Agreement Reached in New York City Jails Reform Case

June 22, 2015

Counsel in Nunez v. City of New York, a class action lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York challenging the unconstitutional use of excessive force against inmates of the New York City jails on Rikers Island, today advised the Court that they have reached an agreement to settle it. 

The settlement is contained in a proposed Consent Judgment. The Consent Judgment (which is subject to final approval at appropriate levels of the Department of Justice and the Mayor’s Office) will be submitted to the Court for approval. If approved, it will establish a sweeping set of reform measures on Rikers Island and a safer and more secure environment for inmates and correction officers. 

Ropes & Gray, together with The Legal Aid Society Prisoners’ Rights Project and the law firm Emery Celli Brinckerhoff & Abady LLP, is counsel in Nunez to a court-certified class of all current and future inmates of the City’s jails. 

In December 2014, after a lengthy investigation, the U.S. Department of Justice intervened as a plaintiff in Nunez on behalf of 16- to 18-year old inmates at Rikers Island, alleging that the City was engaged in a pattern and practice of excessive and unnecessary force against them.

Attorneys with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York partnered with class counsel in working to achieve the Consent Judgment. Attorneys from the New York City Law Department represented the City and its Department of Correction in the lawsuit, and negotiated the Consent Judgment on their behalf.

“Lawyers representing all stakeholders in the case have worked tirelessly to reach this groundbreaking agreement,” said William Sussman, co-chair of the pro bono practice at Ropes & Gray, who with Ropes & Gray partner Christopher Conniff led the firm’s involvement in the case. “This result makes a profound statement about how parties can come together and move forward to achieve much-needed change.”

Working on the case on a pro bono basis, Ropes & Gray attorneys have dedicated over 30,000 hours to it over the last three years.

“The Rikers Island case illustrates the firm’s deep commitment to public service,” said David Chapin, the firm’s managing partner.  “Pro bono is an integral strand of our DNA, a hallmark of the firm that is deeply rooted in the example set by the firm’s founders 150 years ago.”