Harrell v. City of N.Y., No. 14–CV–7246 (VEC).

CourtUnited States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. Southern District of New York
Writing for the CourtVALERIE CAPRONI, District Judge
Citation138 F.Supp.3d 479
Parties Michael HARRELL, Susan Calvo, John Peters Professional Limousines, Inc., Jacklyn Restrepo, and Peter Camacho, individually and on behalf of all others similarly situated, Plaintiffs, v. CITY OF NEW YORK, Meera Joshi, David Yassky, and Raymond Scanlon, Defendants.
Decision Date30 September 2015
Docket NumberNo. 14–CV–7246 (VEC).

138 F.Supp.3d 479

Michael HARRELL, Susan Calvo, John Peters Professional Limousines, Inc., Jacklyn Restrepo, and Peter Camacho, individually and on behalf of all others similarly situated, Plaintiffs,
v.
CITY OF NEW YORK, Meera Joshi, David Yassky, and Raymond Scanlon, Defendants.

No. 14–CV–7246 (VEC).

United States District Court, S.D. New York.

Signed Sept. 30, 2015.


138 F.Supp.3d 483

Daniel Lee Ackman, Daniel L. Ackman, Esq., Andrew M. St. Laurent, Harris, O'Brien, St. Laurent & Houghteling LLP, New York, NY, for Plaintiffs.

Karen Beth Selvin, New York City Law Department, New York, NY, for Defendants.

138 F.Supp.3d 484

OPINION & ORDER

VALERIE CAPRONI, District Judge:

New York City routinely seizes, without a warrant, automobiles that are suspected of being unlawfully operated for hire in order to ensure that the vehicle owner pays any fine that may subsequently be imposed. Plaintiffs, whose vehicles were seized, assert that the City's actions violated their Fourth Amendment right to be secure from unreasonable seizures and their Fourteenth Amendment right not to be deprived of property without due process of law. The Court agrees that the City's procedure of seizing vehicles that are suspected of being used for hire without proper licensing is unconstitutional under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments as it applies to vehicle owners with no prior violations in the preceding 36 months. Accordingly, Plaintiffs' motion for summary judgment on liability as to New York City is GRANTED.

FACTS

Between September 2013 and July 2014, a vehicle belonging to each of the plaintiffs was seized because a Taxi and Limousine Commission ("TLC") inspector had probable cause to believe the vehicle was being operated as an unlicensed vehicle for hire in violation of N.Y. City Administrative Code § 19–506(b)(1).1 Pl. 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 11. Two of the plaintiffs—Pedro Camacho and Susan Calvo—were operating the seized vehicles at the time of the seizure. Id. ¶¶ 27, 31. Three of the plaintiffs—Michael Harrell, Jacklyn Restrepo, and John Peters Professional Limousines, Inc.—owned vehicles that were seized while being operated by others. Id. ¶¶ 20, 37, 42. Some of the plaintiffs were ultimately found guilty of violating § 19–506(b)(1), others were not.2

138 F.Supp.3d 485

If a police officer or designated TLC employee has "probable cause" to believe a "straight tag vehicle"3 is being operated for hire, he or she may summarily seize the vehicle and issue a summons to the driver and owner to appear before an administrative tribunal for a hearing that will occur within 14 days. N.Y.C. Admin. Code § 19–506(h)(1);4 35 R.C.N.Y. §§ 68–23(b)(2), (c)(2). After seizure, the vehicle will not be released until the hearing unless the owner either pleads guilty to the violation and pays the fine or posts a bond equal to the maximum penalty that could be assessed. N.Y.C. Admin. Code § 19–506(h)(1); 35 R.C.N.Y. § 68–23(d)(2).5

The City Council enacted § 19–506(h)(1) in 1990 based on a finding that seizure of vehicles was necessary to "compel compliance" with § 19–506(b)(1) because the "overwhelming majority of summonses" had "resulted in unsatisfied default judgments," making "more stringent enforcement mechanisms" necessary. N.Y.C. Admin. Code § 19–506 Note L.L. 90/1989 § 1.6

