MFY works to end the root causes of inequities through impact litigation, law reform and policy advocacy. Our impact litigation focuses on two broad areas: Disability and Aging Rights and Economic Justice.
DISABILITY AND AGING RIGHTS
Lawsuit Challenges Blatant Discrimination by Senior Residences
In May 2013, the Fair Housing Justice Center (FHJC) filed a lawsuit in the Southern District of New York against The Esplanade Residences, five senior residences with more than 600 apartments in Staten Island, Manhattan, Westchester County, and Rockland County. The lawsuit alleges that The Esplanade Residences discriminate against prospective renters on the basis of disability, race, and religion, in violation of local, state, and federal fair housing laws. For example, the lawsuit alleges that The Esplanade Manhattan refuses to rent to prospective residents who use wheelchairs and, if existing residents start using a wheelchair, they have to eat in a separate dining room with other residents who use wheelchair and their aides. The lawsuit requests damages and injunctive relief to stop the discrimination and obtain future compliance with fair housing laws. With co-counsel Emery Celli Brinckerhoff & Abady, LLP, MFY is representing the FHJC.
Fair Housing Justice Center v. Esplanade Venture Partnership et al., 13 Civ. 3600 (S.D.N.Y.)
Class Action Alleges Dangerous Conditions & Civil Rights Violations in Adult Home
In May, 2012, residents of Surf Manor Home for Adults filed a class action lawsuit against the facility to address longstanding violations of their rights, including poor conditions, a perennial bed bug infestation, a lack of essential services, and verbal abuse and retaliation. The lawsuit alleges that Surf Manor, which is located in Coney Island, Brooklyn, has breached residents’ admissions agreements and the implied warranty of habitability and violated the New York Social Services Law and New York Human Rights Law. The lawsuit requests injunctive relief and damages to remedy hazardous conditions in the home and require Surf Manor to provide residents with services they are entitled to under the law. Kings County Supreme Court Justice David B. Vaughan granted residents a Temporary Restraining Order preventing Surf Manor’s administration and staff from retaliating against residents for filing this lawsuit.
Bloomfield et al. v. Surf Manor Home for Adults et al., 9038/2012, Supreme Court, Kings County
Class Action Claims that the Department of Health’s Procedures for Handling Adult Home Complaints Violates SAPA and the ADA
In January 2012, MFY filed a class action lawsuit against the New York State Department of Health (DOH) on behalf of approximately 20,000 people with disabilities who reside in New York adult homes. Many class members face unsanitary conditions, psychological abuse, and financial exploitation at the hands of adult home operators. All of these residents rely on the DOH’s Adult Home Complaint Intake Unit to conduct investigations into regulatory violations within the facilities and to order enforcement. However, the DOH’s complaint investigation and enforcement procedures are biased in ways that dramatically disfavor residents and allow many adult home operators to violate residents’ rights with impunity. The DOH’s procedures were also never officially promulgated as required under the New York State Constitution and the State Administrative Procedure Act.
Bloomfield v. Cannavo, et al., 40082/2012, Supreme Court, New York County
Lawsuit Alleges Adult Homes Violated the Fair Housing Act
In May 2011, MFY asserted claims under the Fair Housing Act (FHA) and New York State law on behalf of an adult home resident who was discouraged from obtaining housing at Madison York Rego Park Adult Home and steered her to Elm York Home for Adults, where she was financially exploited Elm York and an affiliated day treatment program. The complaint alleges that Defendants discriminate against and exploit people who have disabilities in their provision of housing and housing-related services. For example, upon learning that the plaintiff had a retirement account, the adult home proceeded to exploit her need for assistance by, among other things, forcing her to execute a back-dated admission agreement at a higher rent. Patterson Belknap Webb & Tyler LLP joined as co-counsel shortly after the case was filed.
