in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, and issued him four summonses carrying fines of tens of thousands of dollars. The complaint alleges that the enforcement effort aimed at Mr. Karol was retaliatory, and the summonses issued to Mr. Karol are baseless. “People shouldn’t have to worry that when they go home, there’s going to be a knock on the door just because they decided to speak up against the government,” ECBA partner Andrew G. Celli, Jr. told the press. The case was widelycovered and the subject of a New York Post editorial.
On April 17, 2018, ECBA filed an Article 78 and Declaratory Judgment Petition in New York County Supreme Court on behalf of the Council of the City of New York, Council Member Ritchie J. Torres, Council Member Laurie A. Cumbo, and Council Member Alicka Ampry-Samuel, and against Zachary W. Carter, the Corporation Counsel of the City of New York. The Petition challenges the Corporation Counsel’s assertion that only that office can represent members of the City Council who wish to file friend-of-the-court briefs in their official capacities as Council Members. The City Council and the Council Members allege that both the separation of powers and the First Amendment allow them to retain their own lawyers for purposes of filing friend-of-the-court briefs in their official capacities.
On behalf of the Avaaz Foundation (“Avaaz”), a global civic movement, ECBA has filed a motion in New York County Supreme Court in Manhattan seeking to quash a sweeping document subpoena from Monsanto Company, the multinational agrochemical and biotech company. The subpoena seeks documents reflecting Avaaz’s multi-year effort to persuade governments worldwide to ban the chemical agent glyphosate, which is believed to be the world’s most widely-used herbicide. Glyphosate is the active agent in Roundup®, a Monsanto product. In 2015, the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer issued a public evaluation concluding that glyphosate is “probably carcinogenic in humans.” Avaaz, with over 46 million members and staff in 23 countries, has been described by The Guardian as “the globe’s largest and most powerful online activist network,” and the campaign against glyphosate is just one of Avaaz’s many member-driven campaigns.
The Monsanto subpoena – which was issued in January 2018 as part of a personal-injury case in which agricultural workers are suing Monsanto over claims that they contracted cancer after exposure to Roundup® — seeks to compel the production of virtually every document in Avaaz’s possession concerning its political activities around glyphosate and Monsanto. If enforced, the subpoena would require the turnover of Avaaz’s confidential internal communications and deliberations, campaign plans, research and source material, and even member and donor information. ECBA’s filing, which can be found here, argues that the subpoena violates the First Amendment of the Constitution and New York’s Reporter’s Shield law; calls for the production of documents that are irrelevant to the underlying personal-injury case; and imposes an undue burden on Avaaz. The Guardian, Eco Watch, and other media outlets, have reported on the case.
Praising ECBA’s work as “exemplary” and noting “the exceptional outcome achieved,” on June 16, 2017, Justice Shirley Werner Kornreich of the New York Supreme Court, New York County, granted final approval to ECBA’s settlement of a long-standing putative class action against the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The case, Saska et al v. Metropolitan Museum of Art, challenged the Museum’s practice of charging admission fees to visitors and failing to adequately disclose the Museum’s “pay what you wish” policy. The suit alleged that the Museum’s signage and online advertising misled visitors into paying the full advertised “price” for admission to the Museum, when, in fact, the Museum’s policy is to allow visitors to pay as much or as little as they wish.
Under the settlement, the Museum must revise its signage and online advertising to prominently describe the admission fees as “SUGGESTED” and to include the legend: “THE AMOUNT YOU PAY IS UP TO YOU.” In addition, the Museum will require third-party vendors of admission tickets to disclose the Museum’s “pay what you wish” policy, and will train cashiers and other Museum employees interacting with the public to explain the “pay what you wish” policy to visitors to avoid any confusion. ECBA’s Andrew G. Celli, Jr., Matthew D. Brinckerhoff, and David Lebowitz handled the case.
The proposed settlement in the Trump University lawsuit came under attack today. One of the victims in the fraud and racketeering case against Donald J. Trump, pending before Hon. Gonzalo P. Curiel in San Diego federal court, objected to the proposed class action settlement. In her filing, class member Sherri B. Simpson pointed out that class members were promised, in writing, that they would receive an opportunity “to be excluded from any settlement” and take their own claims to trial against Mr. Trump. And yet, her objection notes, the settling parties signed a settlement agreement that provides class members may not opt out. Ms. Simpson’s objection asks Judge Curiel to enforce the promise and allow her – and any other victims who choose to pass on the proposed deal – to proceed to a fraud and racketeering trial against Mr. Trump.
Ms. Simpson is clear on what she is seeking: “We are now asking Judge Curiel to hold the parties to their promises and let victims decide if they want to settle with Mr. Trump or take their individual cases to trial. It’s a matter of fairness and of due process. People deserve their day in court. That’s why I filed the objection.”
ECBA attorneys Andrew Celli and Ilann Maazel represent Sherri Simpson along with Gary Friedman of Friedman Law Group and Markun Zusman Freniere & Compton LLP in California.
The State of New York has paid $3 million to the family of a developmentally disabled boy who was repeatedly sexually assaulted and abused by an employee at the State-run group home near Utica where he lived. The abuse took place over multiple years, and was discovered after photos and videos the abuser, Steven DeProspero, had made of the assaults were found on his computer. DeProspero is currently incarcerated under both state and federal convictions for crimes related to the abuse.
Emery Celli Brickerhoff & Abady joined activist group Free Speech for the People to ask the New York Attorney General to shut down the Trump Organization for serial violations of state law. As the Washington Post reported, the groups argue in a 24-page letter that “the combination of past legal abuses and current conflicts of interests constituted such a pattern of corporate misbehavior that the attorney general ought to revoke the company’s charter.” The letter states: “By continuing to operate under Trump family ownership and control with President Trump in the White House, the Trump Organization flagrantly abuses its state-granted powers, contrary to the public policies of New York against corruption and conflicts of interest, and contrary to the U.S. Constitution.” Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s office said he would review the letter. ECBA partners Jonathan Abady and Andrew G. Celli, Jr. are working on this matter.
Click here to read the letter in full, and click here to read WNYC’s coverage of the effort.
In the first ever legal effort to challenge election results in multiple jurisdictions for a Presidential contest in the United States, ECBA is representing Jill Stein and her campaign in election integrity efforts and attempts to obtain recounts in three states: Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania. Stein filed petitions for recount in Michigan and Wisconsin, and mobilized voters to seek recounts in Pennsylvania. ECBA has litigated various state and federal actions to pursue those recount requests. The most recent information and filings concerning the rapidly-changing developments in the three states are available here for Pennsylvania, here for Michigan, and here for Wisconsin.