CDP utilizes litigation as a means of supporting grassroots organizing efforts in New York City. We work together with our community partners to develop litigation that arises out of the issues facing their low-income constituents and members. In this way, our litigation is both innovative and truly based in the desires, priorities, needs and goals of the communities we serve. In addition, this litigation is always fully integrated into the other strategies we use on behalf of our clients – for instance, a survey by CDP's Research and Policy division on housing conditions can lead to litigation against negligent landlords to compel them to perform needed repairs, and both of these strategies can be used by community groups to organize and galvanize tenant associations. By working closely with our client groups to develop litigation in a way that supports their community efforts, we are able to strengthen those efforts and make them more effective and more powerful.
CDP's litigation work focuses on three areas of critical importance to our client groups: workers' rights, housing advocacy and civil rights. Below are examples of our work in these areas; please visit our get help page for information on how to contact us for litigation-related assistance.
CDP represents tenant associations organized by community-based organizations in litigation to combat landlord abandonment, and correct such housing conditions as lead paint, inadequate heat and hot water, inadequate security, faulty plumbing, and unsafe elevators and staircases. In this advocacy we have been able to obtain millions of dollars’ worth of repairs in low-income housing throughout New York City. The following is an example of our recent litigation work in this area:
In August 2011, a fire erupted at 1520 Sheridan Avenue. As a result, 14 families were vacated by the city from their homes and the cooking gas service was suspended for the entire building. After not having the ability to cook a Thanksgiving meal, tenants retained CDP to sue the landlord and get the tenants restored to their homes and the gas service restored to the building. Once the case was filed, the Judge kept a vigilant eye on the case, ordering the landlord to work as expeditiously as possible to get the 14 tenants back into their homes and to get the gas back on. In February, less than two months after filing, tenants were back in their apartments and everyone was able to cook.
Working with the Northwest Bronx Community and Clergy Coalition (NWBCCC), CDP sued the owner of 4619 Park Avenue in order to demand that Bronx Housing Court appoint an independent administrator to take over management of the dilapidated building. Tenants also had been subjected to violent harassment by the building’s porter. After a lengthy trial, the Court granted the tenants’ request for an Administrator in December 2011.
CDP supports grassroots worker centers and other organizing groups and their members. Our workers’ rights team uses litigation, legislative advocacy, and community education to combat violations such as unpaid minimum wages and overtime, tip theft, discrimination, sexual harassment, and retaliation against workers who assert their rights under the labor laws. Plaintiffs in these cases include workers in private homes, restaurants, nail salons, garment factories, food processing, and construction.
We support Domestic Workers United, Adhikaar, Chinese Staff and Workers’ Association (CSWA), the National Mobilization Against Sweatshops (NMASS), Damayan Migrant Workers Association, Desis Rising Up and Moving, the Restaurant Opportunities Center of New York, New Immigrant Community Empowerment, and other groups. Our advocacy has helped secure more than $20 million in judgments and settlements for our clients. Examples of our recent litigation in this area include:
Shanti Gurung v. Jogesh Malhotra and Neena Malhotra
CDP, with the law firm Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP, obtained a judgment of more than $1.4 million on behalf of Shanti Gurung, a domestic worker and member of Adhikaar, who sued her former employers Jogesh and Neena Malhotra for trafficking, forced labor, minimum wage, and overtime violations.
Ricardo Copantitla et al. v. Fiskardo Estiatorio Inc. (d/b/a Thalassa Restaurant) et al.
CDP won a summary judgment decision in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York on behalf of 13 workers—members of ROC-NY—employed at an upscale Greek restaurant in Tribeca. The court held that the restaurant unlawfully retained the waitstaff’s tips when it charged tips to private dining and banquet customers and then failed to distribute significant portions of those tips to the waitstaff. The court also ruled that the restaurant failed to pay the lawfully required minimum wage and overtime rates. CDP co-counseled the case with the law firms of Shearman & Sterling LLP and Chadbourne & Parke LLP.
Julian Sanchez et al. v. Best Boat Seafood Restaurant, Inc. et al.
