ANOTHER RAMAPO MESS: Town Loses Case in Federal Court

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Previously unreported story

BY JOEL GROSSBARTH

unnamedThe Town of Ramapo has lost another case in federal court that called into question the Town Board’s actions and wasting of town funds. While the town supervisor and other high-ranking town officials are charged with criminal and civil allegations in federal court over the financing of the Ramapo ballpark, an electrical contractor with the town has also won a significant victory in a case that claims the board committed public malfeasance.

In the case of Christopher J. Schiller and Resolution Consulting Group, Inc. [d/b/a Resolution Energy Group] v, The Town of Ramapo, et al., plaintiffs alleged many claims in the form of due process violations, free speech violations, bid rigging, conspiracy and violating property rights. In March of this year, federal judge Hon. Cathy Seibel entered judgment against the Town of Ramapo after the Town Board conceded the case.

The lawsuit alleged that in September 2011, the Town Board retained plaintiffs via a formal resolution to perform services as an energy consultant, with the expectation that the town could save money on the procurement of competitive energy, similar to many other municipalities.

However, in 2011, the town had also retained Daniel Duthie as an attorney/consultant for unrelated matters. In August 2012, Duthie submitted a proposal and the town retained Duthie to procure electric supply for streetlights at $250 per hour, not to exceed $12,000, for a period of 120 days. By the time the town retained Duthie, Schiller and his company had already assisted the town in obtaining favorable, more competitive energy supply rates through 2013.

When Resolution Energy Group inquired of town officials about the “new” contractor, various town officials warned that no questions should be asked, or severe repercussions would take place. After Resolution Energy Group refused to turn over proprietary information to Duthie, Resolution Energy Group was told by Duthie that the Town Board was investigating its procurement policies, a claim not supported by any evidence.

During this timeframe, Duthie continued to submit invoices for services, well in excess of $120,000.

In March 2016 plaintiffs Judge Seibel entered a judgment of $75,001 after the town submitted a Rule 68 tender of Judgment to Plaintiffs. This rule allows a defendant to serve on an opposing party an offer to allow judgment on specified terms, with the costs then accrued. While the offer of judgment isn’t rare in federal court practice, the timing of the offer by the town raises many serious questions.

The town conceded prior to any discovery was held in this case, and no depositions or documents exchanged hands. The early tender of judgment looks as if the town was afraid of what further litigation would expose and how the town did business with various vendors.

On March 9, 2016, the Town Board adopted a Resolution “settling” the claim. The Resolution was misleading to the public since there was no settlement, the town must now use town funds and pay the Judgment it agreed to.

The judge also has yet to rule on reimbursement of legal fees. Therefore, the total judgment will likely be considerably more than the $75,001 judgment the plaintiff already obtained. A separate lawsuit against Duthie continues forward and may yet reveal embarrassing facts for the town.

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