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FILED: QUEENS COUNTY CLERK 03/10/2019 10:31 PM INDEX NO.

704179/2019
NYSCEF DOC. NO. 2 RECEIVED NYSCEF: 03/11/2019

SUPREME COURT OF THE STATE OF NEW YORK


COUNTY OF QUEENS
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JOSHUA BOWEN, : Index No.:
:
Plaintiff, : COMPLAINT
:
-against- : Jury Trial Demanded
:
JAMES G. VAN BRAMER, :
:
Defendant. :
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Plaintiff JOSHUA BOWEN, by and through his attorneys, Jeannine Chanes, Esq. and

Roland Acevedo, Esq., hereby alleges, upon knowledge as to himself and his own acts, and

upon information and belief with respect to all other matters, as and for his Complaint against

JAMES G. VAN BRAMER, the following:

PRELIMINARY STATEMENT

1. This is an action for abuse of process and defamation arising out of the

political firestorm that has consumed New York politics since the announcement by

Amazon.com, Inc. that it was “ditching its plans to build a new headquarters in New York

after facing backlash from members of the community.”1

2. Jurisdiction and venue are proper in this Court based on Plaintiff’s place of

business in Long Island City and his residence in Astoria.

THE PARTIES

3. Plaintiff JOSHUA BOWEN is an individual who resides in Astoria, New York

(hereafter “Bowen”).

1
Seth Fiegerman, CNN Business, Amazon Cancels Plan To Build New York Headquarters,
https://www.cnn.com/2019/02/14/tech/amazon-hq2-nyc/index.html, updated 6:28 a.m. ET, Fri. Feb.
15, 2019.

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4. JAMES G. VAN BRAMER is an individual who also resides in Queens, New

York (hereafter “Van Bramer”). Van Bramer is a member of the New York City Council for

Queens County District 26.

THE FACTS

5. In addition to being a Queens resident, Bowen is a Managing Member of a

New York limited liability company that owns and operates John Brown Smokehouse, an

award-winning2 Kansas City-style barbeque restaurant that has its office and place of business

at 10-43 44th Drive, Long Island City (“John Brown Smokehouse”).

6. Van Bramer is the City Council Member who represents District 26, the

district where Bowen resides and where his business is located.

Bowen Has Had A Friendly Relationship With Van


Bramer And Van Bramer’s Chief of Staff for Years

7. Van Bramer and his Chief of Staff, Matthew Wallace (“Wallace”), have been

patrons of John Brown Smokehouse since shortly after it opened in 2012.

8. In addition, Wallace and his wife lived in an apartment directly above John

Brown Smokehouse for approximately five years.

9. As neighbors, Bowen and Wallace each had the other’s personal cell phone

number, and have texted each other regularly over the years.

10. Even though they have an amicable relationship, Bowen has not texted Van

Bramer since May 2018, when Bowen responded to a text from Van Bramer regarding an

event that Van Bramer wanted to hold at John Brown Smokehouse.

Bowen’s Community And Political Activism

2
Among other awards, John Brown Smokehouse received the Michelin Bib Gourmand award
three years in a row.

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11. Like many Americans, Bowen became politically active after the 2016

elections.

12. Through Bowen’s efforts, John Brown Smokehouse became a hub for

progressive grassroots political activism in Long Island City.

13. Bowen has hosted numerous political and charitable events at John Brown

Smokehouse, including events for Van Bramer, which have been attended by members of the

Long Island City/Queens community.

Amazon HQ2

14. Amazon announced its intention to open its HQ2 in Long Island City on or

about November 13, 2018.

15. As a politically active and vocal member of community, Bowen was as excited

as other Long Island City business owners when he learned of Amazon’s plans to move to his

neighborhood.

16. Bowen was particularly impressed by Amazon’s plans to invest in Long Island

City and its people, and the extensive environmental remediation Amazon planned to

undertake prior to construction.

17. Amazon announced that it was canceling its Long Island City HQ2 plans on or

about February 14, 2019.

18. Bowen was stunned and dismayed to learn that the actions of Van Bramer and

New York State Senator Michael Gianaris, both of whom Bowen knew and had actively

supported, had been instrumental in driving Amazon – and jobs for 25,000 New Yorkers – out

of Long Island City.

19. Subsequent polling by the Siena College Research Institute established that

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New Yorkers overwhelmingly support Amazon’s HQ2 being built in Long Island City.

20. Given the opinions of his fellow New Yorkers, Bowen thought it would be

worthwhile to launch a grassroots campaign to get Amazon to reconsider its withdrawal.

