New York Law Journal
December 16, 2015
A federal judge has taken the rare step of ordering a plaintiff and his lawyer to pay some of New York City’s costs for defending a meritless civil rights lawsuit.
Southern District Judge Shira Scheindlin said Patricio Jimenez brought a “galling” lawsuit for false arrest against police officers who handcuffed him for attacking his wife, Maribel Jimenez, who later recanted her claim of domestic assault.
Scheindlin held Jimenez and his attorney, Gregory Mouton, jointly and severally liable to pay $19,075 to the city to cover part of its costs for having to defend the suit.
“Litigation is not a sport, litigation is not a lottery,” Scheindlin said in an opinion filed Dec. 9. Maribel Jimenez was taken to Harlem Hospital on Dec. 26, 2012 and a police officer who interviewed her at the hospital filed a Domestic Incident Report and a complaint report describing how Patricio Jimenez came home drunk, pulled Maribel’s hair in the bathroom, slapped her hard three times and twisted her arm behind her back. On Jan. 21, 2013, two detectives interviewed her at her home. They also filed a report that detailed how Maribel Jimenez was attacked. But Maribel Jimenez, despite having told several people she had been assaulted, recanted her story, and she insisted she had told the detectives she had not been hit.
The couple went to the police station on Jan. 30, 2013, where she claimed Patricio Jimenez did not assault her. Police arrested him on the spot. The criminal case against him was dismissed on March 7, 2013. After prosecutors were forced to drop the charges, Patricio Jimenez filed suit under 42 U.S.C. §1983 for false arrest, denial of due process and malicious prosecution.
In granting summary judgment for the city on Sept. 24, Scheindlin took note of the detectives’ report, the ambulance worker’s report, and the affidavit of Hannah Cohen, a volunteer advocate with the Mount Sinai Sexual Assault and Violence Intervention Program who testified that “Mrs. Jimenez informed me, in no uncertain terms, that she was assaulted by her domestic partner.”
To credit Mrs. Jimenez’s denial she had been assaulted, “this court would need to accept that the ambulance driver, the emergency room staff, the volunteer domestic violence advocate, and no fewer than three police offices all acted in concert, and without any apparent motive, to fabricate several official documents each telling essentially the same story,” Scheindlin said, calling the conspiracy “simply too fantastic to be credible.”
“Mrs. Jimenez may decline to testify in order to prevent her husband from being prosecuted for domestic assault, but it is galling to then use that recantation as a predicate to sue the city for false arrest and related claims,” she wrote.
Law Department Senior Counsel Tobias Zimmerman moved for sanctions and asked the court to order Jimenez and counsel to pay $96,662.50 to cover the costs of defending the city for 18 months in Jimenez v. The City of New York, 14-cv-2994. Scheindlin granted the sanctions motion, citing her authority to award fees under 42 U.S.C. 1988 and impose sanctions under Rule 56(h) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, as well as the power to punish any attorney who multiplies proceedings “unreasonably and vexatiously” under 28 U.S.C. §1927 and her inherent power to sanction a party or an attorney for acting in bad faith.