Blum v. Koch, 85 Civ. 4385 (MGC).

CourtUnited States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. Southern District of New York
Citation716 F. Supp. 754
Docket NumberNo. 85 Civ. 4385 (MGC).,85 Civ. 4385 (MGC).
PartiesJeffrey M. BLUM, Plaintiff, v. Edward I. KOCH, in his official capacity Mayor of the City of New York; Robert J. Morgenthau, District Attorney for the Borough of Manhattan; Edward I. Pichler, in his official capacity as Special Assistant Corporation Counsel attorney for Judgment Creditor; The City of New York; The Parking Violations Bureau of the City of New York; Datacom Systems, Inc.; Scott Herschman, a.d.a.; John and Jane Doe, a.d.a., Defendants.
Decision Date26 June 1989

Jeffrey M. Blum, Buffalo, N.Y., pro se.

Peter Zimroth, Corp. Counsel of City of New York, by Barry I. Berger, Asst. Corp. Counsel, New York City, for defendants Koch, Pichler, Renna, The Parking Violations Bureau of City of New York and the City of New York.

Bressler, Amery & Rothenberg by David J. Olesker, New York City, for defendant Datacom Systems, Inc.


CEDARBAUM, District Judge.

This action was originally filed against Mayor Edward I. Koch, Sheriff Edward A. Pichler, Special Assistant Corporation Counsel Louis Renna, the New York City Parking Violations Bureau ("PVB"), and New York City (collectively, "City Defendants"), Datacom Systems, Inc. ("Datacom"), District Attorney Robert Morgenthau, Assistant District Attorney Scott Herschman, and two unidentified Assistant District Attorneys (collectively, "District Attorney Defendants"). Plaintiff Jeffrey Blum sues under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 on the claim that the seizure and sale of his car to satisfy a default judgment arising from unpaid New York City parking tickets violated his rights under the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution. Blum also claims that New York City is currently holding his car in violation of his substantive due process rights. In 1986, Judge Leisure dismissed the complaint as against the District Attorney Defendants. Blum has moved for partial summary judgment against the remaining defendants on the issue of their liability under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. For the reasons discussed below, Blum's motion is denied.


The following facts are undisputed.

Blum is currently a Professor of Law at the State University of New York at Buffalo. In September of 1983, he was living in New York City and had begun employment as an associate at a private law firm. Blum had moved to New York City from Boston in the middle of 1980, after graduating from law school there. Prior to attending law school, he had lived in California, where his parents still reside. Blum had not lived with his parents for several years before beginning law school.

In September of 1981, Blum received from his sister title to a 1973 Mazda automobile, California license plate # 921HFD, of which Blum's sister had previously been the title owner. At that time, and at all times relevant to this lawsuit, the car was registered in California at Blum's parents' address. Blum kept and used the car in New York, and regularly parked it near the apartment building in which he resided in New York City.

In 1983, the year in which the events giving rise to this dispute began, Datacom was under contract to the PVB to perform various functions relating to out-of-state "scofflaws." These functions included maintaining listings of out-of-state cars with unpaid parking tickets; seeking default judgments on those tickets in New York Civil Court; sending notices demanding payments from identified out-of-state car owners; maintaining records to indicate when enough tickets had accumulated with respect to a particular car to warrant execution of default judgments by seizing the car; sending inquiries to out-of-state Departments of Motor Vehicles ("DMVs") to determine the names and addresses of car owners whose cars actually had been seized pursuant to execution and whose identities had not already been learned; advising the Sheriff or the City Marshal of a car's eligibility for auction to satisfy default judgments; and advising the Sheriff or City Marshal whether a car had been reported stolen. Cars which were reported stolen to the Sheriff or City Marshal were removed from auction eligibility.

By 1983, Datacom had contracted with many "cooperating states," including California, to obtain computerized "tape-to-tape" motor vehicle registration information. Datacom could then use this information to send notices about unpaid tickets and the possibility of default judgments directly to out-of-state car owners. If the computer tapes did not contain this information and the car subsequently was seized, Datacom would send a mailgram or registered letter to the relevant DMV seventy-two hours after the seizure, requesting that it be sent the information within ten days. If the DMV responded promptly enough, Datacom would send notice of the seizure to the car owner, with instructions for redeeming the car. Otherwise, the car would be placed on the auction eligibility list.

