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Pro Bono Q&A: Davis, et al. v. City of New York

Litigation associates Elana Beale and Erin Elmouji are members of the Paul, Weiss team (which also includes partner Michele Hirshman) that secured a settlement agreement to end the New York City Police Department's improper and unlawful enforcement of criminal trespass laws in public housing.

In this Q&A, Elana and Erin share details about the firm's work on the settlement and its significance.

Davis team responses to Q&A:

Q:       The Paul, Weiss team and our co-counsel, Legal Aid and LDF, filed a lawsuit on behalf of a putative class of residents and guests of NYCHA residences, challenging the City's alleged policy and practice of unlawfully stopping and arresting residents and invited guests in NYCHA residences on suspicion of trespass.  Tell us about the scope of the lawsuit and the relief that you sought.

A:        This suit was brought on behalf of the more than 400,000 residents and invited guests in NYCHA residences, and challenged an alleged pattern and practice whereby NYPD officers in NYCHA residences would, in a discriminatory manner, detain individuals on suspicion of trespass without reasonable suspicion, and arrest individuals for trespass without probable cause.  The suit further alleged that through its policies and practices, NYCHA was complicit in this conduct, which interfered with residents' ability to use and enjoy their homes, and accommodate guests. 

In this suit, plaintiffs sought both large-scale reforms of NYPD and NYCHA policies and practices related to trespass enforcement in NYCHA residences, and individual damages for past injuries suffered by the class representatives.

Q:       What impact did the alleged policies and practices have on our client's lives?

A:        Our individual clients were subject to unjustified stops and arrests for trespass themselves, or had their visitors stopped or arrested, for such innocent conduct as sitting outside their own apartments chatting with friends, waiting in the lobby for a friend to walk them home, and visiting friends and family members in NYCHA residences.  Their stories are shocking to many New Yorkers who would find it difficult to imagine being treated this way in their own homes.  Perhaps most shocking of all was that, as the evidence in this case demonstrated, these stories were not at all uncommon in NYCHA residences across the City.  These stops and arrests also resulted in real injuries suffered by our clients, including missing days of work in connection with the incident and losing necessary credentials and licenses that affected their livelihoods.

Through numerous rounds of summary judgment briefing, plaintiffs presented factual evidence detailing frequent unwarranted stops and arrests of both class representatives and class members at NYCHA developments in every borough.  Declarations from individuals and community groups attested to police practices that targeted racial minorities for stops and arrests, purportedly on the basis of trespassing.

Among the allegations in the case were claims that residents were denied free ingress and egress to and from their homes by these enforcement practices, and that they were denied the ability to accommodate guests, because their invited guests were being subjected to unlawful stops and arrests under the challenged policy. 

Q:       There are two other lawsuits dealing with policing practices in NYC -Floyd et al. v. City of New York, 08-CV-1034 (S.D.N.Y.) and Ligon et al. v. City of New York, 12 Civ. 2274 (S.D.N.Y.)- can you explain how the Davis case fits in with the other two lawsuits, and what is the status of those matters?

A:       Floyd et al. v. City of New York, 08-CV-1034 (S.D.N.Y.) is a class action which challenged the NYPD's stop and frisk policies and practices on a city-wide scale on the basis that they were discriminatory.  A trial from March to May 2013, resulted in a verdict for plaintiffs, and an order appointing a monitor to oversee a comprehensive remedial process addressing the NYPD's stop and frisk policies and practices.  This remedial process has recently gotten underway. 

Ligon et al. v. City of New York, 12 Civ. 2274 (S.D.N.Y.), a related case to the Floyd action, was brought as a putative class action against the City on behalf of individuals at risk of being unlawfully stopped or arrested for trespass in and around private residential buildings whose owners contracted with the NYPD to perform security services (such buildings are enrolled in the City's "Trespass Affidavit Program"). Ligon joined the remedies portion of the Floyd trial, and will participate in the comprehensive remedial process ordered in that case.

Davis is also a related case to Floyd, and in scope it is in some ways narrower and in some ways more expansive than the Floyd matter.  Unlawful stops and frisks based on trespass in NYCHA residences fall within Floyd's scope, however Davis also encompasses wrongful arrests, which are not covered by Floyd.  As a term of our settlement agreement with the City, Davis plaintiffs are participating as full parties in Floyd's remedial process, which will be expanded to encompass Davis­-specific issues, such as trespass-related arrests.

Q:       The clients, both the individual representative plaintiffs and the plaintiff class, recently reached a settlement with NYC in the Davis litigation.  Can you explain what remedies are included in the settlement?  And how the settlement will affect the residents of NYC public housing?

A:        The settlement includes the following remedial relief, agreed upon by the City, NYCHA and plaintiffs:

  • A number of changes to the NYPD Patrol Guide 212-60, a NYPD policy document that instructs officers on how they should patrol inside NYCHA residences, that instructs officers how to conduct interior or "vertical" patrols of NYCHA residences in a manner that respects the rights of NYCHA residents and their authorized visitors;
  • A number of changes to the NYPD's training materials, which are used in the Police Academy for (1) new recruits and instructs them how to conduct interior ("vertical") patrols in NYCHA residences, and (2) for officers assigned to the Housing Bureau that instructs them how to enforce NYCHA House Rules;
  • The new requirement that NYPD officers must file a Trespass Crimes Fact Sheet every time he or she makes a trespass arrest in a NYCHA residence;
  • Changes to certain provisions of the NYCHA House Rules, including residents' cooperation with the police and the definition of the prohibited activity of "lingering"; and
  • Participation in the Floyd remedial process, including a court-ordered monitoring process.

We hope this settlement will have a significant, positive effect on the day-to-day lives of residents of NYC public housing.  As our co-counsel Seymour James Jr., Attorney-in-Chief of the Legal Aid Society, described the preliminary settlement: "This agreement strikes the right balance between safety in NYCHA developments and the rights of residents and their guests to be free from harassment and unlawful arrests," and "We are eager to begin the process that will ensure better security, and better police services, for public housing residents."

At the same time, we are mindful that much work remains, and as co-counsel Sherrilyn Ifill, President and Director-Counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, remarked, that the "settlement is an important step forward in the struggle for more equitable policing, but it is just the beginning.  The real work lies ahead as we partner with others to reform the NYPD through the court-ordered monitoring process."

Q:       Did the settlement end the matter for our clients?

A:        Once it was formally approved, this case was technically dismissed by the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, and our clients' individual damages claims were resolved.  The court, however, continues to oversee the case in terms of the court-ordered monitoring process, and our clients are also participating in that process.

Q:       What has the case meant to you, the clients, and the team of lawyers working on it?

A:        This is a difficult question to answer, particularly due to the case's scope and duration.  Over 100 Paul, Weiss team members have contributed to Davis in some capacity at some point throughout the course of the five-year litigation.  Throughout the course of the representation, the lawyers and staff members repeatedly had to wrestle with tough questions, including how this City can enforce both federal and state laws while balancing public safety with each New Yorker's right to feel at ease within his or her own home.  This case brought to the surface hard questions of civil rights and public safety for everyone involved.

That all being said, it is not often that lawyers are able to identify an existing injustice and then successfully remedy it.  In Paul, Weiss's Statement of Firm Principles, Judge Simon H. Rifkind wrote in 1963 that the firm is "sensitive to the fact that we practice in New York City, which is a pluralistic community and the major international and financial center of the Western world."  Davis, a case about preserving and bettering New York City's pluralistic community, exemplifies this firm's tremendous commitment to public service and pro bono work.

July 6, 2015

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