Home Second Avenue Subway Judge threatens to sanction Yorkshire Towers attorney

Judge threatens to sanction Yorkshire Towers attorney

by Benjamin Kabak

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.

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alen April 25, 2013 - 4:33 pm

OMG, the common people will be close to their building

Roxie April 25, 2013 - 4:38 pm

N-nooo!!! NOT THE POORS!!! ANYTHING BUT POOR PEOPLE NEAR OUR BUILDING!!! *melts into a puddle like the wicked witch*

Alex April 25, 2013 - 5:10 pm

And poor in this case = makes less than 250k.

SEAN April 25, 2013 - 7:50 pm

No! Not that, anything but that!

MetroDerp April 25, 2013 - 4:39 pm

Oh god, why on earth are they doing DC Metro-style entrances? One of the charms of the New York and Boston subways (at least to my thinking) has been the traditional entrances they use.

Chris C April 25, 2013 - 5:07 pm

Which are often totally impractical for anyone who is not 100% physically fit or carrying luggage or with children.

From the designs I saw in the previous thread on this topic the entrances looked quite discrete.

Charm has its place but not in C21 subway entrances

Hank April 25, 2013 - 5:29 pm

Agreed. The ADA-imposed requirements are onerous, and the 86th st. entrance designs, while not perfect, are a good attempt NOT to have them be stand-alone collossus’

John-2 April 25, 2013 - 5:52 pm

Just as long as there’s a stairway option included in the design. The killer on passenger flow for WMATA was their decision to forego stairs completely in most case, both from platform to fare control level and from fare control to the street (I’d actually be more disposed to the Yorkshire Towers’ gripes if the MTA does fail to provide enough street-to-fare-control capacity and you end up with long AM rush hour lines at the entrances in front of the building, because an escalator is under perpetual repair and there’s not enough added stairway capacity between the mezzanine and the street).

SEAN April 25, 2013 - 9:13 pm

Does that meen when you exit the station you have a stairway to heaven? Sorry, I couldn’t get that thaught out of my head.

Guest April 25, 2013 - 5:05 pm

Question regarding Yorkshire Towers scaffolding: Ben do you know if the existing scaffolding in front of Yorkshire Towers (presumably to address local law 11) has disrupted and or delayed construction of the SAS? Just a hunch that Yorkshire Tower has either purposely left up the scaffolding or erected it at such time to delay/ interfere with SAS construction. Thanks for any feedback.

Berk32 April 25, 2013 - 5:44 pm

I doubt the Building Dept. would grant a permit to allow the scaffolding if they would interfere with other ongoing work.

Isaac B April 27, 2013 - 8:58 pm

The scaffolding is an interesting feature to note. A few months back, the papers ran stories about how awful and “tunnel like” 86th & 2nd was and how homeless people were camping under the scaffold (there was also a stabbing), while leaving out that the scaffold is Yorkshire’s, not the SAS’s.

ADAM April 25, 2013 - 6:22 pm

The Food Emporium is closing May 31st , anyone know who will occupy that space?

SEAN April 25, 2013 - 7:48 pm


petey April 28, 2013 - 11:14 am

no a fairway opened recently catty-corner almost from the emporium.

SEAN April 28, 2013 - 4:01 pm

Actually I was joking since fairway has been on a growth spirt as of late.

Ron April 25, 2013 - 9:46 pm

Another walgreens, or perhaps an expansion of Trader Joe’s


SEAN April 25, 2013 - 7:58 pm

The Yorkshire Towers smackdown should be a warnning to other property owners & their lawyers when the SAS is extended. Judges won’t take to kindly when they refer back to the YT cases for pressident.

MichaelB April 25, 2013 - 9:30 pm

I realize this is way off topic for this post, but I am wondering if someone can answer a question that’s been bugging me for a while: Why does phase 3 of the Second Avenue Subway seem so much more ambitious than 1, 2, or 4? Is it politics, or funding or something? It’s the longest and has the most stations and with most of the tunneling for phase 2 already done probably would cost more than 1 and 2 put together. So why split it like that?

alen April 26, 2013 - 9:43 am

you baby step a project to get it built. Its always too expensive for the full project you want to build and people are always wary of the benefits. so you build part of it, but build enough infrastructure to make later phases easier to build.

by phase 3 people will see the benefits and will have no problem funding it

Andrew Smith April 26, 2013 - 11:09 am

I applaud this step but it’s sad this is a) so rare and b) so mild.

