Defendants file to dismiss lawsuit over bridge lane closures
NEWARK (AP) -- Current and former associates of Gov. Chris Christie and other defendants in a lawsuit over lane closures at the George Washington Bridge are seeking to have it dismissed, claiming in documents filed Friday that the suit is overly broad and doesn't describe actual law violations.
The filings were made by Bill Stepien, Christie's former campaign manager; Chris Christie for Governor, Inc.; Bill Baroni, a former Christie appointee at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey; Christie spokesman Michael Drewniak and the Port Authority, which operates the bridge. Christie is not named in the suit.
The lawsuit was filed by residents and business owners over the disruptive morning rush-hour lane closures in September 2013 that were apparently politically motivated. The lane closings snarled traffic in Fort Lee for four days and have dogged Christie, who is laying the groundwork for a presidential run in 2016.
Text messages and emails subpoenaed by a state legislative committee revealed that since-fired Christie aide Bridget Kelly and Port Authority official David Wildstein orchestrated the closures. Wildstein resigned in late 2013.
A study by a law firm commissioned by Christie cleared the governor of any wrongdoing and concluded he wasn't aware of the planning of the closures beforehand. The U.S. attorney's office is conducting a criminal investigation into the matter.
According to figures released Friday, the state was billed nearly $7.5 million in 2014 by the law firm defending Christie and his administration in the lane-closing scandal.
The lawsuit, a consolidation of two suits filed by several individuals and businesses in and around Fort Lee who said they were inconvenienced by the traffic jams, alleges deprivation of constitutional rights to due process and freedom of movement, official misconduct, conspiracy and racketeering.
Friday's motions allege the suit doesn't specify who did what and when and doesn't show specifically how the plaintiffs suffered damages.
It "offers no facts related to the times, locations, or participants of any concerted activity by Defendants," the filing by Chris Christie for Governor claims.
Drewniak's filing calls the allegations in the lawsuit "threadbare" but adds that, "The State does not dispute the significant impact this ill-advised decision had on the residents of Fort Lee and neighboring towns and on those whose commutes and other daily routines were disrupted by the lane realignment."
The Port Authority claims the lawsuit doesn't establish that the plaintiffs were deprived of their right to interstate travel because they had "alternate routes of travel" between Fort Lee and New York City.
The authority's filing also alleges the lawsuit has to identify "a custom or policy" that deprived them of their federally protected rights. It says that "realignment of toll lanes for a four-day period does not constitute a custom or policy" and that the "one-time event cannot establish any pattern or practice of the Defendants."
Baroni's filing claims the suit "describes no action by Mr. Baroni as part of a conspiracy and provides no facts indicating that Mr. Baroni was aware of any conspiracy, no less in a position to stop it."
Baroni testified in front of a state legislative committee that the lane closures were part of a traffic study.
An attorney representing the plaintiffs didn't immediately return an email seeking comment Friday.
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