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Federal judge allows civil rights lawsuit to proceed against City of Methuen over faulty and coercive OUI form

Howard M. Cooper, Joseph M. Cacace, and Saraa Basaria persuaded a federal district court judge in Massachusetts to permit a civil rights class action lawsuit to proceed against the City of Methuen, its police chief, and several individual police officers for using a factually inaccurate and coercive Spanish-language advice-of-rights form during OUI arrests.

Among other things, the form misinforms an individual arrested for OUI that a jury will hear evidence about the individual’s refusal to take a breath test. The form also incorrectly states that the legal blood alcohol limit is .10, when it's .08.

As alleged in the lawsuit, the Methuen Police Department was advised in 2013 by the Essex County District Attorney's office that the form contained inaccurate information and as a result violated the rights of individuals accused of driving under the influence.  However, there is no evidence that the City Methuen did anything to correct the form.

The firm's client was charged with OUI in 2014 following an evening spent with friends.  While fleeing an abusive boyfriend, she crashed into two parked cars. The complaint alleges that the plaintiff was coerced into taking a breath test as a result of the inaccurate form.

In ruling on the defendants' motion to dismiss the complaint, U.S. District Court Judge F. Dennis Saylor IV ruled that the complaint states claims for violations of constitutional substantive due process and equal protection rights, as well as violations of federal and state civil rights statutes, and a state law claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress.

The judge also determined that based on the allegations in the complaint the individual defendants are not entitled to qualified immunity for their actions.

The class action requests the court to appoint a special master to oversee Methuen in identifying all individuals potentially affected by the form and notifying them that they have the opportunity to vacate their OUI plea or seek a new trial, followed by individual damages trials for all affected individuals.