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Stinson v. City of New York

United States District Court, S.D. New York

June 7, 2017


          Attorneys for Plaintiffs COHEN & FITCH LLP By: Gerald M. Cohen, Esq. Joshua P. Fitch, Esq., THE LAW OFFICES OF JON L. NORlNSBERG PLLC, By: Jon L. Norisberg, Esq., QUINN EMANUEL URQUHART & SULLIVAN, LLP 51 Madison Avenue New York, NY 10010 By: Stephen Neuwirth, Esq. Elinor C. Sutton, Esq.

          Attorney for Defendants ZACHARY W. CARTER, By: Rachel Seligman Weiss, Esq.


          ROBERT W. SWEET U.S.D.J.

         This civil rights class action is the paradigm of change and progress achievable in a society undergirded by the rule of law. Skilled and dedicated counsel for the parties, aided by a highly experienced and pragmatic mediator, have reached a resolution benefitting all concerned. The strongly held positions, vigorously litigated and, initially, diametrically opposed, have been illuminated by facts developed in the discovery process and resolved. Thanks to the skill of those involved and a concerned administration, those injured will be compensated, police procedures will be clarified and strengthened, and the rights of all citizens will be fortified through what has been represented as the largest settlement of Fourth Amendment claims in New York City history.

         To that end, named Plaintiffs Sharif Stinson, Ryburn Walkes, Gary Shaw, Michael Bennett, Chanel Meausa, David Thomson, Jeremy Thames, Leander Griffin, Ricardo Jones, and Victor Breland (collectively, "Class Representatives" or "Plaintiffs"), on behalf of themselves and the Class[1], have moved for orders (i) granting final approval of the proposed settlement (the "Settlement") with the City of New York ("NYC"), Raymond Kelly ("Kelly"), the former Commissioner of the New York Police Department ("NYPD"), and unnamed New York City Police Officers (collectively, "Defendants"); (ii) the award of service payments to the Class Representatives; and (iii) the granting of attorneys' fees and expenses. For the reasons set forth below, Plaintiffs' motion is granted.

         I. Prior Proceedings

         The procedural history and factual background of this lengthy and intensely litigated class action has been set forth in prior opinions by this Court. See e.g., Stinson v. City of N.Y., 282 F.R.D. 360, 364-67 (S.D.N.Y. 2012) (laying out of the allegations and factual background of the case); Stinson v. City of N.Y., No. 10 Civ. 4228, 2015 WL 4610422 (S.D.N.Y. July 23, 2015) (detailing stages of the discovery process); Stinson v. City of N.Y., No. 10 Civ. 4228, 2016 WL 817445 (S.D.N.Y. Feb. 24, 2016) (describing multiple motions to unseal). Familiarity with this case's general background is assumed.

         The instant action concerns hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers who, over the course of many years, were issued summonses later dismissed after a finding of facial insufficiency or were ticketed without probable cause. The Plaintiff Class is defined as "the Class Representatives and all other individuals who were issued C Summonses by the NYPD that were later dismissed upon a judicial finding of facial or legal insufficiency by the court prior to trial, and whose C Summonses were issued without probable cause during the Class Period [May 25, 2007 through January 24, 2017]." (Declaration of Gerald M. Cohen dated April 14, 2017 ("Cohen Decl."), Ex. D at ¶ 1.32, Dkt. 327); see also Stinson, 282 F.R.D. at 363 (defining and certifying class).

         During 2015 and 2016, the parties met with retired Southern District of New York District Judge John S. Martin to meditate and try to reach a settlement. The first full-day mediation session in August 2015 was unsuccessful. (Pls.' Mem. in Supp. at 7-8.) After an additional year of discovery and motion practice, the parties engaged Judge Martin for a series of meditation sessions throughout August 2016. (Id.) These sessions culminated on August 22, 2016 with an agreement between the parties as to a final Class Fund figure and general outline of remedial measured to be taken by the NYPD. (Pls.' Mem. in Supp. at 8.) Subsequent meetings, often with assistance from Judge Martin, resulted in determining proposed amounts for attorneys' fees, expense reimbursements, the notice and proof of claims language, and claims procedures. (Pls.' Mem. in Supp. at 9.)

         On January 23, 2017, both parties requested preliminary approval of the Settlement, notice plan, and appointment of Rust Consulting as the Settlement claims administrator. (Dkt. 319.) The Court granted preliminary approval of the proposed Settlement on January 24, 2017, (Dkt. 320), which was amended with approval on January 30, 2017, (Dkt. 322).

