Public Justice produced videos for the finalists for the 2017 Trial Lawyer of the Year Award. This one summarizes the Sykes v. Harris case, a years-long litigation in which ECBA, MFY Legal Services, and the New Economy Project won $60 million for a class of consumers victimized by illegal debt collection practices.
Public Justice has announced that the attorneys for Sykes v. Mel S. Harris & Associates, LLC are finalists for the organization’s 2017 Trial Lawyer of the Year Award. ECBA co-counseled with MFY Legal Services and the New Economy Project to bring a federal class action challenging a fraudulent debt collection scheme.
Under the settlement negotiated by the legal team after six years of hard-fought litigation, the defendants paid nearly $60 million to class members. They also agreed to exit the debt collection business and to extinguish all outstanding consumer debt that was part of the scheme, which had a total face value of over $1 billion. In a cutting edge component of the settlement, the defendants also agreed to cooperate with a supplementary state court proceeding to vacate the default judgments en masse and, as a result, nearly 200,000 fraudulently-obtained default judgments have been vacated. More on the case and the settlement is available here.
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.
Legal Services NYC, with support and additional counsel from ECBA’s Matthew Brinckerhoff, has reached a settlement with the NYPD in Padilla-Torres v. City of New York, a 2013 federal discrimination lawsuit alleging that the civil rights of domestic violence survivors with limited English proficiency had been violated by denying them interpreters. As part of the settlement, the NYPD has agreed to equip all officers in the field with smartphones that can interpret over 240 languages. Additionally, over the next 18 months, the NYPD will provide its officers with training on how to use this smartphone application and when to recognize that an interpreter is necessary.
The plaintiffs in the case were denied safety and interpreters after being attacked by their partners. In response to calls of domestic abuse, officers would often let the abusers speak on behalf of their victims. In some of the more egregious instances, this would result in the arrest of the victims themselves, as was the case for Arlet Macareno, one of the plaintiffs. After being pushed down a flight of stairs by her husband, the police arrived at Ms. Macareno’s home without a Spanish interpreter. Ms. Macareno tried to explain that she was the victim of her husband’s aggression, but instead of arresting him, the officers arrested Ms. Macareno and charged her with obstruction of justice. This settlement will provide NYPD officers with the resources to ensure that no New Yorker is subjected to the same injustices as Ms. Macareno.
To read the New York Times’ coverage of the settlement, click here. To read the Legal Services NYC press release, click here.
Emery Celli Brinckerhoff & Abady filed an amicus brief on behalf of four veterans organizations, Vets for American Ideals, Vote Vets, Common Defense, and No One Left Behind. The brief was filed in the pending case Darweesh, et al. v. Trump, et al. (E.D.N.Y.), which challenges President Trump’s Executive Order banning immigrants from seven majority-Muslim nations. Based on their experience fighting on the front lines against ISIS and other U.S. enemies, these veterans argue that the ban is contrary to the American ideals they fought for, will make it more difficult for their fellow American soldiers to recruit essential local allies in Iraq and in other Muslim countries, and will be a powerful propaganda tool for our enemies that will make the work of deployed American soldiers more difficult and more dangerous. The brief was written by ECBA partners Matthew D. Brinckerhoff, Elizabeth S. Saylor, and Zoe Salzman.
The Bronx Supreme Court granted ECBA’s motion for class certification of a case challenging New York City’s practice of imprisoning people at Rikers Island based on requests by federal immigration authorities prior to December 21, 2012. The case, Onadia v. City of New York, 0300340/2010, alleges that the City had no basis to imprison the thousands of class members who were held for days and even weeks past their scheduled release date based on these immigration requests. For more information see the New York Law Journal’s coverage; you can also read the decision here. The class is represented by ECBA attorneys Matthew Brinckerhoff and Debbie Greenberger and co-counsel Ameer Benno.
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.
Emery Celli Brinckerhoff & Abady, along with Morrison & Foerster, have been named as the Bronx Defenders’ Pro Bono Partners of the Year for their work to end court delays in the Bronx Criminal Court. You can read more about the class action lawsuit, Trowbridge v. Cuomo, here.
On August 12, 2016, ECBA and MFY Legal Services filed a federal class action challenging the legality of a Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) program that sells government-insured FHA home mortgages to private equity funds, leaving these borrowers without insurance-program benefits they are entitled to and putting them at heightened risk of foreclosure. The suit further alleges that HUD’s program violates the Fair Housing Act because HUD is disproportionately selling FHA loans issued to African-American borrowers in New York City for homes in predominantly African American neighborhoods like St. Albans, Queens.
The lawsuit, filed in the Eastern District of New York, also challenges the actions of Lone Star Funds, the largest purchaser of mortgages sold through the HUD program. The lawsuit alleges that once Lone Star purchases the mortgages from HUD, it preys on the homeowners: the company makes false and misleading statements to the homeowners, refuses to offer homeowners loan modifications it is legally obligated to provide, and instead offers homeowners exploitative loan modifications that spell almost certain foreclosure for these borrowers down the line. The complaint also alleges that Lone Star violates the Fair Housing Act because its policies disproportionately impact African-American borrowers and predominantly African-American communities in New York City.
A federal court approved the settlement on behalf of New Yorkers who alleged fraudulent debt collection practices. The $60 million settlement in the case, captioned Sykes v. Mel S. Harris and Associates LLC, No. 09 Civ. 8486 (S.D.N.Y), is the largest ever of its kind. The settlement should also lead to the unprecedented vacating of approximately 195,000 court judgments and result in the forgiveness of over $1 billion in alleged debt. Plaintiffs’ lawsuit alleged that that Defendants used fraudulent practices to file debt collection lawsuits, obtain default judgments, and then collect on those judgments.
Judge Denny Chin found that the settlement is a “remarkable resolution” to “hard fought litigation” that will bring “extraordinarily meaningful benefits to tens of thousands of individuals.” He concludes that the settlement will have an “immediate and enormously positive impact on the lives of many.”