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Nearly $75 Million Class-Action Settlement Reached For Delayed Releases from N.Y.C. Jails

On July 12, 2023, the federal court for the Southern District of New York granted final approval to a settlement in a class-action lawsuit alleging detainees in New York City jails were forced to wait three hours or more after making bail before being released.

The suit was filed in 2017 by former detainees Lloyd Jones, James Lynch and Baron Spencer. Jones’ history shows why: After his arrest in January 2017, a judge set bail at $2,000, which a friend attempted to post, only to be told to come back “after lunch”—by which time Jones was en route to the city’s Rikers Island jail complex. Told then that Jones was no longer bail-eligible, the friend spent a day making phone calls and visits, but jailers only suggestion was to try again “after midnight,” when of course there was no one to accept payment and process Jones’ release. He ultimately spent over 30 hours incarcerated “despite the fact that his friend was ready, willing and able to post his bail approximately 30 minutes after his arraignment,” the suit recalled.

The Court gave preliminary certification to a settlement class, appointing class counsel and a class administrator in December 2022. After a fairness hearing on July 11, 2023, the class—consisting of city jail detainees whose release after posting bail was delayed by at least three hours between October 4, 2014, and October 21, 2022—was estimated to number 71,000 people. About 30% of those were expected to file claims, according to class administrator Rust Consulting, Inc. The total settlement, estimated at $74.55 million, provided for payment of $3,500 for each claim.

Service awards of $20,000 were paid to class representatives Spencer and Jones, as well as the estate of Lynch, who died while the case was pending. The settlement agreement included several noteworthy provisions that should be considered best practices for settlements in other cases involving current or former prisoners.

First, to identify potential class members, an outreach plan included direct mailings to former detainees released from city jails, based on their last-known addresses and address research services. Notices were required to be posted in areas where class members were likely to see them, including city jails and New York state prisons, as well as state offices for child support, SNAP, Medicaid and probation services. Additionally, non-profit groups and public defender offices were notified of the settlement, and notices were posted at subway and bus stations “focused in areas with the heaviest levels of incarceration.”

Emails were also sent to potential class members for whom reliable email addresses could be located. The administrator established a website to provide settlement information in English, Spanish, Chinese and Russian. Rust Consulting also set up a toll-free hotline for class members and posted notices on social media and online search engines, as well as running ads on local TV, radio stations and print publications, plus PLN. Reminders were sent by postcard, email and/or text message to identified class members 30 days before the claim-filing deadline. The estimated cost of the outreach campaign was $1,050,000.

As part of the settlement, the City of New York agreed not to collect any liens against the claims paid to class members except for child support and “docketed parking judgments” not to exceed $500. Class members were offered the option of speaking with a government benefits consultant at no cost to discuss the impact of settlement payments on any benefits they were eligible to receive.

The claims deadline was June 2023. But untimely claims filed within three months of the effective date of the settlement were accepted, provided good cause was shown for the delay—for example, “the illness or death of a Class Member or member of Class Member’s family, the incarceration or detention of a Class Member, or the failure to receive a [settlement] notice packet, [or] mailing or technical issues generally.”

Class members who submitted deficient claim forms were contacted and provided an opportunity to correct deficiencies. Members who died during the period covered by the settlement were still eligible for payments through their estate or legal successors.

Lastly, the district court retained jurisdiction over the case “for all matters relating to the settlement.” The agreement did not include an award of attorney fees and costs, which were to be paid separately after the case was finalized. Attorney fees were not to exceed 10% of the potential settlement amount or 25% of the actual settlement amount, based on the number of claims filed, whichever was lower.

Settlement administration costs payable to Rust Consulting were not to exceed $1,091,388, in addition to the cost of the outreach campaign, and were limited to expenses that included data management, call center and website processing, claimant advisory services, payment distribution, direct notices to class members and tax reporting.

Class members were represented by the law firms of Emery Celli Brinckerhoff Abady Ward & Maazel LLP, and Kaufman Lieb Lebowitz & Frick LLP. See: Jones v. City of N.Y., USDC (S.D.N.Y.), Case No. 1: 17-cv-07577.  


Additional source: New York Times

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Related legal case

Jones v. City of N.Y.