CDP and co-counsel Patterson Belknap Webb & Tyler LLP obtained an $848,000 judgment on behalf of five worker-members of NMASS who suffered minimum wage and overtime violations for many years at an Upper West Side Thai restaurant. When some of the individual defendants sought bankruptcy court protection to avoid paying the workers their unpaid wages, we filed a petition in the bankruptcy proceeding asserting that the debts owed to our clients are non-dischargeable. The bankruptcy case is ongoing.
Ji Shiang, Inc. and 318 Restaurant Workers Union
CDP won a judgment from the National Labor Relations Board on behalf of two workers, CSWA members, who were unlawfully retaliated against because of their attempt to organize co-workers and seek better working conditions.
Adriane Padilla v. Santiago Manlapaz, et al
CDP, with the law firm Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP, won summary judgment against a restaurant and its owners for close to $25,000 for illegally withholding wages from a restaurant worker for eight months, and for violating state minimum wage and overtime laws.
CDP represents tenant associations organized by community-based organizations in litigation to combat landlord abandonment, and correct such housing conditions as lead paint, inadequate heat and hot water, inadequate security, faulty plumbing, and unsafe elevators and staircases. In this advocacy we have been able to obtain millions of dollars worth of repairs in low-income housing throughout New York City. The following is an example of our recent litigation work in this area:
3569 DeKalb Avenue Tenant Association v. Quest Property Management
This lawsuit on behalf of a tenant association in the Bronx seeks a court-appointed administrator for the building owner's alleged failure to make necessary repairs.
Defending the Right to Organize
The partner organizations with which CDP routinely works engage in grassroots organizing efforts to improve the lives of the communities they serve. Sometimes, the targets of these groups' organizing efforts try to thwart such efforts by bringing litigation against the groups. CDP works to defend these groups' activities and their right to organize their communities.
Sheridan, et al., v. Carter, et al.
In this case, CDP attorneys, together with pro bono counsel from Weil, Gotshal and Manges, LLP, represent Domestic Workers United (DWU) in an action brought by an employer of a domestic worker for DWU's advocacy on behalf of that worker. In a decision issued in June 2006, State Supreme Court Justice Anthony Parga dismissed all claims against DWU.
New Line Realty V Corp., et al., v. United Committees of University Heights, et al.
In this action, brought by several landlord corporations, the Northwest Bronx Community and Clergy Coalition ("the Coalition") was sued for engaging in organizing in those landlords' buildings. In a decision issued in June 2006, Bronx Supreme Court Justice Sally Manzanet ruled that the Coalition can file counter-claims against the five landlord corporations under NY State's anti-SLAPP (Strategic Litigation Against Public Participation) law aimed at preventing harassing lawsuits that hinder organizing efforts. NWBCCC was attempting to organize tenants in the corporations' buildings to call attention to substandard housing conditions and press for much-needed repairs. CDP's co-counsel in this matter is Frankfurt Kurnit Klein & Selz, PC.
CDP’s Consumer Justice Practice provides our community partners and their members with access to free consumer justice resources intended to strengthen the impact of grassroots organizations in New York’s low-income and other excluded communities. We partner with community organizations to support their work towards social and economic justice and to help build capacity, power and public awareness around consumer justice and financial empowerment issues such as unfair debt collection; identity theft; credit reporting disputes; medical debt; student loans and consumer debt litigation by debt buyers. Our consumer justice resources include legal clinics held at community partner organizations, community education workshops for community members and know-your-rights materials, and full representation of individuals and class action legal cases in state and federal court. In addition, the consumer justice practice has released policy reports, such as Debt Weight and Debt Deception, which utilized anecdotal data and trends observed from working with community members. Lastly, the practice supports partner driven legislative and policy reform initiatives.
Mayorga v. First Resolution Investment Corporation et al.
In February 2012, CDP filed a case in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York against a debt buyer and a debt collection law firm on behalf of New York consumers who have been sued for debts that are time barred in violation of federal Fair law.
