Gramercy shop sued by wheelchair plaintiff closes

Aug2 Asia Market

Asia Market on Third Avenue (Photos by Sabina Mollot)

By Sabina Mollot

Last week, a disabled resident of Queens who was suing around 50 business over lack of access to him in his wheelchair was revealed to be able to walk in an article by the New York Post. The paper then went on to report that all the lawsuits were being dropped by the man’s attorney, Jeffrey Neiman, who claimed he had no idea that his client’s claims of being unable to walk weren’t legit.

Meanwhile, one of the businesses targeted by the plaintiff, Arik Matatov, was Asia Market, an Asian grocery store in Gramercy that closed on Tuesday. The store has been open for about a year on Third Avenue between East 18th and 19th Streets.

Reached by phone on Monday, a woman who introduced herself as one of the owners, said the lawsuit, despite having been reportedly dropped, was a factor in the decision to close.

Naomi Kwong said, “It is one of the reasons,” saying that she was first contacted by an attorney earlier this year with a Fed Exed complaint of inaccessibility. Thinking it seemed fishy, she then looked up Neiman and his client online and found information on what appeared to be a quickly drafted website that was created in January.

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Tenants protest landlord lawsuit aimed at undoing rent freeze

feb2-rally-garodnick-cropped

Council Member Dan Garodnick outside the courthouse where arguments were being heard over the Rent Stabilization Association’s lawsuit (Photos by Sabina Mollot)

By Sabina Mollot

Lawyers for a landlord group were met by an angry crowd of protesters as they arrived in court to argue against a citywide rent freeze Tuesday.

Despite freezing temperatures and snow, the sign-waving group of renters, made up mostly of seniors, led chants that at times called for either a rent freeze or a rollback.

Among their supporters was Council Member Dan Garodnick, who said, “We have seen what happens year after year, even in years when costs went down. Rents only seemed to go in one direction and that was up. As a result, evictions go up. Homelessness goes up. The Rent Guidelines Board acted totally appropriately in making that determination.”

Judge Debra James was hearing arguments from the Rent Stabilization Association, the plaintiff, and those seeking to intervene in the lawsuit, including a coalition of tenant groups, legal service organizations and 18 City Council members.

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Pols ask hospitals not to film patients without prior permission

Council Member Dan Garodnick with Anita Chanko, widow of Mark Chanko, a former Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper resident whose medical treatment and death was filmed for a reality show without permission, Mark’s daughter Pamela, his son Kennerh, Kenneth’s wife Barbara, State Senators Brad Hoylman and Liz Krueger and Assembly Member Edward Braunstein of Queens (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

Council Member Dan Garodnick with Anita Chanko, widow of Mark Chanko, a former Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper resident whose medical treatment and death was filmed for a reality show without permission, Mark’s daughter Pamela, his son Kenneth, Kenneth’s wife Barbara, State Senators Brad Hoylman and Liz Krueger and Assembly Member Edward Braunstein of Queens (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

 

By Sabina Mollot

Over 30 members of the City Council are calling on hospitals to respect patients’ privacy, in response to the stunning case of a man who was struck by a truck only to then have his medical treatment and death filmed for an ABC reality show, “NY Med.”

The man was Mark Chanko, at one time a resident of Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village. His family, who never authorized any filming of his treatment, has sued the hospital, New York Presbyterian, and ABC. Arguments for the case are expected to be heard in September at the Court of Appeals.

While there is currently legislation pending at the state level that would prohibit hospitals filming patients without obtaining prior consent, the Council said it was asking hospitals to take that step voluntarily. The Council members wrote a letter that was sent to all New York hospitals asking them not to film patients or allow third parties to film patients for entertainment purposes. Or, if they do, the Council members said hospitals should at least make sure they get prior permission to do so.

The letter was also written in response to news that a reality show similar to “NY Med” would soon begin filming at a Boston hospital.

