PITTSBURGH - The ACLU of Pennsylvania and Reed Smith LLP reached a settlement with the city of Greensburg on behalf of a resident and his former attorney, who were sued by the city after they pursued an unsuccessful federal civil rights case against the city and four of its police officers. Greensburg denied any liability or wrongdoing but agreed to dismiss the suit against the men. The city’s insurance carrier also agreed to pay them $98,000 in damages and attorneys’ fees.
In June 2012, plaintiff Edward F. Wisneski, represented by his attorney, Robert M. Owsiany, filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the city of Greensburg and four of its police officers alleging excessive use of force after he was struck with a Taser, punched in the face, and forcibly removed from his vehicle during the course of an arrest on July 4, 2010. The court dismissed his case in April 2014.
The city of Greensburg then filed a new lawsuit against both Wisneski and Owsiany in the Court of Common Pleas for Westmoreland County, seeking reimbursement of its costs in defending against the federal suit under a Pennsylvania statute that allows those who have been named as defendants in civil actions to sue those who pursued them if they believe that the actions were filed for an improper purpose.
In December 2015, the ACLU of Pennsylvania and Reed Smith filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of Wisneski and Owsiany, asking the court to prohibit Greensburg from proceeding with its lawsuit against the men. The lawsuit argued that the First Amendment bars governmental entities from filing lawsuits against individuals who have sued them for civil-rights violations because of the risk that such suits will chill people from exercising their right to petition the government.
“We are pleased that Greensburg agreed to dismiss its lawsuit against the plaintiffs,” said Sara Rose, an ACLU of Pennsylvania staff attorney. “Individuals who believe their civil rights have been violated should not be discouraged from exercising their constitutional right to file a lawsuit for fear that the government will sue them if they are unsuccessful.”
“The impact of this settlement extends beyond the outcome achieved for our clients,” added Kathleen Nandan, counsel in the Pittsburgh office of Reed Smith and who represented the plaintiffs pro bono as part of the firm’s long-standing collaboration with the ACLU of Pennsylvania.
The case is Owsiany v. City of Greensburg. Wisneski and Owsiany are represented by Sara Rose and Witold Walczak of the ACLU-PA, and Kathleen Nandan, counsel in the Pittsburgh office of the international law firm Reed Smith.
More information, including a copy of the lawsuit, can be found at: www.aclupa.org/owsiany