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Federal Court Denies NYC’s Bid to Dismiss Lawsuit Over Summer 2020 Black Lives Matter Protests

For Immediate Release

July 10, 2021

Contact: David Rankin, 212-277-5825, 917-455-0609

J. Remy Green 312-203-8618, 929-88-89480

On July 10, 2021, United States District Judge Colleen McMahon issued a 45-page decision and order denying virtually all of the City of New York’s motion to dismiss claims in six federal civil rights lawsuits challenging the City’s and the NYPD’s brutal attacks on last summer’s Black Lives Matter protests and ongoing repressive response to protests. The Court has set the cases on a “rocket docket” schedule by which all discovery is to be done this year and trials are to take place in 2022.

In yesterday’s decision, the Court thoroughly rejected the City’s attempt at stopping or limiting the scope of the ongoing flagship class action, Sow v. City of New York, 21-CV-533, recognizing the Sow Plaintiffs had shown a “decades-old problem” involving widespread pattern of violating protesters’ constitutional rights. The decision leaves all of the Sow Plaintiffs’ substantive challenges to last summer’s police misconduct in place. Although the Court also dismissed a few of the claims against some of the individual Defendants, the lack of those claims will not reduce the force or scope of the lawsuit.

“We are pleased the court rejected the City’s attempt to dismiss this case finding that the plaintiffs have sufficiently pled a widespread pattern over many years of violating the constitutional rights of people exercising their First Amendment rights,” said Jonathan C. Moore, partner at Beldock Levine & Hoffman LLP, the firm who represented Eric Garner, members of the Central Park 5, and co-counseled Floyd, the stop-and-frisk litigation. Mr. Moore was lead counsel on the 2004 Republican National Convention class action, MacNamara, et al., v. City of New York, et al.

“The court recognized the evidence that the Police Department has been violating protesters’ rights for decades,” said David B. Rankin, partner at Beldock Levine & Hoffman, LLP.

“Significantly, the Court found we had shown that our clients, and other protesters in New York City, are likely to face future harm from NYPD members at protests because the type of misconduct we are challenging is so widespread, leaving in play our claims for injunctive relief. The Court also rejected the City’s arguments that its promises to change the NYPD’s response to protests in New York City have made those claims ‘moot’: ‘Defendants cannot sincerely assert that the challenged conduct cannot reasonably be expected to recur when it has, in fact, recurred.’ We look forward to continuing to pursue this case aggressively in the coming months,” said Gideon Orion Oliver, civil rights lawyer and past President of the National Lawyers Guild’s New York City Chapter.

“The court rightly rejected the NYPD’s tired line that policing without brutalizing protesters is too hard — and rightly called the argument that there is no longstanding violence problem in the NYPD “absurd.” Rather, Judge McMahon traced the NYPD’s practices through the decades that the City would rather we not remember, noting in particular that the NYPD promoted Chief Monahan after he lead abuses at the 2004 RNC, and he then “directed the use of the same strategies against the Mott Haven protesters on June 4, 2020,”” said J. Remy Green, partner at Cohen & Green, PLLC.

“This decision acknowledges what we have been litigating for decades, the NYPD have failed to learn from its prior mistakes concerning constitutionally compliant protest policing. Mayor DeBlasio only has a few months remaining to create a legacy of protecting First Amendment rights,” said Wylie Stecklow, a civil rights attorney litigating multiple failure to train lawsuits regarding protest policing against the NYPD.

Sow v. The City of New York is one of the consolidated actions in “In Re: New York City Policing During Summer 2020 Demonstrations” The Sow plaintiffs allege the widest class claims and are seeking ongoing reform to the City’s policies surrounding demonstrations. The other cases are Payne v. DeBlasio, 20-CV-8924, People v. City of New York, 21-CV-322, Sierra v. City of New York, 20-CV-10291, Wood v. De Blasio, 20-CV-10541, and Yates v. New York City, 21-CV-1904.

A copy of the Decision and Order is attached.

Sow MTD decision
Download PDF • 235KB


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