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Case Name Plaintiffs #1-21 v. The County of Suffolk PN-NY-0062
Docket / Court 2:15-cv-02431-WFK-LB ( E.D.N.Y. )
State/Territory New York
Case Type(s) Policing
Attorney Organization LatinoJustice PRLDEF
Case Summary
This is a case about the Suffolk County Police Department’s failure to investigate and eliminate discriminatory patterns and practices such as targeting Latinos for traffic and pedestrian stops, stealing their personal property, and engaging in harassing behavior. On April 29, 2015, the ... read more >
This is a case about the Suffolk County Police Department’s failure to investigate and eliminate discriminatory patterns and practices such as targeting Latinos for traffic and pedestrian stops, stealing their personal property, and engaging in harassing behavior. On April 29, 2015, the plaintiffs, twenty Latino residents of Suffolk County, New York, filed this class action lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York. The plaintiffs sued the County of Suffolk, the Suffolk County Police Department, and various individual police officers and officials under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Represented by LatinoJustice PRLDEF and private counsel, the plaintiffs sought injunctive and declaratory relief as well as damages. The plaintiffs claimed the county and police department showed deliberate indifference to the plaintiffs’ rights by failing to remedy the practice of conducting race-based stops and searches in violation of the Fourth, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendments.

The case was initially assigned to Judge Arthur D. Spatt. However, on April 11, 2018, Judge Spatt recused himself and the case was reassigned to Judge Joan M. Azrack and Magistrate Judge Gary R. Brown. Finally, on March 25, 2019, the case was reassigned to Judge William F. Kuntz, II, and Magistrate Judge Lois Bloom.

In their lawsuit, the plaintiffs alleged the police department failed to adopt reforms—such as implementing a system to collect traffic stop data and investigating complaints of officer misconduct in a timely manner—despite a settlement agreement that the Department of Justice entered into with the police department in 2013. The settlement resulted from a 2007 event where a group of teenagers in Suffolk County calling themselves the “Caucasian Crew” murdered an Ecuadorian immigrant. Following the murder, Latino residents began voicing complaints of discriminatory policing. In response, the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York began an investigation into the police department’s practices. The resulting limited settlement agreement outlined recommendations for new policies and procedures and was to remain in effect until the police department substantially complied with the agreement for at least one year. The Department of Justice had completed its most recent assessment report in December 2019 and found that the police department was not in substantial compliance with the settlement agreement.

While the Department of Justice conducted its investigation into the practices of the police department, a police officer named as a defendant in the plaintiff’s lawsuit both individually and in his official capacity was perpetrating a years-long scheme wherein he conducted race-based traffic stops and then stole money from the stopped drivers. In 2016, a jury found this officer guilty of theft and official misconduct and he was sentenced to three years in prison. The plaintiffs alleged that other officers in the police department perpetrated similar stop-and-rob schemes and that the county and police department failed to investigate and eliminate such discriminatory practices despite being aware of the department’s pattern of biased policing for years.

The plaintiffs filed an amended complaint on May 18, 2015, to correct the spelling of a police officer defendant’s last name. The county, police department, and the individual defendants still employed by the police department filed an answer on November 4, 2015, and the officer in prison filed an answer on his own behalf on May 29, 2019. That officer also filed a crossclaim against the county and police department for failing to represent him in the lawsuit, and he filed a counterclaim against the plaintiffs. The county and police department filed an answer to that crossclaim on June 7, 2019, and the plaintiffs filed an answer to the counterclaim on June 19, 2019.

On October 14, 2015, Judge Spatt granted the plaintiffs’ motion to proceed anonymously, because the plaintiffs demonstrated reasonable fear of retaliation and harassment by police officers still employed by the police department. Judge Spatt also stayed discovery relating to the officer in prison until his criminal case was resolved. Judge Brown lifted the stay on July 26, 2016.

For the next five years, the parties engaged in discovery. Then, on July 15, 2020, the plaintiffs filed a motion for class certification for damages and injunctive relief. The plaintiffs sought to define the damages class as “all Latino or Latina persons who, from January 2012 to the date of a final judgment, were unlawfully ticketed, searched, arrested, or otherwise subject to unlawful police action, including the unlawful deprivation of personal property, following a vehicular or pedestrian stop or detention by an agent of the Suffolk County Police Department in the county of Suffolk.” The plaintiffs also sought injunctive relief in the form of a preliminary and permanent injunction requiring the police department to cease discriminatory conduct and adopt policies to prevent discriminatory conduct in the future. The plaintiffs sought to define the injunctive relief class as “[a]ll Latino or Latina persons who, at any time after January 2012, have been or in the future will be subject to a vehicular or pedestrian stop or detention by an agent of the Suffolk County Police Department in the county of Suffolk.” Judge Kuntz referred the motion for class certification to the Honorable Magistrate Judge Lois Bloom.

