When the residents of Yorkshire Towers again filed suit against the MTA a few weeks ago, I cast a skeptical eye on their actions. The suit was remarkably similar to one that had been dismissed a few years ago. Only this time, the fact pattern hit upon subsequent meetings, and the provisions cited in the filing were from a different subparagraph of the law in question. The federal judge hearing the case is not amused by the similarities.
As Law360.com’s Richard Vanderford reported today (subscription only), U.S. District Judge Jesse M. Furman has threatened Joseph Ceccarelli, the residents’ attorney, with sanctions for potentially filing a “totally frivolous” lawsuit. Vanderford wrote:
Ceccarelli, who represents tenants, says the entrance has not gone through the proper environmental approval process. Another federal judge, U.S. District Judge Thomas Griesa, threw out similar claims in late 2011. Ceccarelli sued again in March, checking off a box on the cover page that said that he had never filed a similar suit, which meant the new case went to a new judge. Judge Furman said similar cases are supposed to go to the same judge, to prevent judge shopping.
“I am seriously contemplating the imposition of sanctions here on the grounds that the answer to that question was just false,” Judge Furman said. “Can you look at me in the eye and say this is not similar to the case filed before Judge Griesa?”
Ceccarelli said the new suit differed because his claim was based on a different subparagraph of the environmental law at issue.
Wednesday’s hearing was supposed to be about whether the judge would issue a court order blocking construction from going forward, but Judge Furman said he would consider the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s request to throw out the suit before handling any injunction request. If Ceccarelli loses again and the case is dismissed, the sanctions process will start and Ceccarelli will have to explain why he does not deserve that penalty, the judge said. “We don’t have to get there yet,” the judge said. “I’m just warning you that’s coming down the pike if I grant the motion.”
Sanctions would be a fitting end for this saga as Yorkshire Towers has now twice tried to stop subway construction over concerns surrounding their curb-cut driveway that fronts East 86th Street. It’s a direct NIMBY attack on a transit benefit that will provide great benefits to the neighborhood, and the second suit, coming two years after the first was dismissed, should be found of no merit.