Chris Christie faces class-action lawsuit over bridge scandal

January 14, 2014

New Jersey Governor Christie reacts during news conference in TrentonIf you thought New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s problems couldn’t get any worse, think again.

The embattled governor is now facing a lawsuit over the now-infamous bridge scandal that is currently making Christie’s life very difficult.

In case you’re short on the details of this scandal that has been gripping headlines over the past week, I’ll bring you up to speed:

Governor Christie was up for reelection in 2013, which he won handily on November 5 against Democratic challenger Barbara Buono.

However, Christie failed to secure the endorsement of Democrat Mark Sokolich, the mayor of Fort Lee, New Jersey (who instead endorsed Buono).  Seemingly in response to this, several members of the Christie administration orchestrated a week-long traffic jam in Fort Lee by closing two access lanes on the New Jersey side of the George Washington Bridge, which crosses the Hudson River and acts as a major artery between New Jersey and New York.

Members of the Christie administration initially denied any involvement, but as more information became known, several members of Christie’s inner circle appear to have had direct involvement in creating the traffic jam – and the intentions seem to be political retribution against Mayor Sokolich.  Christie himself continues to deny having any knowledge of or involvement in the actions of his staff.

Last Thursday, legal woes were added to Christie’s political woes: a group of citizens, most of whom are residents of Fort Lee, sued Christie, the state of New Jersey, the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey, and several members of Christie’s staff over the traffic jam.

The plaintiffs claim that the traffic jam caused them to be late for work (or miss work altogether), which caused lost wages, among other “physical, emotional and/or economic damages.”  The lawsuit is seeking class certification to include all of the people affected by the traffic jam as plaintiffs.

However, if Christie continues to maintain that he was completely unaware of the planning and execution of this traffic jam until last week, why is the lawsuit naming him as a defendant?

Because, according to the complaint, Governor Christie “knew or reasonably should have known that” all of these individuals and organizations (most or all of whom had close ties to Christie himself) were conspiring in this act of political retribution on Christie’s behalf.

This means that, in order to remove himself from the lawsuit, Christie will have to demonstrate in court that he both had no knowledge of this conspiracy and that there is no reason why he should have been reasonably expected to know about it.

If Christie is truly as innocent as he is claiming, then he should have no trouble getting the claims against him dismissed.  However, even such a scenario would be less than ideal for Christie, since discovery would undoubtedly yield more unpleasant details and communications involving the scandal, ultimately damaging Christie’s political career.

What about the merits of the lawsuit itself?  Do these plaintiffs have a reasonable chance of success?

Honestly, it doesn’t matter.  As long as the lawsuit can survive the initial pleading stages – that is, unless a judge decides that the plaintiffs have not alleged any cognizable legal claims (and, of course, the case is certified as a class action) – the case will ultimately be settled.  It’s far too risky for Christie to do otherwise.

Is the filing attorney doing this for political reasons?  Not according to the attorney herself, who self-identifies as a “Republican” who “voted for [Christie]” (seemingly implicating “to make a living” as the likely motivation).

And that’s one thing that future would-be political retaliators should learn from this lawsuit: financial incentives cut across party lines, and if you engage in the sort of malicious retribution at issue in this case, you should expect consequences in many forms – including a class-action lawsuit.