Mark Chanko with son Ken on a family cruise in 2006

Mark Chanko with son Ken on a family cruise in 2006

In the “NY Med” episode, Chanko’s face was blurred and his voice altered but those who knew him, including his widow Anita, recognized him immediately when she watched the show.

At a press conference at City Hall, she recalled how he’d asked, “Does my wife know I’m here?’ Whoever answered him said, ‘I don’t know.’” Since then, Anita said she’s had the segment featuring her husband pop up in her mind at unexpected moments. At these times, all of the evening’s events play out, starting from when her husband mentions wanting to run to the deli to pick up milk and bananas, to shortly afterwards, when the doorman at the couple’s building in Yorkville told Anita she needed to come downstairs, to then seeing Chanko lying in a gurney that she wasn’t allowed to get near.

“It’s a PTSD (experience),” Anita said. “It comes in unprompted. Watch a man die, now we’re going to sell you a car. Now we’re going to sell you some soap.”

When viewing the episode, which she said no one from the network or hospital warned her would be aired, she felt like she was reliving his death all over again. When the doctor told her and other family members that attempts to save Chanko were unsuccessful, he hadn’t told them he was wearing a microphone or that the conversation would be part of a show.

“We don’t want for this to happen to other people,” said Ken Chanko, Mark’s son, a teacher, who’s also a former film critic for Town & Village.

Council Member Dan Garodnick called shows like “NY Med” and its Boston spinoff, “Save My Life: Boston Trauma,” a “crude window into people’s medical care.

“Patients in our hospitals deserve to know that their sensitive moments will not be used for entertainment,” he said. “We deserve better from our medical institutions.”

Garodnick added that the Council will soon be issuing a report card for hospitals, “so you’ll know which hospitals will protect your privacy and which won’t.”

Last Thursday, Garodnick posted a petition on change.org calling on hospitals to not film patients. As of Monday it was signed over 500 times.

At the press conference, Council members also expressed their support for state legislation that would prevent future incidents like the one experienced by the Chankos.

Legislation that was authored by Assembly Member Edward Braunstein would create a private right of action for the unauthorized filming and broadcasting of hospital patients. It’s in the midst of some revising, though, with Braunstein explaining that the revisions were in response to broadcast associations’ concerns that some of the language was too vague. “But we’re confident we’ll be able to complete it next year,” said Braunstein, whose district is in Queens.

State Senator Liz Krueger, who’s co-sponsoring the bill in the Senate, said there’s no way the presence of a TV camera wouldn’t impact the quality of patient care.

“(If a doctor says) ‘we need to get over there,’ and the director says, ‘We need a better shot over there’ — we’re not supposed to have that situation,” she said.

State Senator Brad Hoylman, another bill co-sponsor, added, “Shame on Dr. Oz and others for violating their Hippocratic Oath to do no harm.” Dr. Mehmet Oz is featured on “NY Med.”

A spokesperson for New York Presbyterian previously declined to comment on the Chankos’ litigation. A request for comment on the Council’s letter was referred to the Greater New York Hospital Association, whose president, Kenneth E. Raske, issued a statement indicating his agreement with the Council’s suggestions.

“Greater New York Hospital Association and its member hospitals agree that hospitals should not allow patients to be filmed for entertainment purposes without their prior consent,” Raske said. “Further, all New York hospitals take their legal obligations concerning patient privacy very seriously. Both New York State and federal law prohibit the use or disclosure of identifiable patient information without the prior consent of the patient or a suitable patient representative. New York’s hospitals will continue to vigorously safeguard the privacy of patients and their families.”

Lawsuit to close election loophole

Assembly Member Brian Kavanagh

Assembly Member Brian Kavanagh (pictured at a rally in May) is one of the plaintiffs. (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

By Sabina Mollot

On Tuesday, three Democratic state legislators filed a lawsuit against the Board of Elections aimed at closing the “LLC Loophole.”