Cohen v. Elm York, et al., 11-cv-2437 (EDNY)
Suit Claims Adult Home Failed to Provide Legally-Mandated Number of Phones and Charged Residents for “Toll-free” Telephone Calls
Green v. Lakeside Manor et al. This case, filed in 2007, concerns Lakeside Manor’s failure to provide telephone service as required by the plaintiffs’ admission agreements and in violation of the warranty of habitability and the Americans with Disabilities Act. The plaintiffs won their appeal to the Appellate Division, Second Department, in a decision dated December 12, 2012. The decision reversed the trial court’s decision dismissing the complaint. The Appellate Division once again affirmed adult home residents’ private right of action under the Social Services Law for violations of their admissions agreements and breaches of the warranty of habitability. Most significantly, the court found that, with respect to the plaintiffs’ discrimination claim under the Fair Housing Act, “[t]he defendants’ own submissions demonstrated the existence of a triable issue of fact as to whether the plaintiffs’ disabilities were a ‘motivating factor’ behind the defendants’ alleged failure to provide the mandated level of telephone service.” After more than five years of litigation, the plaintiffs will finally have their day in court.
Green et al. v. Lakeside Manor, Index No. 2011/08580, Appellate Division, Second Department
Suit Claims that New York State Violates the ADA by Failing to Provide Integrated, Community-Based Housing for Adult Home Residents
In June 2003, MFY and pro bono co-counsel Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP filed this Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) lawsuit on behalf of adult home residents. The Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law, Disability Advocates, Inc., New York Lawyers for the Public Interest, and Urban Justice Center are also co-counsel on the case. After a 2009 trial, the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York held that New York State discriminated against adult home residents and violated the ADA by not providing services to 4,300 residents in the most integrated setting appropriate to their needs. In its remedial order, the court ordered New York State to provide, inter alia, supported housing for these adult home residents. In April 2012, the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit reversed the District Court decision and dismissed the case on procedural grounds, finding that Disability Advocates, Inc. lacked standing to bring the claims. The Second Circuit did not question the District Court’s findings that adult homes are institutions and that New York State is violating the Americans with Disabilities Act. The interested parties are currently considering their options, including filing a class action lawsuit.
Disability Advocates, Inc. v. Paterson et al., 653 F.Supp.2d 184 (EDNY 2009); 2010 WL 786657 (EDNY Mar. 1, 2010); — F.3d —-, 2012 WL 1143588 (2nd Cir. 2012).
MFY Files Suit against Mortgage Scammer
On November 18, 2013, MFY filed a lawsuit on behalf of Ms. Elva Brardo, a 60-year-old Queens County homeowner who lost thousands of dollars as part of a foreclosure rescue scam perpetrated by American Hope Group, Inc., The Donado Law Firm A Professional Corporation, and multiple individual defendants. After charging Ms. Brardo an illegal, upfront fee, defendants falsely promised that an alleged “Securitization Mortgage Audit” would identify errors in her mortgage loan documents and this so-called erroneous information would be used to compel her lender to provide her with a more affordable monthly mortgage payment. In addition to a loan modification, Ms. Brardo was promised legal representation to prevent foreclosure.
Even though Ms. Brardo signed a purported retainer agreement with The Donado Law Firm at American Hope’s office and authorized American Hope Group to automatically debit nearly $700 per month from her checking account in additional fees, defendants never obtained a more affordable mortgage payment for Ms. Brardo and never provided her with the promised legal representation. In fact, Ms. Brardo never met nor spoke to any attorney. The complaint asserts claims for violation of New York’s “distressed property consultant” law, Real Property Law § 265-b, which among other things makes it illegal to charge up-front fees for loan modification services; violation of New York’s Deceptive Practices Act, General Business Law § 349; and breach of contract. The lawsuit seeks to recover the illegal upfront fees paid to the defendants and also seeks to enjoin defendants from engaging in the deceptive acts and practices alleged.
