Justice Robert Miller is not happy with the New York City Transit Authority. And when Justice Miller, one of the trial judges of Brooklyn’s Supreme Court, is not happy, that means a good bench-slapping.
As exquisitely detailed in this January 5 decision in Williams v. New York Transit Authority, the TA failed repeatedly over the course of three years to provide discovery from an Event Recorder Box (the train’s “black box”). The result is $15, 450 in costs and sanctions.
The suit concerns a 2005 accident when subway passenger Ronald Williams fell asleep on a train that subsequently entered a subway yard after the last public stop. He thereafter fell from a subway car and was struck and killed by a train.
Plaintiff’s counsel was asking, not unreasonably, for the accident reports and Event Recorder Box to get more details on what happened and why. After three years of trying to get that information, including a prior sanction against the Transit Authority for failing to properly respond ($250 that went unpaid), the court had had enough.
The decision catalogs conduct that appeared to supersede mere ineptitude on the part of the Transit Authority, which tried to assert that its conduct was not “wilful or malicious” nor that they have engaged in “a pattern of dilatory and obstructive conduct.” The court found, based on the overwhelming evidence, that the arguments weren’t made in good faith, writing that “If the actions were not wilful, they were inept and evinced a total disregard for the NYCTA’s discovery obligations…”
For those that like to see why our litigation system takes as long as it does, or is as expensive as it is, here is one more quote from the decision to add to the mix:
A review of the testimony establishes that if the NYCTA had exercised due diligence or any diligence, this entire discovery dispute could have been avoided and the vast expedition of time by the parties and the Court would have been saved.
Our municipal corporations have often been given more leeway by the courts than private litigators, as a panel of judges recently wrote in excoriating the City’s Corporation Counsel. (“[A]s a rule, our courts give far more leeway to the city than we typically do to other defendants in civil actions.”)
Perhaps, after so many years of problems, the courts are finally prepared to hold municipal parties to the same standards as the private parties.
And in case you were wondering what the court believes is a fair hourly fee for those of us that work on contingency and don’t generally track our hours, Justice Miller finds $350/hour for a partner and $250/hour for an associate.