An attorney detained after what he said were untrue allegations that he had filched $6.95 worth of chicken wings from a Manhattan bar has lost his bid to sue the bar and two of its employees.
“The charge of stealing a $6.95 order of chicken wings, hardly constitutes that of a serious crime,” Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Louis York (See Profile) wrote in Pawar v. The Stumble Inn, 100686-2012, holding that Vikrant Pawar had not made a sufficient case that the charge amounted to slander.
On April 23, 2011, Pawar, who said he was working at that time as an attorney for the New York Police Department, went to The Stumble Inn on the Upper East Side for a drink.
After finishing a bottle of Corona beer, Pawar was about to leave when, according to his complaint, he was “blocked by an onslaught of incoming patrons, most of whom appeared underage and intoxicated.”
Pawar said that a bouncer, James Cawthrone, apparently was not checking identifications. Pawar expressed his concern, but he said that Cawthrone shot back, “Mind your own business, you don’t pay my [expletive] bills.”
Outside the bar, Pawar called 911 because he said he felt a responsibility as an employee of an agency that enforces laws against underage drinking. The arriving officers heard Pawar’s report and went inside.
According to York’s ruling, Pawar accused Cawthorne and the bartender, Nathaniel Ruffle, of knowing he had money—he was carrying $100—but they “falsely stated” that he had stolen the chicken wings.
Pawar claimed that Cawthrone and Ruffle “concocted” their story and demanded his arrest for theft of services to cover up their own illegal actions. Pawar denied placing the chicken wings order and said the police did not find any wings on him.
Pawar was handcuffed and brought to a precinct, where he spent several hours in custody, according to his complaint. After further investigation, he said the police determined the charge was “spurious” and let him go.
Pawar filed suit against the bar, its personnel and its owners in January 2012.
The suit claimed defamation for the accusation of theft of services and a violation of Pawar’s First Amendment rights for the retaliation he purportedly experienced when raising concern about underage drinking. Pawar’s suit also sought to hold the bar and its owner vicariously liable for its employees’ conduct.
York observed that elements of a slander cause of action include a showing the statements at question either caused “special harm” or constituted “slander per se.”
Four categories of slander per se are statements “charging plaintiff with a serious crime”; statements “that tend to inure another in his or her trade, business or profession”; statements the plaintiff has “a loathsome disease”; or statements “imputing unchastity to a woman.”
Here, York said, Pawar alleged with proper specificity the words said by the employees, as well as the context. But Pawar “failed to sufficiently allege the requisite elements of either special damages or slander per se,” York wrote, saying charges of filching chicken wings did not make for a “serious crime.”
Turning to Pawar’s First Amendment claim, York observed the amendment protects individuals “from government, not private, interference with our speech.”
“Under the described circumstances, Pawar’s allegations of retaliatory violation of his First Amendment right to freedom of speech fail to set forth a basis upon which to assert a cognizable claim in that he has merely asserted private, rather than governmental conduct,” the judge said.
York noted that with Pawar failing to adequately state viable claims against Cawthrone and Ruffle, the vicarious liability claims against the bar and its owner also were inapplicable.
Robert Blossner of Manhattan represented Pawar, who is now listed on his Unified Court System profile as a solo practitioner based in Manhattan. Neither responded to a request for comment.
Neither the complaint nor York’s decision states the outcome of the police investigation of the bar for serving underage patrons.
Gregg Scharaga of Havkins Rosenfeld Ritzert & Varriale, who represented The Stumble Inn defendants, said no violations or charges were ever issued against the bar in connection to Pawar’s allegation.
Scharaga said his clients were “pleased” the judge dismissed Pawar’s “meritless lawsuit” and they were “ready to vigorously oppose any appeal of the court’s decision” should the plaintiff appeal.
Scharaga added it was his clients’ position “that Pawar did order chicken wings at the bar.”
@|Andrew Keshner can be contacted at email@example.com.