Mr. Bowen Goes To Seattle

21. Bowen was so determined to right what he perceived to be a wrong that he

took the initiative to fly out to Seattle on February 24, 2019 at his own expense to meet with

Amazon representatives.

22. Bowen wanted Amazon to hear from an ordinary Long Island City business

owner and resident about how much the small business community and ordinary Queens

residents wanted Amazon’s HQ2 to be built in Long Island City.

23. Bowen returned from Seattle even more impressed with Amazon, what it had

accomplished in Seattle, and what it was offering New York in general and the Long Island

City community in particular.

24. In Seattle, Bowen met with several Amazon executives, including Amazon’s

Vice President of Global Real Estate and Facilities, and came back convinced that Long

Island City was the right place for Amazon’s second East Coast headquarters.

Bowen Attempts To Convince Van Bramer To Do


What The Majority Of His Constituents Wanted

25. After returning from Seattle, Bowen exchanged texts with Wallace, Van

Bramer’s Chief of Staff (the “Wallace/Bowen texts”), copies of which are attached at

Exhibit A.

26. In his texts with Wallace, Bowen exercised his First Amendment political

speech rights and insisted that his elected representative, Van Bramer, reach out to Amazon to

try to persuade it to build its HQ2 in Long Island City.

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27. Bowen made it clear to Wallace that he was not trying to threaten either

Wallace or Van Bramer, but that he believed that Van Bramer would be destroying his

political career if he did not take action to save the HQ2 deal.

28. At no point did Bowen contact Van Bramer directly regarding HQ2.

Van Bramer Immediately Sought To Suppress Bowen’s


First Amendment Political Speech Rights

29. Immediately after Wallace received the Wallace/Bowen texts, Van Bramer

launched a campaign to penalize Bowen for exercising his First Amendment rights to free

political speech.

30. Van Bramer characterized Bowen’s texts and his exercise of his First

Amendment rights as criminal conduct in order to distract from the growing criticism of Van

Bramer’s own actions in driving Amazon out of New York.

Van Bramer Filed Baseless Criminal Charges Against


Bowen To Shut Him Up

31. In an attempt to suppress Bowen’s political speech, Van Bramer’s first step

was to go to the New York Police Department’s108th Precinct in Queens to file criminal

charges against Bowen, even though Van Bramer subsequently admitted to at least one news

reporter that “he doesn’t think Bowen is ‘capable of physical violence.’”3

32. Upon information and belief, Van Bramer did not disclose to the police that the

Wallace/Bowen texts, which formed the basis of his criminal complaint, had not actually been

sent to him.

33. Upon information and belief, Van Bramer also did not tell the police that
3
Michael Gartland, Janon Fisher and Denis Slattery, “Van Bramer Accuses LIC
Restaurant Owner of Making Threats Over Amazon,” New York Daily News, March 1, 2019
https://www.nydailynews.com/news/politics/ny-metro-van-bramer-threat-030119-story.html.

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Wallace and Bowen had a long-standing personal relationship and that both Van Bramer and

his Chief of Staff knew Bowen well.

Van Bramer Used Social Media In An Effort To Turn


Public Support Away From Bowen And John Brown
Smokehouse

34. After filing a false police report, Van Bramer then turned to Twitter, where he

accused Bowen of threatening violence against him rather than acknowledging Bowen’s First

Amendment rights to engage in free and vigorous political debate.

35. Within twenty-four hours of the Wallace/Bowen texts, Van Bramer posted

cropped copies of the texts on his own Twitter account, @JimmyVanBramer, so that it

appeared that Bowen’s texts had been sent to him rather than to Wallace, who had been

Bowen’s neighbor for years.

36. Van Bramer endorsed and retweeted comments from his followers who

criticized Bowen, and encouraged his followers to boycott Bowen’s business by retweeting

those comments as well.

Van Bramer Used Social Media To Publicize The Fact


That He Had Filed Criminal Charges Against Bowen

37. Van Bramer also used Twitter to announce that he had filed criminal charges

against Bowen.

38. Van Bramer also told the press that he had “reported Bowen to the New York

Police Department,” and he shared the contents of the Wallace/Bowen texts with them – again

without disclosing the fact that the texts had not actually been sent to him, or that Bowen and

Wallace had known each other for years.

39. As a result, Bowen’s exercise of his core political speech rights guaranteed by

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the First Amendment was widely portrayed in a false light to and by the media.4

40. Van Bramer has continued violating Bowen’s First Amendment rights by

inaccurately and improperly characterizing Bowen’s protected political speech as criminal

actions to the press and on social media.

41. Van Bramer has also attempted to curtail Bowen’s political speech by

encouraging people to boycott Bowen’s business.