Brardo v. American Hope Group, Inc., et al, Index No. 21154/2013, Supreme Court, Queens County
MFY Files Amicus in Support of NYS Department of Financial Services’ Crackdown on Payday Lending
Payday loans, which are exorbitantly expensive financial products that carry fees that often amount to an annual percentage rate (APR) of 390% to 780%, violate New York’s usury laws and are illegal in this state. The fact that such loans are illegal has not stopped Internet payday lenders from marketing themselves as providers of short-term cash to New Yorkers who become ensnared in a debt trap and worse off than if they had never taken the loan to begin with. To combat this scourge, the New York State Department of Financial Services (DFS) sent letters to 35 online payday lenders in August 2013 demanding that they cease and desist offering illegal payday loans to New Yorkers. In response to this crackdown, two payday lending companies based on Native American reservations and affiliated companies filed suit against DFS in the Southern District of New York, seeking a preliminary injunction. That request was denied and the tribes appealed to the Second Circuit. MFY, along with New Economy Project and DC37 filed an amicus curiae brief in support of DFS on November 13, 2013, explaining in detail the harms that our clients have suffered as a result of usurious internet payday loans, and arguing why New York has a compelling state interest in regulating high-cost loans that harm its residents.
MFY Joins Amicus Brief Urging U.S. Supreme Court to Reject Fair Housing Act Challenge
In October 2013, MFY joined the American Civil Liberties Union and eight other organizations, including the National Consumer Law Center, in filing a joint brief with the United States Supreme Court in Township of Mount Holly v. Mt. Holly Gardens Citizens in Action, Inc. urging the court to recognize that “disparate impact” claims can be made under the federal Fair Housing Act. The Act prohibits discrimination in the sale or rental of housing. Every federal appeals court that has considered the issue now before the Supreme Court has interpreted the Act to prohibit policies that have a discriminatory impact upon minority groups, regardless of whether they were adopted with a discriminatory intent. The amicus brief argues that a discriminatory impact cause of action under the Act is consistent with Congressional intent and necessary to address critical housing discrimination issues such as predatory lending.
MFY Represents Queens Man Swindled by Car Dealership
On October 4, 2013, MFY filed a lawsuit against New York Motor Group, LLC and M&T Bank based on the Queens dealership’s fraudulent conduct towards Shahadat Tuhin, a 41-year-old Queens resident, who purchased a used car in June so he could take his chronically ill daughter to and from the hospital. After Mr. Tuhin signed a contract for $12,000, New York Motor Group’s finance manager rushed him through the signing of a series of documents, refusing to allow him to read them while misrepresenting and physically obscuring the terms. When Mr. Tuhin got home, he discovered that he had unknowingly signed documents that had doubled the price of the vehicle. Mr. Tuhin immediately contacted M&T Bank, the assignee of the financing agreement, but the bank refused to honor his request to cancel the fraudulent loan. The complaint charges both the dealership and M&T Bank with deceptive practices, fraud and breach of contract, as well as violations of the Truth in Lending Act and Regulation Z, and the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act. It also charges Mamdoh Eltouby, the owner of New York Motor Group, with assault for attempting to run over Mr. Tuhin and other community members at a lawful, peaceful protest at the dealership, as well as an unnamed employee with battery for turning a hose on them. Mr. Tuhin is demanding revocation of the purported contract, actual and statutory damages, attorney’s fees and expenses, and an injunction preventing the defendants from engaging in similar conduct again.
MFY Submits Appellate Brief on Behalf of a Victim of “Sewer Service”
On June 25, 2013, MFY completed an appeal to the Appellate Term of the Second Department on behalf of Ionna Jimenez, a 30-year-old mother of three. Ms. Jimenez first learned a default judgment had been entered against her when reviewing her credit report in 2010. In 2005, a debt buyer, Palisades Collection, obtained a default judgment against Ms. Jimenez without serving her with court papers and without giving her notice of the lawsuit. When she discovered the judgment, Ms. Jimenez promptly attempted to vacate the default judgment on her own, based on improper service. The judge denied her request, and when Ms. Jimenez asked again, the judge denied her request again, even though Ms. Jimenez had never lived at the address where service was allegedly effected. MFY’s brief on behalf of Ms. Jimenez argues that the civil court judge twice applied the wrong legal standard for vacating a default judgment when a defendant alleges that she has not been served. Unfortunately, this is a common misapprehension of the law that harms thousands of low-income unrepresented consumers who have been the victims of sewer service.
