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Massapequa water district supe wins $20G in defamation suit

In addition to the $20,000 payment, Massapequa resident

In addition to the $20,000 payment, Massapequa resident Robert Ripp agreed he would not post anything on social media about Massapequa Water District Superintendent Stanley Carey.  Credit: Danielle Finkelstein

A former candidate for Oyster Bay Town supervisor settled a defamation suit last month for $20,000 after losing a jury trial in state Supreme Court in Mineola.

In addition to the payment, Massapequa resident Robert Ripp agreed he would not post anything on social media about Massapequa Water District Superintendent Stanley Carey. Carey filed the suit in 2017 after Ripp posted a series of allegations of wrongdoing against him on Facebook, YouTube and in the comments section of Newsday.com.

The jury awarded $40,000 in compensatory damages to Carey and was to consider punitive damages, but the parties settled before the jury could deliberate again.

“I feel good that it’s over and he can’t do this anymore and he’s been punished,” Carey said.

Carey said he was willing to settle for less than the jury award because Ripp testified he didn’t have assets and was in debt. A $20,000 payment and an agreement to stop posting things about him was “punishment enough,” Carey said.

Ripp’s attorney, John Palmer of Mineola, said Ripp is living on his pension and Social Security and is still paying off his mortgage.

“He obviously is not a wealthy man,” Palmer said. “Carey would have had a problem collecting any judgment from Ripp.”

Palmer had argued in court filings that Ripp’s online comments were protected speech under the First Amendment.

Ripp, a retired New York City police officer, was a frequent critic of Oyster Bay’s town government, posting videos and allegations about various officials on his Facebook page and on YouTube. In 2017, he made an unsuccessful run for town supervisor as an independent candidate.

Carey said Ripp’s online attacks “came close to ruining my life.”

In 2018, State Supreme Court Judge Antonio Brandveen, who presided over the case before it went to trial, ordered Ripp to remove comments about Carey from Facebook that were at issue in the lawsuit and barred him from posting defamatory comments about the superintendent.

“This has been a very long process, and I hope the public takes this as a message that it's not acceptable to use social media as a weapon to purposely slander people,” Carey said.

The Massapequa water district has also sued Ripp, seeking to stop him from filing Freedom of Information Law requests after alleging he had abused the system by inundating it with FOIL requests. Palmer said the district has remedies under state law to deal with FOIL requests it deems unreasonable — namely by denying a request and then raising other issues as a defense if the requester sues the district. Palmer said settlement talks are underway with the district. 

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