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Judge Rejects Class Action Settlement in NYPD Muslim Surveillance Case

By George Khoury, Esq. on November 04, 2016 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

In what came as a shock to many, a New York Federal Judge rejected the settlement proposed by the attorneys for the NYPD and the group of Muslim plaintiffs that filed a class action lawsuit. The class action lawsuit stems from the post-9/11 actions of the NYPD in conducting undercover surveillance on Muslim communities.

The order rejecting the settlement was actually part of a 45-year-old case that essentially stopped the NYPD from keeping records when conducting suspicionless surveillance, as well as put investigatory guidelines into place. The half-a-century old case did not concern the Muslim community, but rather focused on the NYPD's undercover surveillance of political activities. However, counsel in the old case joined forces with counsel on the new case, and sought to resolve problems with the NYPD together.

Why the Settlement Was Rejected

Basically, the settlement sought to remedy claims by Muslim community members that NYPD officers would conduct undercover surveillance on Muslim communities, and Muslim gathering places, without any particular reason other than their ethnicity. The proposed settlement would have modified the court's order in the old case, which would have remedied the problems in the new case.

However, the judge rejected the settlement for not going far enough to hold the NYPD accountable. One of the primary criticism was that the independent citizen attorney that would be appointed to oversee the NYPD's investigations could be easily removed by the city's mayor in five years. While this was not the only criticism of the proposed settlement, the federal judge was happy to see that the parties attempted to settle the case and advised the attorneys to try again in light of his advice.

Why Must a Class Action Settlement Be Approved by a Judge?

When a class action lawsuit is certified by a court to go forward, the court is allowing a small group of individuals, or maybe even just one, to represent the rights of many others. In a class action case, a judge's ruling can essentially prevent a person who would have had an individual case from being able to file their case. As such, before a class action settlement can be approved, there must be notification to the absent class members providing them an opportunity to comment, question and opt-out. Additionally, a judge must determine whether the proposed settlement is fair to those absent class members before approving it.

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