MFY Files Amicus Motion to Protect Consumers from Abusive Debt Collection Practices
MFY advocated for the passage of Local Law 15 in 2009, clarifying that the City’s licensing law applies to debt buyers, and specifically requiring debt collection attorneys to be licensed by the NYC Department of Consumer Affairs (DCA). Two collection law firms and a debt buyer filed suit against the City, arguing, among other things, for the statute to be stricken insofar as it applies to law firms. In September 2012, a judge in the Eastern District of New York granted the Plaintiff’s motion for summary judgment (Eric M. Berman P.C. v. City of New York, No. 09-cv-3017 (E.D.N.Y. Sept. 29, 2012)), finding the municipal law was preempted by the state judiciary law. The City appealed the decision to the United States Court of Appeals for Second Circuit, and, on May 31, 2013, MYF Legal Services, Inc., on behalf of 19 amici organizations, moved to file an amicus brief in support of the City. In the proposed amicus brief, Amici argue that the District Court’s decision to invalidate Local Law 15 was improper as a matter of law and public policy. The District Court ignored ample evidence demonstrating that attorneys engaged in debt collection conduct identical non-legal activities as non-attorney debt collectors. The court also erred in holding that state law preempts Local Law 15, in finding that Local Law 15 presents ethical dilemmas for debt collection attorneys, and in failing to abstain from deciding precisely when a municipality may regulate attorneys doing non-legal work. Without the City’s oversight of debt collection lawyers and law firms, consumers have fewer protections from unfair attempts to collect questionable debts, no redress through the DCA, and little chance of obtaining relief through the State’s grievance procedure. Amici believe the District Court was wrong to find that the NYC Council exceeded its authority in passing Local Law 15 and that the decision should be reversed.
Suit Alleges Unpaid Wages and Race and Sex Discrimination by Manhattan Catering Business
On March 8, 2013 MFY filed a lawsuit in the Southern District of New York on behalf of two immigrant workers alleging minimum wage, overtime and spread of hours violations, as well as sex, race and national origin discrimination against their former employer. The women worked at Lorenzo & Maria’s Kitchen on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, a take-out and catering business owned by Maria Almendariz. They also performed domestic work at Ms. Almendariz’s Manhattan apartment and at residential buildings she owns. The complaint alleges that even though they regularly worked over 40 hours a day, they were never paid overtime or spread of hours payments for shifts lasting longer than ten hours. The complaint also alleges that the women endured discrimination by Almendariz, who called them names like “dirty Mexican,” and “whore” on a regular basis, and that the chef at the business, Nicodemus Pedraza, sexually harassed the plaintiffs, including exposing himself to them multiple times. Pedraza is Almendariz’s romantic partner.
Enriqueta Luna and Inelia Gabriela Ortega v. Lorenzo and Maria’s 1418 Kitchen Co., Maria Almendariz, and Nicodemus Pedraza
MFY Continues to Take On Home Health Agencies That Commit Wage Theft, in Second Class Action Lawsuit
On March 4, 2013, seven home health care workers formerly employed by BNV Home Care Agency, formerly known as Academy Care Givers, Inc., filed a class action against the company alleging wage theft, including failure to provide overtime and spread-of-hours pay, dating back to January 2006. The plaintiffs, who all provided personal care and assistance to disabled and elderly and disabled clients of BNV, regularly worked over 70 or 80 hours a week. The lawsuit alleges that BNV, which operates in all five boroughs and has offices in the Bronx, Brooklyn and Queens, failed to pay the plaintiffs, and all its home health care workers, the required wages for their long hours. MFY and its co-counsel, Abbey Spanier, filed the lawsuit in New York County Supreme Court.
Castillo et al. v. BNV Home Care Agency , Inc. et al.