In 2012, the City Council increased penalties

138 F.Supp.3d 486

for violations of § 19–506(b)(1)7 and reduced the number of violations within a 36–month period that could trigger vehicle forfeiture from three to two.8 See Selvin Reply Decl. Ex. I at 10; Def. Reply at 13 n. 13. The City conceded, however, that as a matter of policy TLC does not pursue criminal prosecutions for stand-alone § 19–506(b)(1) violations, Transcript of Oral Argument ("Tr.") at 17–18, and that, regardless of the City Council's grant of authority to forfeit cars of two-time violators, TLC has a "uniform" policy to offer all first-, second-, and third-time violators the option to settle the claim and pay a fine; it does not pursue forfeiture, Mulero Decl. ¶ 9–11.9 In short, § 19–506(b)(1) is enforced, almost exclusively, through civil penalties.10

Plaintiffs brought suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against the City and three individual defendants, in their official and individual capacities: Meera Joshi and David Yassky, the current and former chairmen of the TLC, Am. Compl. ¶¶ 16 and 17, and Raymond Scanlon, deputy commissioner of the TLC with supervisory authority over enforcement, id. ¶ 18.11

Plaintiffs challenge § 19–506(h)(1) pursuant to the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution and Article I, Section 12 of the New York State Constitution.12 Plaintiffs argue

138 F.Supp.3d 487

that the statute is invalid under the Fourth Amendment as applied to alleged first-time violators because it authorizes TLC employees to seize and retain vehicles prior to any adjudication of liability, without a warrant or a valid exception to the warrant requirement, and without a claim of right to possess the vehicle. Am. Compl. ¶¶ 113, 115, 120. Plaintiffs argue that the statute is invalid under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment as applied to alleged first-time violators because it does not provide pre-seizure notice and opportunity to be heard and allows (indeed, requires) the TLC to "hold the property hostage," for purposes of securing penalties for the as yet-to-be-adjudicated violations. Id. ¶¶ 127–30, 136–37.13

ANALYSIS

Plaintiffs moved for summary judgment on liability only as to their claims that N.Y. City Administrative Code § 19–506(h)(1), the City's codified policy of seizing vehicles suspected of violating § 19–506(b)(1) without a warrant or pre-deprivation hearing, violates the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution and Article I, Section 12 of the New York Constitution. Pl. Mem. at 1. The City cross-moved for summary judgment, arguing that a warrant is not required to seize vehicles in public places based on probable cause to believe a § 19–506(b)(1) violation has occurred, or, alternatively, that the seizures fall within an exception to the warrant requirement.14 Def. Reply at 1.

At the outset, it is useful to address what this case is not about. The relevant probable cause in § 19–506(h)(1) is not probable cause to believe that the vehicle to be seized is subject to civil forfeiture in conjunction with its driver's arrest, and the cars are not retained by the government pending forfeiture proceedings. Cf., generally, Krimstock v. Kelly, 306 F.3d 40 (2d Cir.2002) (Sotomayor, J.), cert. denied, 539 U.S. 969, 123 S.Ct. 2640, 156 L.Ed.2d 675 (2003) (setting forth minimal process that is due when the City seizes forfeitable vehicles operated by drivers who are arrested for driving while intoxicated and wishes to maintain possession of the vehicles pending the outcome of the criminal proceedings, establishing what has come to be known as a "Krimstock hearing," see Ford Motor Credit Co. v. NYC Police Dep't, 503 F.3d 186, 188 (2d Cir.2007) ). Nor does this case involve the seizure of a vehicle based upon probable cause to believe

138 F.Supp.3d 488

that it was used as an instrumentality of crime and retained by the government to preserve evidence of the crime to be used at trial. Cf. Ford Motor Credit Co., 503 F.3d at 188 (under Krimstock and its progeny, the "City can justify the continued retention of a seized vehicle, either because it is likely to prevail in the eventual forfeiture action or because it wishes to retain the vehicle as evidence against the owner or driver"). By the City's own admission, it does not forfeit vehicles belonging to first-, second-, or third-time violators and does not pursue criminal charges for § 19–506(b)(1) violations. Mulero Decl. ¶¶ 10–12; Tr. at 17. And even if it changed its policy to pursue forfeiture against repeat offenders, forfeiture of vehicles belonging to first-time violators is not authorized. See N.Y.C. Admin. Code § 19–506(h)(2).

The statute's legislative purpose, structure, and the TLC's enforcement policies make clear the obvious: New York City summarily seizes private property, prior to any adjudication of liability, to ensure that those who are guilty will pay the fine that may later be imposed.

