Judge nixes bridge lane-closing suit against Christie allies

AP News
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Posted: Jun 30, 2015 2:29 PM

NEWARK, N.J. (AP) — A federal judge has dismissed a class-action lawsuit filed by people who were stuck in traffic when lanes leading to the George Washington Bridge were closed without warning in 2013.

The judge's ruling posted Monday faulted the plaintiffs for not describing what each defendant's role was in the scheme, but it gave the plaintiffs leeway to refile eight of the 11 claims contained in the complaint. The remaining three were dismissed with prejudice and can't be refiled.

The suit is a combination of two lawsuits filed in early 2014, several months after the lane closings at the bridge caused massive gridlock in Fort Lee.

An investigation into the lane closures led to the indictments of Bridget Kelly, former deputy chief of staff to Republican Gov. Chris Christie, and Bill Baroni, the former Christie-appointed deputy executive director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which operates the bridge.

The indictment alleges the lane closures were orchestrated for political retribution against the Democratic mayor of Fort Lee for not endorsing Christie. David Wildstein, another former Port Authority official, has pleaded guilty and is expected to testify against Baroni and Kelly.

Kelly, Baroni, Wildstein and former Christie campaign manager Bill Stepien are among the defendants in the lawsuit. Christie is not a defendant and has said he had no knowledge of the planning or execution of the lane closings until well afterward. A taxpayer-funded report by lawyers hired by Christie arrived at the same conclusions.

A Democrat-controlled state legislative panel in an interim report on its inquiry didn't find any proof of a direct connection between the governor and the lane closures.

The scandal has led to several resignations and firings and has dogged Christie, who announced Tuesday he was running for president.

The lawsuit charges the defendants with depriving them of constitutional rights to equal protection, racketeering, breach of contract and other violations. One lawsuit was filed by several people who said they were late for work because of the traffic jams; the other was filed by several limousine and taxi companies.

"Despite the multitude of media coverage and governmental scrutiny about the facts and circumstances related to the incident giving rise to this action," U.S. District Judge Jose Linares wrote in his opinion, "Plaintiffs provide only conclusory allegations against Defendants as a group, failing to allege the personal involvement of any Defendant as is required."

Attorneys for the plaintiffs didn't immediately return a message seeking comment.