Amicus Brief to Second Circuit Urges Greater Protections in Bankruptcy for Rent-Stabilized Tenants
MFY submitted an amicus brief to the Second Circuit in January 2013 in In re Santiago-Monteverde (12-4131), on a troubling issue in bankruptcy court that pertains to rent stabilized tenants. The Bankruptcy Code gives the bankruptcy trustee the power to “assume and assign” unexpired leases of the debtor. Some bankruptcy trustees have taken the position that this permits them to assume a debtor’s rent-stabilized lease and assign it, for an amount of money, back to the landlord, subjecting tenants to eviction. While beneficial for the trustee, the creditors and the landlord, this practice can leave people without a place to live, and worse off than if they had never filed for bankruptcy. MFY is particularly interested in this topic because of our extensive housing practice and because we recently established the Low-Income Bankruptcy Project (LIBP), which serves New York City residents who are dramatically affected by this practice. These debtors – unlike similarly situated debtors residing in market-rate apartments, public housing, limited-equity co-ops, or receiving Section 8 benefits – currently face tremendous uncertainty in the bankruptcy system. In order to avoid the risk posed by the current practice of certain bankruptcy trustees assuming and assigning their leases, these debtors must endure harassing phone calls, creditor lawsuits, and wage garnishment. Essentially this practice denies the promise of a fresh start to two million New Yorkers residing in rent-stabilized apartments. MFY filed the amicus brief in support of the debtor-appellant, who is appealing a decision allowing the trustee to strike the debtor’s claim that the lease is exempt. MFY’s brief describes the scope and importance of rent stabilization and argues why rent stabilized leases should be exempt and why permitting assumption and assignment of a rent-stabilized lease undermines the policies behind both bankruptcy law and rent regulation.
Santiago-Monteverde v. Pereira (Trustee)
Home Health Agency Failed to Pay Proper Wages, Alleges Class Action Lawsuit
In January 2013, a home health care worker formerly employed by First Care of New York, Inc. filed a class action lawsuit against the company for wage theft, including failure to provide overtime pay, dating back to January 2007. The lead plaintiff, who provided personal care and assistance to disabled and elderly clients of First Care, regularly worked seven days a week, 12 hours a day — as many as 84 hours a week. The lawsuit alleges that First Care, which has offices in Brooklyn, the Bronx, Manhattan, Queens and Westchester, failed to pay him, and all its home health aides, the required wages for their long hours. MFY and its co-counsel, Abbey Spanier Rodd & Abrams, LLP, filed the lawsuit in New York State Supreme Court, Westchester County.
Castillo v. First Care of New York, Inc.
Largest New York Foreclosure Law Firm Violated FDCPA, Alleges Class Action Lawsuit
In August 2011 MFY and co-counsel Harwood Feffer LLP filed this class action on behalf of New York State homeowners facing foreclosure, alleging that New York’s largest foreclosure law firm, Steven J. Baum, P.C., and its namesake, Steven J. Baum, violated the Fair Debt Collections Practices Act and GBL § 349 by filing foreclosure actions but refusing to file a Request for Judicial Intervention required by state procedural rules to move a case out of the clerk’s shadow docket and into the Foreclosure Conference Parts established by the New York Legislature in 2008 to address the looming foreclosure crisis. The delay in prosecuting the underlying state foreclosure suits causes class members’ loan balances to swell due to the imposition of late interest, attorney’s fees, inspection fees and other fees that will render class members’ mortgage loans unaffordable and incapable of modification.
Cole v. Steven J. Baum, P.C., 11 CV 3779 (EDNY)
Operators of Unlawful Three-quarter Houses Violate Rent Stabilization Law
In April 2011, MFY and pro bono co-counsel Weil Gotshal & Manges brought this class action lawsuit against operators of an unlawful three-quarter house in a rent regulated single room occupancy building. The suit seeks declaratory and injunctive relief to stop the defendants from denying tenants their rights under the rent stabilization law, unlawfully harassing and evicting tenants, compelling them to sign unconscionable contracts, and unlawfully forcing them to attend a treatment program operated by the defendant. The tenants cycle through shelters and treatment programs and are forced back onto the street as soon as they successfully complete substance abuse programs. In August 2011, Kings County Supreme Court Justice Bernadette Bayne dismissed the suit, but in January 2013 the appeals court reversed that decision and ordered the case to proceed with a new judge.