A. Seizures Pursuant to § 19–506(h)(1) of Vehicles That Cannot Be Forfeited Violate the Fourth Amendment

The Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution provides:

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

It is settled law that "[a] ‘seizure’ of property occurs when there is some meaningful interference with an individual's possessory interest in that property." United States v. Jacobsen, 466 U.S....

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  • Rosemont Taxicab Co. v. Phila. Parking Auth., CIVIL ACTION NO. 16-3601
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 3th Circuit. United States District Court (Eastern District of Pennsylvania)
    • June 26, 2018
    ...not it is "safe," we find that the exigent circumstances exception cannot apply as a matter of law. Accord Harrell v. City of New York, 138 F.Supp.3d 479, 491-92 (S.D.N.Y 2015) (rejecting as a matter of law the application of an exigent circumstances affirmative defense to warrantless impou......
  • DeCastro v. City of N.Y., No. 16–CV–3850 (RA)
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. Southern District of New York
    • September 30, 2017
    ...Harrell plaintiffs summary judgment against the City on their Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment claims. See Harrell v. City of New York , 138 F.Supp.3d 479, 484 (S.D.N.Y. 2015). Judge Caproni held that "the City's procedure of seizing vehicles that are suspected of being used for hire without......
  • Perez v. Ponte, CV 16–645 (JFB) (AKT)
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Court (Eastern District of New York)
    • February 14, 2017
    ...236 F.Supp.3d 635personally involved in the alleged deprivation of his constitutional rights."); see also Harrell v. City of N.Y. , 138 F.Supp.3d 479, 495 (S.D.N.Y. 2015), on reconsideration in part sub nom. , Harrell v. Joshi , No. 14-CV-7246, 2015 WL 9275683 (S.D.N.Y. Dec. 18, 2015) ("the......
  • Stevens v. The Vill. of Red Hook, 20 CV 08152 (NSR)
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. Southern District of New York
    • October 20, 2022
    ...(2014). The reasonableness standard invokes a “‘careful balancing of governmental and private interests.'” Harrell v. City of New York, 138 F.Supp.3d 479, 488 (S.D.N.Y. 2015) (quoting Soldal v. Cook Cnty., Ill., 506 U.S. 56, 71 (1992)). However, “[b]efore determining whether a search or sei......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
25 cases
  • Rosemont Taxicab Co. v. Phila. Parking Auth., CIVIL ACTION NO. 16-3601
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 3th Circuit. United States District Court (Eastern District of Pennsylvania)
    • June 26, 2018
    ...not it is "safe," we find that the exigent circumstances exception cannot apply as a matter of law. Accord Harrell v. City of New York, 138 F.Supp.3d 479, 491-92 (S.D.N.Y 2015) (rejecting as a matter of law the application of an exigent circumstances affirmative defense to warrantless impou......
  • DeCastro v. City of N.Y., No. 16–CV–3850 (RA)
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. Southern District of New York
    • September 30, 2017
    ...Harrell plaintiffs summary judgment against the City on their Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment claims. See Harrell v. City of New York , 138 F.Supp.3d 479, 484 (S.D.N.Y. 2015). Judge Caproni held that "the City's procedure of seizing vehicles that are suspected of being used for hire without......
  • Perez v. Ponte, CV 16–645 (JFB) (AKT)
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Court (Eastern District of New York)
    • February 14, 2017
    ...236 F.Supp.3d 635personally involved in the alleged deprivation of his constitutional rights."); see also Harrell v. City of N.Y. , 138 F.Supp.3d 479, 495 (S.D.N.Y. 2015), on reconsideration in part sub nom. , Harrell v. Joshi , No. 14-CV-7246, 2015 WL 9275683 (S.D.N.Y. Dec. 18, 2015) ("the......
  • Stevens v. The Vill. of Red Hook, 20 CV 08152 (NSR)
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. Southern District of New York
    • October 20, 2022
    ...(2014). The reasonableness standard invokes a “‘careful balancing of governmental and private interests.'” Harrell v. City of New York, 138 F.Supp.3d 479, 488 (S.D.N.Y. 2015) (quoting Soldal v. Cook Cnty., Ill., 506 U.S. 56, 71 (1992)). However, “[b]efore determining whether a search or sei......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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