The so-called loophole, created by the board in 1996, came under scrutiny this year due to all the campaign cash that had been legally funneled to legislators through limited liability companies. Many of the LLCs were controlled by real estate interests, most infamously Leonard Litwin of Glenwood Management. The loophole has allowed them to give nearly limitless contributions — up to $60,800 in a single election year by allowing them to be considered individuals.

“It’s not just (Litwin),” said Brent Ferguson, an attorney with New York University’s Brennan Center for Justice, which helped prepare the lawsuit. “In the real estate industry, they can operate a separate LLC for every building they own.”

He added, “We think it’s an incorrect reading of the law.”

The Brennan Center got involved with a suit on the loophole, said Ferguson, because it’s “become very popular” in recent years. “The amount has skyrocketed.”

Since 2011, $54 million has been donated by LLCs through the loophole, and while those doing the giving are usually traceable, they aren’t always.

“We think it’s one of the biggest problems in New York’s campaign finance system and democracy in general,” said Ferguson.

The legislators who are plaintiffs in the suit include Assembly Member Brian Kavanagh and Senators Liz Krueger and Daniel Squadron who are all Democrats as well as

Republicans John R. Dunne, a former senator and former U.S. attorney general for the Civil Rights Division, and Maureen Koetz, who ran a campaign against Assembly Member Sheldon Silver last year.

Another plaintiff is SUNY New Paltz Professor Gerald Benjamin, an upstate Republican Party leader. The suit was filed with the Albany County Supreme Court with the help of the Brennan Center and the firm Emery Celli Brinckerhoff & Abady LLP.

In April the Brennan Center and Emery Celli asked the BOE to close the loophole, but the board, after a 2-2 vote, didn’t reverse its decision.

Prior to the rent laws being renewed last month, Kavanagh had introduced legislation that would cap contributions from corporations at $5,000 per calendar year. The bill made it through the Assembly but not the Senate.

In an official statement, Kavanagh said, “The individuals and businesses who give large contributions through LLCs have much more power than those who have not contributed or have contributed under the lower limits that apply to other entities and individuals. The result is that government does not adequately represent those New Yorkers who do not have the ability or desire to exploit the LLC Loophole.”

Krueger said that she’s encountered would-be candidates for public office who got turned off from running because they didn’t think they’d be able to compete with candidates raising more money.

“The prominence of LLC contributions has a significant effect on the willingness and ability of people to run for office,” she said.

Ferguson said the plaintiffs are hoping the litigation will be resolved before the 2016 elections. The fight is not a new one though, he said, noting that in 2007, some good government groups raised some of the points to the BOE raised in the suit.

The lawsuit argues that an LLC is not individual because: “An LLC cannot vote. It holds no political view separate of its members.” It also noted how LLCs had been looked at by the governor’s now disbanded anti-corruption panel, who believed they contributed to Albany’s “pay-to-play culture.”

A spokesperson for the Board of Elections did not respond to a request for comment.

PCV dog trainer denies competing with Happy Dogs, poaching clients

Peter Cooper resident Blake Rodriguez of DCTK9, with other dog walkers, walks a dog close to home in August. (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

Peter Cooper resident Blake Rodriguez of DCTK9, with other dog walkers, walks a dog close to home in August. (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

By Sabina Mollot

In September, new doggie daycare center Happy Dogs, which is located on First Avenue north of 23rd Street, sued a former trainer the company had worked with, accusing Blake Rodriguez, a Peter Cooper resident, of poaching customers and starting a competing business, Dream Come True K9 (DCTK9).

The problem, said Ien and Jennifer Cheng, who own Happy Dogs, was that during the course of their working relationship, Rodriguez said he wanted to open his own rehabilitation center for dogs with behavioral issues. Though they knew this, they became concerned that despite his having signed an agreement not to compete, his center, located a mile and half downtown of Happy Dogs in Manhattan, would do just that by offering overnight boarding as Happy Dogs also does.