Regarding the class certification motion, Judge Bloom filed a Report & Recommendation on March 12, 2021, finding the plaintiffs met the threshold requirements for class certification. 2021 WL 1255011. Judge Bloom recommended the plaintiffs’ class be certified for injunctive relief but not for monetary damages, because an injunction to reform the police department’s policies and practices would benefit the entire class whereas an award of damages would require an individual inquiry into the harm each plaintiff suffered. On April 5, 2021, Judge Kuntz adopted Judge Bloom’s Report & Recommendation and certified the injunctive class as the plaintiffs had sought. 2021 WL 1254408.

Along with their motion for class certification, the plaintiffs requested an adverse inference that the defendants failed to adequately collect and analyze traffic stop data in an effort to shield the police department’s practice and pattern of biased policing against Latinos. In the alternative, the plaintiffs requested a rebuttable presumption that the uncollected traffic stop data would have shown that race-based “traffic stops, searches, tickets, arrests, and/or wrongful deprivations of property” were part of the police department’s traffic-stop practices. In an order on August 5, 2021, Judge Kuntz denied the plaintiff’s request for an adverse inference, because the plaintiffs did not allege the defendants destroyed harmful evidence but only that they failed to collect evidence to avoid liability. However, Judge Kuntz granted the plaintiffs’ request for a rebuttable presumption that the uncollected data would have shown biased policing practices, explaining that the defendants should not be allowed to benefit from failing to maintain adequate records.

Meanwhile, on October 16, 2020, the police department, county, and all individual defendants not including the imprisoned officer filed a motion for summary judgment. The plaintiffs filed a reply in opposition to the motion on October 20, 2020.

Judge Kuntz issued an order regarding the motion for summary judgment on August 5, 2021. The defendants had asserted that the plaintiffs failed to show municipal liability under § 1983. Additionally, the defendants argued that the DOJ could have initiated court action against the county in response to a breach of the settlement agreement, and so the Department of Justice’s choice not to initiate court action shows that no such breach occurred. However, Judge Kuntz noted that other factors, such as limited resources, affected which cases the Department of Justice pursued in court and held that the plaintiffs provided sufficient evidence to support a theory of ongoing biased policing practices stemming from the county’s policies. Second, Judge Kuntz denied the defendants’ motion for summary judgment concerning the county’s liability under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, because the plaintiffs showed sufficient evidence to support a theory that the county was aware of its discriminatory policies and showed deliberate indifference to the discriminatory practices that resulted. Third, the defendants moved for summary judgment concerning the supervisory liability of the police deputy chief and the police commissioner. Judge Kuntz denied the motion because the plaintiffs asserted the defendant supervisors received complaints of the discriminatory policing practices but failed to interview the complainants for almost six months. Judge Kuntz also rejected the defendants’ claim of qualified immunity for the supervisors because factual disputes existed about whether it was objectively reasonable for the defendant supervisors to believe their actions were lawful.

Finally, the defendants moved for summary judgment regarding the plaintiffs’ request for a declaratory judgment under the Declaratory Judgment Act, asserting that the plaintiffs’ rights were violated only by the imprisoned officer and that their rights would not be violated in the future because he was no longer an officer with the police department. Judge Kuntz denied the motion because the plaintiffs showed evidence of ongoing constitutional violations. Judge Kuntz granted the defendants’ motion to dismiss the imprisoned officer’s cross-claim against the county and police department for failing to provide him with representation, because defendants do not have a right to representation in civil suits.

The case is ongoing.

Laura Irei - 11/11/2021


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Issues and Causes of Action
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Issues
Constitutional Clause
Due Process
Due Process: Procedural Due Process
Equal Protection
Unreasonable search and seizure
Defendant-type
Jurisdiction-wide
Law-enforcement
Discrimination-basis
Immigration status
National origin discrimination
Race discrimination
General
Failure to discipline
Failure to supervise
Failure to train
Inadequate citizen complaint investigations and procedures
Pattern or Practice
Racial profiling
Record-keeping
Search policies
National Origin/Ethnicity
Hispanic
Plaintiff Type
Private Plaintiff
Causes of Action 42 U.S.C. § 1983
Declaratory Judgment Act, 28 U.S.C. § 2201
Title VI, Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000d et seq.
Defendant(s) Suffolk County Police Department
The County of Suffolk
Plaintiff Description Twenty Latino residents of Suffolk County, New York, who experienced racial profiling by Suffolk County police officers.
Indexed Lawyer Organizations LatinoJustice PRLDEF
Class action status sought Yes
Class action status outcome Granted
Filed Pro Se No
Prevailing Party None Yet / None
Public Int. Lawyer Yes
Nature of Relief None yet
Source of Relief None yet
Filed 04/29/2015
Case Ongoing Yes
Additional Resources
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  See this case at CourtListener.com (May provide additional documents and, for active cases, real-time alerts)
  J/J Doe Plaintiffs #1-21, Individually and O/B/O All Others
LatinoJustice PRLDEF
Date: Apr. 29, 2015
By: Latino Justice
[ Detail ] [ External Link ]

