Nnebe v. Daus, 06 civ. 4991 (RJS) – AND – Stallworth v. Joshi, 17 civ. 7119 (RJS) SDNY
These twin actions challenge the New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission's practice of suspending the license of any taxi drivers who has been arrested, but who has been convicted of nothing. After the suspension, the TLC offers the cabbie a putative “hearing” to determine whether that suspension should be continued based on a driver's continued licensure being a direct and substantial threat to public safety. In fact, the hearing process is an elaborate farce that has never resulted in even a single driver being reinstated regardless of the facts and circumstance and whatever the driver's record. After 13 years of litigation, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, in a 60-page unanimous opinion by Judge Lynch reversing the district court, concluded that the TLC hearings are “meaningless” and the TLC practice amounts to a denial of Due Process of Law. The Court concluded: “A lengthy deprivation of property, based on an arrest without a judicial determination of probable cause and without a deeper inquiry into whether the deprivation is appropriate, violates the Constitution's guarantee of procedural due process.”
The Court added:
We note at the outset that in New York state, "[u]nlike a felony charge, for which a `prompt' probable cause hearing must be held or evidence of probable cause must be presented to a grand jury, a misdemeanor charge ... requires no post-arrest determination." Krimstock v. Kelly, 306 F.3d 40, 44 (2d Cir. 2002); see also People v. Green, 96 N.Y.2d 195, 199-200, 726 N.Y.S.2d 357, 750 N.E.2d 59 (2001). Compare N.Y. Crim. Proc. § 170.10 (misdemeanors) with N.Y. Crim. Proc. § 180.10 (felonies). What this means in practice is that a driver can be arrested for a misdemeanor based on an on-the-scene determination of reasonable cause made by the arresting officer, and then have his license suspended for the several months that follow, without any meaningful opportunity to challenge the arrest.
In this case, the risk of erroneous deprivation can be assessed by looking to the statistics regarding the outcome of the cases in which drivers' taxi licenses were suspended. The TLC hinges the ultimate decision as to whether to continue the suspension of a license on the outcome of the criminal case. In other words, the TLC discontinues the suspension of an arrested driver only if the charges are dismissed, reduced to an offense that does not warrant a suspension, or resolved favorably. Upon the occurrence of any of these three dispositions, the driver is reinstated without further inquiry into his conduct. As the district court found, the charges against at 85*85 least 75% of arrested drivers are resolved favorably to the driver, and the drivers' licenses are accordingly reinstated. J. App'x 66. In fact, there was evidence presented at trial indicating that, putting aside arrests for driving under the influence, the percentage of drivers whose licenses are reinstated could be as high as 90%. J. App'x 61, 383.
In an analogous case, Valmonte v. Bane, 18 F.3d 992, 995 (2d Cir. 1994), the plaintiff brought a § 1983 claim challenging her inclusion on a registry of child abusers, where a person could be placed on the registry based on a "some credible evidence" standard. Considering both the private interest (the plaintiff's right to secure employment in the child care field) and the Government interest (its parens patriae obligation to protect children from abuse and maltreatment) to be extremely strong, we concluded that "the deciding factor" was an unacceptably high risk of error, as evidenced by the fact that "nearly 75% of those who seek expungement of their names from the list are ultimately successful." Id. at 1003. We held that "[t]he fact that only 25% of those on the list remain after all administrative proceedings have been concluded indicates that the [procedures used were] at best imperfect." Id. at 1004.
Here, as many as 75% of taxi drivers will have their licenses reinstated with no further inquiry into the danger posed by any individual driver to the taxi-riding public. Thus, the vast majority of the suspensions will turn out to have been, by the standard applied by the TLC itself, erroneous. Nor can this deprivation "be recompensed by the claimant's prevailing in later proceedings," Krimstock, 306 F.3d at 63, as there is no way to make up for the income lost during the period in which the driver's license is suspended. We find this to be an unacceptably high risk of error....
As to the TLC's interest in holding only a perfunctory hearing, the Court said:
Defendants did not respond to our supposition by attempting to show, on remand, that a hearing that allowed, for example, an inquiry into the facts underlying a criminal complaint, the driving record of the arrested driver, or whether the charged conduct occurred on- or off-duty, would financially or administratively burden the TLC. Indeed, the TLC already allows such testimony to be heard and such evidence to be presented. They thus do not, and perhaps could not, credibly contend that allowing the ALJ or TLC Chair to consider the evidence already presented at the post-suspension hearings would present an onerous administrative task.
Thus, while we take seriously the Government interest implicated, we hold that, given the potential of conducting far more meaningful hearings at little or no additional financial or administrative cost to the TLC, that interest is outweighed by the private interest at stake and the unacceptably high risk of erroneous deprivation.
The case is now in its remedy phase.
On March 2, 2022, Judge Sullivan certified a class of as many as 20,000 taxi and for-hire vehicle drivers whose licenses were summarily suspended by the City's Taxi and Limousine Commission and who were later denied fair hearings to contest those suspensions.
The key factor in assuring certification was that the primary issue was the same for all class members. Judge Sullivan wrote:
"Here, the primary issue – already resolved in Plaintiffs' favor – is whether TLC's post- suspension notice and hearing procedures were unconstitutional during the class period. And although Defendants have pointed out significant individualized issues as to damages, they identify none as to liability that would be sufficient to defeat certification....
In fact, Defendants appear to concede that they are at least liable for the procedural due process violation stemming from the constitutionally insufficient pre-hearing notice; they acknowledge that the “proposed class members each received a defective hearing notice,” and further “recognize that a finding of a procedural due process violation could result in nominal damages awards without additional evidence of injury.”) Moreover ,although not all class members availed themselves of a post-suspension hearing, those who did clearly suffered a procedural due process violation based on the constitutionally inadequate hearing.... Finally, there would be no need for “individualized proceedings to determine class membership,” as all drivers were subject to the same post-suspension process and TLC maintained records of drivers who received a pre-hearing notice (and those who requested a hearing).... Accordingly, as to liability, common issues predominate.
RELEVANT CASE DOCUMENTS
Appeal Brief in Stallworth, 2018
Appeal Brief in Nnebe, 2018 Second
Circuit Decision in Nnebe and Stallworth, 931 F.3d 66 (2d Cir. 2019)
Appeal Brief in Nnebe, 2010
Second Circuit Decision in Nnebe, 644 F.3d 147 (2d Cir. 2011)
Summary Judgment Brief in Nnebe, 2007
Practice area(s): Constitutional Law
Court: Second Circuit Court of Appeals