The contract called for him not to start a competing business within three miles of of Happy Dogs after the working relationship had ended. Happy Dogs also accused Rodriguez of illegally boarding dogs in his apartment.

A month after the suit was filed, last Thursday, a judge at a city Civil Court heard arguments from both sides and while he didn’t come to any decision, indicated he didn’t think Rodriguez’s dog walking and training company posed much of a threat to Happy Dogs. Noting that DCTK9 is a startup while Happy Dogs has two locations (one in Kips Bay and another in McCarren Park in Brooklyn), Judge Robert Reed said, “It’s like a gnat causing annoyance to an elephant.”

Reed brought up how many dogs there were in the city, saying that just that morning he’d been emailed an ad for a doggie daycare service “and I don’t have a dog.” He added that he wondered why Happy Dogs was so worried about losing clients when “there’s a lot more people with dogs within that three mile radius” of Manhattan.

Happy Dogs owner Jennifer Cheng at the First  Avenue facility in 2013 (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

Happy Dogs owner Jennifer Cheng at the First Avenue facility in 2013 (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

In response, attorney Robert Landy, who was representing Happy Dogs, said that while Happy Dogs didn’t consider itself unique, it was trying to keep its clients from being poached by Rodriguez. The lawsuit had stated that the Chengs had seen testimonials on DCTK9’s website from former clients of Happy Dogs. In response to Reed’s earlier comparison of the two businesses, the attorney said that he “wouldn’t consider Happy Dogs a giant elephant,” but agreed that Happy Dogs was a bigger operation. He said the company recently expanded so that there are now 30 employees.

Landy added that Rodriguez and the Chengs had worked on the group training sessions held at Happy Dogs together and as a result Rodriguez got confidential information about the company’s clients and their dogs’ needs. He also said that during a time after the working relationship had ended but when the Chengs and Rodriguez were still trying to renew it, there was a lot of back and forth on what Rodriguez was going to do with his company, with boarding being a murky subject.

Rodriguez’s website, he added, initially described DCTK9 as a one-stop shop for various dog-related services. But DCTK9, in a written response to the lawsuit, had said Rodriguez had been unaware of this at first since he hadn’t been the one to designed his recently revamped website. The website also utilized SEO services aimed at bringing more traffic to the site. This, Rodriguez’s counter-complaint explained, was the reason for the “one-stop shop” wording. In court, Landy said he found that difficult to believe.

“The defendant will say what’s most useful for himself and then back away from it,” said Landy.

Reed, however, said he was concerned that “stopping (Rodriguez) from being able to go off on a new venture, I don’t know if that’s in keeping with public policy.” He also said he thought the two businesses’ neighborhoods’, DCTK9’s on the Lower East Side vs. Happy Dogs near Stuyvesant Town/Peter Cooper and Gramercy Park were different in the latter ones “have a bit more money.”

In arguing for DCTK9, attorney Aglaia Davis said Rodriguez doesn’t advertise or solicit clients, and when he gets calls, refers the caller to his website to make sure what the person is looking for is training or walking as part of a training program, rather than daycare. “If someone was to say, ‘I don’t want to be with Happy Dogs, anymore. I’m looking for somewhere to drop off my dog and pick it up at 5,” DCTK9 wouldn’t be able to offer the service, she said. “Their businesses are not competing.”

At this point, Reed said he couldn’t even understand why there was a dispute.

Following the arguments, Rodriguez who’d been present at court, said he thought “this whole thing is silly.” He said the only dogs he offers boarding to are the ones participating in his training program or that have used the training program in the past.

“We do make an expectation for dogs we’ve trained,” he said. “It’s not for everybody. It’s not daycare.”

He also denied boarding dogs in his apartment in Peter Cooper Village.

“I have a center. That’s where I live. I have a dog,” he said.

The Chengs weren’t present at the court appearance, and Landy declined to make any further comment. A spokesperson for CW declined to comment on whether or not Rodriguez has boarded dogs at his home.