Court Docket(s)
E.D.N.Y.
09/07/2021
2:15-cv-02431-WFK-LB
PN-NY-0062-9000.pdf | Detail
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
General Documents
E.D.N.Y.
04/29/2015
Complaint [ECF# 1 & 1-1]
PN-NY-0062-0001.pdf | Detail
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
E.D.N.Y.
05/18/2015
First Amended Complaint [ECF# 21]
PN-NY-0062-0004.pdf | Detail
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
E.D.N.Y.
05/18/2015
First Amended Complaint [ECF# 21]
PN-NY-0062-0007.pdf | Detail
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
E.D.N.Y.
03/12/2021
Report and Recommendation [ECF# 318]
PN-NY-0062-0002.pdf | Detail
Source: District Court
E.D.N.Y.
04/05/2021
Order [ECF# 319]
PN-NY-0062-0003.pdf | Detail
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
E.D.N.Y.
08/04/2021
Memorandum & Order [ECF# 322]
PN-NY-0062-0006.pdf | Detail
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
show all people docs
Judges Bloom, Lois S. (E.D.N.Y.) [Magistrate] show/hide docs
PN-NY-0062-0002 | PN-NY-0062-9000
Kuntz, William Francis II (E.D.N.Y.) show/hide docs
PN-NY-0062-0003 | PN-NY-0062-0006 | PN-NY-0062-9000
Plaintiff's Lawyers Alicea, James Robert (New York) show/hide docs
PN-NY-0062-9000
Bench, Zach (New York) show/hide docs
PN-NY-0062-0001 | PN-NY-0062-0004 | PN-NY-0062-0007 | PN-NY-0062-9000
Brennan, Katherine Mallory Tosch (Texas) show/hide docs
PN-NY-0062-9000
Brown, Courtney M (New York) show/hide docs
PN-NY-0062-9000
Cartagena, Juan (New York) show/hide docs
PN-NY-0062-0001 | PN-NY-0062-0004 | PN-NY-0062-0007 | PN-NY-0062-9000
Chin, Jackson (New York) show/hide docs
PN-NY-0062-9000
Cuevas Ingram, Joanna Elise (New York) show/hide docs
PN-NY-0062-9000
DiMaio, Elan K (New York) show/hide docs
PN-NY-0062-0001 | PN-NY-0062-0004 | PN-NY-0062-0007 | PN-NY-0062-9000
Edelman, Scott (New York) show/hide docs
PN-NY-0062-9000
Lamberg-Kafele, Heather (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
PN-NY-0062-0001 | PN-NY-0062-0004 | PN-NY-0062-0007 | PN-NY-0062-9000
Lovin, Sam (New York) show/hide docs
PN-NY-0062-9000
Maer, Foster (New York) show/hide docs
PN-NY-0062-0001 | PN-NY-0062-0004 | PN-NY-0062-0007 | PN-NY-0062-9000
Marcou, David Samuel (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
PN-NY-0062-9000
Miller, Atara (New York) show/hide docs
PN-NY-0062-9000
Mirdamadi, Michael Ehson (New York) show/hide docs
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Olshansky, Barbara J. (New York) show/hide docs
PN-NY-0062-9000
Paslawsky, Alexandra (New York) show/hide docs
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Perez, Jose-Luis (New York) show/hide docs
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Segarra, Esperanza (New York) show/hide docs
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Trasande, Nancy Milagros (New York) show/hide docs
PN-NY-0062-0001 | PN-NY-0062-0004 | PN-NY-0062-0007 | PN-NY-0062-9000
Vargas-De Leon, Fulvia (New York) show/hide docs
PN-NY-0062-9000
Vasquez, Jorge Luis (New York) show/hide docs
PN-NY-0062-9000
Villaverde, Mark DAvid (California) show/hide docs
PN-NY-0062-9000
Defendant's Lawyers Furshpan, Daniel E (New York) show/hide docs
PN-NY-0062-9000
Kobos, Dana (New York) show/hide docs
PN-NY-0062-9000
Lopez, L Adriana (New York) show/hide docs
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Mitchell, Brian C. (New York) show/hide docs
PN-NY-0062-9000
O'Donnell, Megan E (New York) show/hide docs
PN-NY-0062-9000
Spencer, Jessica M (New York) show/hide docs
PN-NY-0062-9000
Wood, Kyle O (New York) show/hide docs
PN-NY-0062-9000

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