DiGiorgio v. 1109-1113 Manhattan Avenue Partners, LLC, Index No. 8235/2011, Supreme Court, Kings County
Class Action Suit Cites Operators of Illegal Three-quarter Houses for Deceptive Practices and Violation of Tenant Protection Laws
In December 2010, MFY and pro bono co-counsel Patterson Belknap Webb and Tyler LLP brought this class action suit against three companies that rent housing units to people leaving the shelter system, substance abuse programs and prisons. It alleges that the defendants engaged in widespread deceptive practices, harassed tenants into signing away their rights, violated the rent stabilization code and laws, and unlawfully evicted tenants onto the street when they became unprofitable. RYB Realty, #1 Marketing Service, and Top of the Hob, Inc. have illegally converted several buildings into so-called “three-quarter houses,” promising to provide substance abuse counseling, social work services, referrals to vocational programs, and assistance obtaining permanent housing to formerly homeless adults and others with few to no housing options. The class has been certified to include both current and former tenants.
David et al v. #1 Marketing Service, Inc., RYB Realty LLC, Index No. 30238/2010, Supreme Court, Kings County
Class Action Suit for Breach of Contract Lodged against Bank of America by Homeowners in Foreclosure
In November 2010, MFY and co-counsel Abbey Spanier Rodd & Abrams, LLP filed this class action complaint alleging that Bank of America and related defendants breached their contractual obligation to permanently modify mortgage payments for New York homeowners who successfully completed the trial modification period under the federal government’s Make Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP). Shortly after it was filed, the case was transferred from the United States District Court for the Eastern district of New York and made part of a multidistrict litigation against defendants pending in Boston.
Marie Freeman, v. BAC Home Loan Servicing, LP and Bank of America, CV 10-6380 (EDNY), a/k/a In re Bank of America Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP) Contract Litigation MDL No. 2193 (D. Mass.)
Suit Alleges NYCHA Discriminates against Tenant with Disabilities
In November 2010, Justin Williams, who is blind, sued the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) for failing to provide him with important notices in an accessible format. Mr. Williams had been a Section 8 tenant for fifteen years, and NYCHA was aware that he was blind. Mr. Williams’ lawsuit claims that NYCHA’s policy of mailing only written notices to Section 8 tenants does not reasonably accommodate people with visual impairments, in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Rehabilitation Act, the Fair Housing Act, and the New York City Human Rights Law. NYCHA asked the court to dismiss the case, but the court denied its motion. Mr. Williams seeks an order requiring NYCHA to cease its discriminatory practice by providing him with notices in an accessible format. Such an order would ensure that hundreds of tenants who have visual impairments will not face homelessness because they cannot read important notices. With co-counsel Patton Boggs LLP, Staten Island Legal Services, and Legal Services NYC, MFY represents Mr. Williams.
Williams v. Rhea, et al., 10-CV-5440 (EDNY)
FDCPA and Related Claims Lodged Against a Debt Buyer, its Debt Collection Law Firm, and a Related Process Serving Entity
In 2009, MFY and co-counsel New Economy Project (formerly NEDAP) and Emery Celli Brinkerhoff & Abady LLP filed this class action complaint alleging that a debt collection law firm, Mel S. Harris and Associates, and a debt-buying entity, Leucadia, and a process serving company, Samserv, purposefully obtain default judgments against consumers in consumer credit transactions in New York City Civil Court by not serving defendants with court papers and obtaining default judgments using fraudulent affidavits of merit. Plaintiffs defeated a motion to dismiss in December 2010. On September 5, 2012, Judge Denny Chin, United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, who kept the case after he was elevated from the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, certified the class, which is believed to include some 100,000 New Yorkers. In October 2013, Defendants appealed the class certification decision to the Second Circuit. Three Amicus Curiae briefs were filed in support of plaintiffs, authored by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), AARP, and New York Legal Assistance Group (NYLAG), urging the Second Circuit to affirm Judge Chin’s class certification decision. Oral argument has not been scheduled yet.
Sykes v. Mel S. Harris, LLC, 09 Civ. 08486 (SDNY)