Friday, September 16, 2016

Judge rules that class-action suit involving drivers ensnared in Bridgegate closures can proceed

A federal judge will allow a scaled down class-action lawsuit to proceed to trial on behalf of commuters and taxi drivers who were stalled in traffic when access lanes to the George Washington Bridge were closed without notice in 2013.

Peter J. Samson reports for The Record:

U.S. District Judge Jose L. Linares, in a 66-page opinion filed in Newark on Thursday, granted in part and denied in part motions by the state, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey and four other defendants to dismiss the claims outlined in a second amended complaint against them.

Linares concluded that five counts relating to violations of constitutional rights and civil conspiracy were sufficiently alleged to proceed to trial.

He dismissed five other counts, including racketeering, consumer fraud, and breach of contract, which failed to state a valid claim.

Michael J. Epstein, a Rochelle Park attorney representing the plaintiffs, welcomed the ruling Friday and said it sets the stage for a meeting in November with the judge to discuss the exchange of evidence in the case.

“We’re very satisfied and pleased with the court’s ruling that we can proceed with discovery in this case to vindicate the class representatives’ and class members’ violations of their civil rights,” Epstein said.

“The court recognizes at this stage that our claims … for violations of civil rights under both federal and state law can move forward,” he said.

Two class action suits, filed in the wake of the lane closures, were consolidated and later dismissed by the court for lacking substantive facts concerning each defendant’s role. The plaintiffs were allowed to amend their complaint.

The plaintiffs, including individual commuters and several taxi and car services, propose to represent a class of thousands who were forced to “suffer extreme traffic delays and to be confined to their cars, waste gas, lose time and sustain other economic losses” when they traveled in or around Fort Lee and attempted to access the bridge between Sept. 8 and Sept. 13, 2013.

Among those named as defendants in the suit are Bill Baroni, Bridget Anne Kelly and David Wildstein, three former allies of Governor Christie charged with conspiracy and other crimes in a scheme to create gridlock in Fort Lee to punish its mayor for not endorsing Christie for reelection.

Opening statements in the trial of Kelly, a former deputy chief of staff to Christie, and Baroni, a former deputy executive director of the Port Authority, are set for Monday in federal court in Newark.

Wildstein, also a former Christie appointee to the Port Authority, pleaded guilty in the scheme and is the government’s star witness.

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