On the evening of September 23, 1983, the New York City Sheriff's Office seized Blum's car pursuant to a default judgment that had been entered in New York Civil Court against "John Doe" as "owner of the motor vehicle bearing plate no. CA 921HFD," for five unpaid parking tickets totalling $240.00. Blum recalls receiving one parking ticket, although he does not recall whether he paid it. At least two of the five tickets were issued before the car was registered in California in Blum's name. The tickets all included warnings that a default judgment could result from the failure to acknowledge a citation, but Blum did not receive any additional notice of an impending default, or notice that his car had been seized by the Sheriff's Office.

On October 9, 1983, Blum discovered that his car was missing and reported it stolen to the New York City Police Department. Blum also contacted the PVB, but was told that the Bureau had no record that the car had been towed.

Datacom had not learned Blum's identity prior to the seizure, so on September 26, 1983, it sent a certified letter concerning Blum's car to the California DMV. Because Datacom had not received a reply by October 13, 1983, it advised the Sheriff on that date that the car was eligible for auction. It reconfirmed the auction eligibility on October 20. Datacom did not inform the Sheriff's office that the car had been reported stolen.

Following standard procedures, the Sheriff's Office placed an advertisement in the New York Times on October 20, 1983, for the auction that included Blum's car. The Sheriff's office also posted a notice in two or three public places in New York City, including the Sheriff's Office, the lobby of the Surrogate's Courthouse, and the New York County Clerk's office. The car was sold to Manuel Valdes on October 21, 1983 for $275.

In February of 1984, Valdes was stopped for a traffic violation. A registration check revealed that the car had been reported stolen. By March of 1984, the circumstances which had led to Valdes' possession of the car had been sorted out. As a result, Blum paid two outstanding tickets reflected in PVB records. In October of 1984, he was informed of two other outstanding tickets, but he successfully challenged them as having been issued prior to his ownership of the car. Blum has been unable to retrieve his car from the custody of New York City, which seized the car from Valdes and which still retains possession of it.


A court shall grant a motion for summary judgment if it determines that "there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R. Civ.P. 56; see also Brady v. Town of Colchester, 863 F.2d 205, 210 (2d Cir.1988). The test for granting a summary judgment motion is similar to the standard for a directed verdict. If the evidence is such that a reasonable finder of fact could return a verdict for the nonmoving party, then there is a genuine factual dispute and summary judgment should not be granted. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986).

The essential question on a motion for summary judgment, therefore, is whether there is a genuine dispute about a material fact. In this respect, "all ambiguities and inferences to be drawn from the underlying facts should be resolved in favor of the party opposing the motion, and all doubts as to the existence of a genuine issue for trial should be resolved against the moving party." Brady, 863 F.2d at 210.


Blum's due process claims arise under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, which provides that:

Every person who, under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage, of any State ... subjects, or causes to be subjected, any citizen of the United States ... to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws, shall be liable to the party injured....

To establish liability under § 1983, Blum must show both that defendants deprived him of his car without due process, and that they were acting "under color of state law," making the deprivation "fairly attributable" to the state. See Walentas v. Lipper, 862 F.2d 414, 418 (2d Cir.1988), cert. denied, ___ U.S. ___, 109 S.Ct. 1747, 104 L.Ed.2d 183 (1989); Dahlberg v. Becker, 748 F.2d 85, 89 (2d Cir.1984), cert. denied, 470 U.S. 1084, 105 S.Ct. 1845, 85 L.Ed.2d 144 (1985).

A. The Procedural Due Process Claim

The essence of Blum's claim is that he was deprived of his property without due process because defendants were following a practice or policy of failing to provide adequate notice to out-of-state car owners whose identities were unknown before seizing and selling their cars to satisfy outstanding parking tickets. Drawing primarily from his own experience, Blum alleges that to provide notice of impending defaults and sales to unidentified out-of-state scofflaws, defendants in 1983 (1) relied on parking tickets to provide pre-seizure...

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