I’d love to amend bar rules such that any lawyer who lost more than 50% of the civil suits he launched got disbarred. Two addenda:

1. No disbarment before 5 losses (to allow rookies to develop skill and prevent a first-case loss from destroying a career.

2. Settlements count proportionately. i.e. A settlement for 50% has no effect on record. A settlement for 75% is half a win. A settlement for 25% is half a loss.

Andre L. April 26, 2013 - 6:06 pm

Do you realize your rule would have disbarred most lawyers who fought hard in the 1940 and early 1950s against racial segregation and those who fought in the 1970s against workplace sex harassment?

Do you realize the enormous chilling effect that would have on lawyers that take unpopular ground-breaking cases?

It would just fossilize the judicial system and the possibility of people to fight all kinds of injustices that are below the constitutionality level.

Andrew Smith May 1, 2013 - 11:42 am

Too late, yes, I went on a short trip:

1. The solutions was not seriously intended. I actually think an easier solution to frivolous lawsuits would be to adopt the rule that nearly every other country has: loser pays the legal costs of the winner.

2. That said, I don’t particularly buy the argument you chose to make against the proposal. Courts in this nation are not supposed to decide what things are “fair” or “right.” Making law just isn’t something that 12 members of a jury or a judge should be doing on their own, accountable to no one. Laws are to be made by elected legislators who are responsible to all the voters in the areas they serve. (Yes, I realize that a lot of places elect judges but they still don’t elect them to make law.) Courts decide on what was and whether it was legal, not what should be legal. As for the argument that laws are incredibly difficult to interpret, lawyers love that one but it’s just not true, except of really poorly written laws. Racial segregation and workplace harassment haven’t disappeared/diminished because of brave lawyers. They have disappeared/diminished because public opinion about what is right has changed. Did court cases help spur that change? Possibly but if you’re arguing that but for Brown, black people would still be sitting at the back of the bus, I don’t buy it.

Think twice April 26, 2013 - 1:37 pm

I’m so loving this. It’s the best STFU to all these siege-mentality, UES luddites.

Tsuyoshi April 26, 2013 - 4:13 pm

This is fantastic. What would the sanctions consist of? I assume a fine, but how big could it be?

Sadly, I doubt it will deter NIMBY lawsuits in general, since I would think any decent lawyer could come up with a new reason for stopping a transit project, rather than just reusing the old reason.

Larry Littlefield April 26, 2013 - 6:53 pm

He should have just sanctioned the plaintiffs. The only reason he didn’t sanction the lawyer is that lawyers and judges are on the same team.

Perhaps the MTA can countersue, and seek damages for delays. Except the courts don’t want to admit that “justice delayed” can be used as a weapon of injustice.

Daniel April 29, 2013 - 4:50 pm

What do you mean about “the only reason he didn’t sanction the lawyer”? This had nothing to do with some judge playing favorites, and with the public scolding the judge gave this attorney, it’s pretty clear they’re not on the “same team”.

The only reason the judge didn’t sanction the lawyer yet is procedural. There’s no formal ruling yet that says what the attorney did was improper; that will likely come when the judge issues a formal ruling on the MTA’s request to dismiss the lawsuit. If the judge dismisses the case as legally frivolous, then he can issue an “order to show cause” which requires the attorney to show the judge why he doesn’t deserve sanctions. Sanctions ultimately are given only after the attorney has had a chance to respond and has failed to sufficiently do so.

Basically, the only reason he didn’t sanction the lawyer is that it wasn’t time to decide whether to sanction the lawyer yet.

Courts do, actually, frown upon individuals using them as instruments of injustice. In cases like this, where it can be clearly demonstrated that someone abused or violated the rules of the court to keep harassing another party, they often will issue sanctions. The monetary fines can be up to tens of thousands of dollars, which may sound small given the salaries of New York lawyers, but it can also lead to censure or suspension of an attorney’s license, which can have far more serious effects on their careers.

petey April 28, 2013 - 11:18 am

there are no UES luddites, and there are wealthier addresses along second avenue, whose tenants have not been filing such stuff as this. i have to think about the dynamic in the building: perhaps a small set of curmudgeons who are well-ensconced in the management?


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