AS AND FOR A FIRST CAUSE OF ACTION

Abuse of Process

42. Plaintiff repeats and realleges each and every allegation as set forth above, and

hereby incorporates same by reference, as if all were set forth fully herein.

43. In or about late February 2019, Van Bramer went to the 108th Precinct in

Queens and swore out a criminal complaint against Bowen, without excuse or justification

even after Bowen made it clear that he did not intend the Wallace/Bowen texts as a threat.

44. Van Bramer’s filing of the criminal complaint was without justification or

excuse because Van Bramer admitted to the Daily New that he did not think that Bowen was

capable of physical violence or posed a threat to anyone.

45. Van Bramer swore out a criminal complaint against Bowen with the collateral

objective of distracting the press and New Yorkers from the voters’ growing fury at Van

Bramer for his part in destroying the Amazon HQ2 deal, which the majority of New Yorkers

4
Will Bredderman, Crain’s New York Business, Councilman Tells Police Pro-Amazon
Business Owner Threatened Him, March 1, 2019,
https://www.crainsnewyork.com/politics/councilman-tells-police-pro-amazon-business-
owner-threatened-him; Bill Parry, QNS.com, Van Bramer Calls Cops On Queens Restaurant
Owner For Texting ‘Threat’ Over Amazon Failure, March 1, 2019,
https://qns.com/story/2019/03/01/van-bramer-calls-cops-on-queens-restaurant-owner-for-
texting-threat-over-amazon-failure/

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thought was a once-in-a-generation opportunity to transform Queens into a high-tech East

Coast Silicon Valley with tens of thousands of new jobs for New Yorkers..

46. Van Bramer swore out a criminal complaint against Bowen for the collateral

objective of currying favor and sympathy as a “victim,” and to deflect from the fact that Van

Bramer was one of the prime instigators of the Amazon HQ2 departure debacle.

47. Van Bramer swore out a criminal complaint against Bowen for the collateral

objective of suppressing Bowen’s First Amendment right to freely engage in core political

speech because Bowen’s criticisms of Van Bramer were resonating with the group of HQ2

proponents that has been coalescing around Bowen, and whose stated objectives include

opposing any future campaign for political office that Van Bramer may pursue.

48. By virtue of the above activities, Van Bramer has committed the tort of abuse

of process, and Bowen is entitled to judgment as set forth below.

AS AND FOR A SECOND CAUSE OF ACTION

Defamation Per Se

49. Plaintiff repeats and realleges each and every allegation as set forth above, and

hereby incorporates same by reference, as if all were set forth fully herein.

50. Van Bramer, not Bowen, brought the Wallace/Bowen texts to the public’s

attention.

51. Van Bramer has admitted that he does not actually think that Bowen is

“capable of physical violence.”

52. Nonetheless, Van Bramer used the Wallace/Bowen texts as a basis for widely

circulating the accusations that Bowen was threatening him with physical violence.

53. Van Bramer has repeatedly and maliciously promoted the narrative on Twitter

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and to the press that the Wallace/Bowen texts constituted criminal threats which could only be

addressed by filing a complaint with the New York City police – in other words, that Bowen

is involved in criminal activity.

54. By publicly, maliciously and falsely accusing Bowen of criminal conduct when

Bowen was only exercising his core First Amendment right to free political speech, Van

Bramer has committed defamation per se.

55. By virtue of the above activities, Van Bramer has committed the tort of

defamation per se, and Bowen is entitled to judgment against Van Bramer as set forth below.

WHEREFORE, Bowen requests that this Court enter judgment in his favor on each and

every claim set forth above and award him relief, including but not limited to the following:

A. On Bowen’s First Cause of Action (Abuse of Process), ordering and

adjudging damages in excess of $25,000 as determined at trial, plus the

costs and expenses of bringing this action; and

B. On Bowen’s First Cause of Action (Defamation Per Se), ordering and

adjudging damages in excess of $25,000 as determined at trial, plus the

costs and expenses of bringing this action.

Together with such other and further relief as this Court deems just, proper and equitable

under the circumstances.

Dated: March 9, 2019


________________________________
JEANNINE CHANES
ROLAND ACEVEDO
Attorneys for Plaintiff Joshua Bowen
27 Whitehall Street, 4th Floor
New York, New York 10004
Email: jwchanes@gmail.com
Tel.: 212-785-6543

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Cell: 917-575-9813
Email: legal@rracevedolaw.com
Tel.: 212-658-1970
Cell: 917-670-1777

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Exhibit A

Texts Between Matthew Wallace and Joshua Bowen


Feb. 14, 2019