Palisades Collection LLC vs. Chen
CDP settled a consumer credit transaction case brought by a debt buyer in which the debt buyer sued the wrong individual and obtained a default judgment. CDP assisted the client in vacating the judgment and discontinuing the action.
Debt Deception: How Debt Buyers Abuse the Legal System to Prey on Lower-Income New Yorkers
The report finds that debt buyers in New York City routinely violate New York law by filing meritless lawsuits against low- and moderate-income New Yorkers, without having proof of their claims and without notifying people that they have been sued. Debt buyers nevertheless prevail in more than 9 out of 10 cases. They typically obtain automatic, "default" judgments in their favor because the people they sue are unaware of the case and therefore do not appear in court. During an 18-month period from 2006-2008, debt buyers extracted $1.1 billion in judgments against New Yorkers, the vast majority of whom lived in low-income communities and communities of color. The report also documents a strikingly uneven playing field, in which only 1% of people sued had an attorney representing them.
Debt Weight: The Consumer Credit Crisis in New York City and its Impact on the Working Poor
This report revealed how debt collection companies are using the New York City Civil Court system to take unfair advantage of low-income consumers.
Defending the Right to Organize
CDP’s partner organizations and their members often face retaliation for seeking justice and agitating for social change. Employers may fire workers for complaining about unpaid wages; landlords may harass tenants for requesting maintenance; and powerful restaurants or factories may sue a workers’ organization for assisting its members in standing up for their rights.
We fight to protect the rights of organizers, groups, and community members to lawfully demand their rights under the First Amendment, various anti-retaliation and anti-harassment statutes, and the National Labor Relations Act (see Housing and Workers’ Rights pages for more information). We recognize that being able to publicly voice complaints and call for change are essential to social movement work.
Examples of litigation in this area include:
B&B v. ROC-NY
When Mario Batali and his restaurant empire sued the Restaurant Opportunities Center of New York, a group organizing on behalf of restaurant workers, CDP negotiated the lifting of a ban on protests outside the restaurants and moved to dismiss the case, arguing that the defamation/tort lawsuit was meritless and retaliatory.
New Line Realty V Corp. v. United Committees of University Heights and Northwest Bronx Community and Clergy Coalition
With pro bono partner Wendy Stryker of Frankfurt Kurnit Klein & Selz PC, CDP successfully obtained the dismissal of claims of defamation and tortious interference against housing rights group Northwest Bronx Community and Clergy Coalition. The Bronx County Supreme Court also ruled that the case constituted impressible retaliation under the state's Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation (anti-SLAPP) statute.
Pro Bono Co-Counsel
CDP would like to gratefully acknowledge the many law firms that have served as co-counsel and donated countless pro bono hours in support of our legal work, including:
- Alterman & Boop, LLP
- Archer, Byington, Glennon & Levine LLP
- Arnold & Porter LLP
- Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft LLP
- Chadbourne & Parke LLP
- Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton LLP
- Clifford Chance US LLP
- Covington & Burling LLP
- Davis Polk & Wardwell
- Debevoise & Plimpton LLP
- Dechert LLP
- Dewey & LeBoeuf LLP
- DLA Piper
- Frankfurt Kurnit Klein & Selz PC
- Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP
- Kaye Scholer LLP
- Koob & Magoolaghan
- Kramer Levin Naftalis & Frankel LLP
- Latham & Watkins LLP
- Linklaters LLP
- Milbank, Tweed, Hadley & McCloy LLP
- Morrison & Foerster LLP
- O'Melveny & Myers LLP
- Paul, Hastings, Janofsky & Walker LLP
- Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP
- Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman LLP
- Proskauer Rose LLP
- Quinn Emanuel Urquhart Oliver & Hedges, LLP
- Schulte Roth & Zabel LLP
- Seward & Kissel LLP
- Shearman & Sterling LLP
- Simpson Thacher & Bartlett LLP
- Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP & Affiliates
- Stroock & Stroock & Lavan LLP
- Troutman Sanders LLP
- Weil, Gotshal & Manges LLP