         The proposed Settlement contains both monetary and nonmonetary benefits to the Class. Within seventy-five days of the Settlement's final approval, NYC will create a fund for the Class that will contain $56.5 million (the "Class Fund"), from which any service awards for Class Representatives and expense costs in the administration of the Class Fund would be drawn.[2](Cohen Decl., Ex. D at ¶¶ 5.1, 6.4, 6.5.) The remaining Class Fund will be distributed pro rata to eligible claimants on a per summons incident basis with a maximum payout of $150 per summons. (Cohen Decl., Ex. D at ¶ 7.2.) A separate and additional $18.5 million is to be paid to Class Counsel by NYC for attorneys' fees and expense. (Cohen Decl., Ex. D at ¶ 5.1.)

         In addition, the NYPD has stated that within three to twelve months of the Settlement's final approval, the NYPD will undertake remedial measures related to quotas, including: sending Department-wide communications informing officers that quotas and other numeric measures of performance are improper and subject to investigation by the NYPD's Internal Affairs Bureau; revising the training new NYPD recruits receive with regard to quotas and teaching recruits how to report observed issues without fear of reprisal; and improving public relations by simplifying the process for individuals who receive summons to identify officers responsible and for voicing complaints about summons if individuals believe the summons was issued unfairly.[3] (Cohen Decl., Ex. D at 6-8.)

         Following preliminary approval, a total of 922, 316 copies of the Notice and Proof of Claim ("Notices") were mailed to potential Class members after reviewing records provided by the New York Office of Court Administration. (Cohen Decl., Ex. F.) At the time of the Fairness Hearing, five objections had been filed and thirty individuals had opted-out of the Settlement.[4](Fairness Hr'g Tr. 48:9-10, May 24, 2017.)

         On April 14, 2017, Plaintiffs moved for final approval of the Settlement, service payments to Class Representatives, and granting of attorneys' fees and expenses. (Dkt. 324.) On May 24, 2017, a Fairness Hearing was held pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 23(e)(2), at which time counsel from both sides spoke, objections to the proposed Settlement were heard, and the motion was marked fully submitted.

         II. Applicable Standard

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23(e) provides that "claims, issues, or defenses of a certified class may be settled, voluntarily dismissed, or compromised only with the court's approval." Fed.R.Civ.P. 23(e). The Court may approve a settlement "only after a hearing and on finding that the settlement ... is fair, reasonable, and adequate." Cent. States Se. & Sw. Areas Health & Welfare Fund v. Merck-Medco Managed Care, L.L.C., 504 F.3d 229, 247 (2d Cir. 2007) (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 23(e)(1)(C)). To determine whether a settlement is fair, reasonable, and adequate, the Second Circuit instructs district courts to examine "the negotiating process leading up to the settlement, i.e., procedural fairness, as well as the settlement's substantive terms, i.e., substantive fairness." McReynolds v. Richards-Cantave, 588 F.3d 790, 803-04 (2d Cir. 2009) (quoting D'Amato v. Deutsche Bank, 236 F.3d 78, 85 (2d Cir. 2001)) (internal quotation marks and alternations omitted). Underlying the court's analysis is a "strong judicial policy in favor of settlements, particularly in the class action context." Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. v. Visa U.S.A., Inc., 396 F.3d 96, 116 (2d Cir. 2005) (citations omitted).

         III. The Proposed Settlement is Approved

         i. The Settlement is Procedurally Fair

         There is a presumption of fairness when settlements are "reached in arm's-length negotiations between experienced, capable counsel after meaningful discovery." Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 396 F.3d at 116 (citation omitted). This presumption is well-grounded here. The parties are represented by competent, experienced counsel who engaged in over six years of discovery and contentious motion practice, addressing matters both before this Court and the Second Circuit. See Stinson, 282 F.R.D. at 371-72; (discussing the litigation experience of Plaintiffs' counsel); (Pls.' Mem. in Supp. at 5-7). The proposed Settlement was only reached at the tail-end of discovery and on the eve of summary judgment, after multiple arm's-length mediation sessions with Judge Martin, all of which further supports finding procedural fairness in the process. (See Cohen Decl., Ex. E at 2; Pls.' Mem. in Supp. at 7-8, 25.) Accordingly, the proposed Settlement is procedurally fair.

         ii. The Settlement is Substantively Fair

         In the Second Circuit, substantive fairness is evaluated by considering the nine factors set forth in City of Detroit v. Grinnell Corp.:

(1) the complexity, expense and likely duration of the litigation; (2) the reaction of the class to the settlement; (3) the stage of the proceedings and the amount of discovery completed; (4) the risks of establishing liability; (5) the risks of establishing damages; (6) the risks of maintaining the class action through the trial; (7) the ability of the defendants to withstand a greater judgment; (8) the range of reasonableness of the settlement fund in light of the best possible recovery; [and] (9) the range of reasonableness of the settlement fund to a possible recovery in light of all the attendant risks of litigation.

495 F.2d 448, 463 (2d Cir. 1974) (citations omitted), abrogated on other grounds by Goldberger v. Integrated Res., Inc., 209 ...

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