Southern District Extends Effort to Settle NYPD Cases

, New York Law Journal

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With some changes, the Southern District of New York has extended a pilot program designed to encourage the settlement of federal civil rights actions against the New York City Police Department.

See Notice to the Bar and the Plan.

The Pilot Plan for Certain §1983 Cases Against the City of New York was launched in June 2011, and effective Jan. 2 was extended for another calendar year. Meanwhile, the court has started the process to incorporate it into the district's Local Rules.

Judges and court officials have touted the plan, which focuses on cases alleging excessive force, false arrest or malicious prosecution, as a way to cut through the 1,500 to 1,600 pending police misconduct cases being defended by the city's Law Department.

The plan extends the city's obligation to answer a complaint to 80 days from the usual 21 days and postpones most discovery until after the parties have appeared before a magistrate judge to begin settlement talks or ask to be exempt. If neither occur, the parties go straight into mediation.

Initial disclosures in a case are made within 21 days of the department's answer, with the city having 28 days to turn over any history of disciplinary complaints against the police officer/defendant. Plaintiffs have six weeks after the answer to file a settlement demand the city must respond to in 14 days. Three months after the answer, the parties must appear before a mediator or a magistrate judge for settlement talks at which the Law Department is required to have a lawyer with authority to settle the case present in person or on the phone.

Some civil rights lawyers criticized the plan at a hearing held in June by Judge Paul Crotty, chair of the district's Ad Hoc Subcommittee on Section 1983 Cases (NYLJ, June 13, 2013).

One complaint was about a requirement that plaintiffs must serve a release for medical records with their §1983 complaints, as well as a release for any sealed arrest records and a list of prior arrests.

Some attorneys said the plan lacked parity because an equally timely disclosure was not required for police disciplinary histories. There was also criticism that the mediators were inexperienced in handling police misconduct cases and that the plan alters the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure while being weighted against plaintiffs.

But Crotty, who served as the city's corporation counsel from 1994 to 1997 and is well-versed in civil rights litigation against the city, defended the plan as a way of helping the court relieve a crowded docket and speed resolution of cases that can languish for years.

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