Leb. Valley Auto Racing Corp. v. Cuomo

Decision Date11 August 2020
Docket Number1:20-CV-0804 (LEK/TWD)
Citation478 F.Supp.3d 389
Parties LEBANON VALLEY AUTO RACING CORP., et al., Plaintiffs, v. Andrew CUOMO, et al., Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — Northern District of New York

Kenneth J. McGuire, Jr., Office of Kenneth J. McGuire, Jr., Troy, NY, for Plaintiffs.

Adrienne J. Kerwin, Helena O. Pederson, New York State Attorney General, Albany, NY, for Defendants.

MEMORANDUM-DECISION AND ORDER

Lawrence E. Kahn, U.S. District Judge

I. INTRODUCTION

Plaintiffs Lebanon Valley Auto Racing Corporation ("Lebanon Valley"), Genessee Speedway, LLC, Airborne Speedway, Albany Saratoga Speedway, and Fonda Speedway (collectively, "Plaintiffs") have brought this action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and 28 U.S.C. §§ 2201 – 02 against New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and New York Attorney General Letitia James (collectively, "Defendants"). Dkt. No. 1 ("Complaint").

Plaintiffs assert that Defendants violated the First, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution, New York Executive Law § 29-a, and four provisions of the Constitution of the State of New York: Article III, § 1 ; Article IV, §§ 1 and 3 ; and Article VI. Compl. ¶ 2. More specifically, Plaintiffs allege that Defendants ran afoul of these provisions when, as part of New York's response to COVID-19, they enacted an executive order restricting how Plaintiffs’ businesses can operate.

Now before the Court are Plaintiffsmotion for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction, Dkt. No. 4 ("Plaintiffs’ Motion"), and Defendants’ motion to dismiss the Complaint ("Defendants’ Motion"), Dkt. No. 15-2. The parties oppose one another's motions. See generally Defs.’ Mot. (opposing Plaintiffs’ Motion in addition to seeking dismissal); Dkt. No. 16 ("Plaintiffs’ Reply"). The Court grants Defendants’ Motion, mooting Plaintiffs’ Motion.

II. BACKGROUND
A. Factual History
1. The Parties

Plaintiffs are five operators of outdoor auto racing facilities in the state of New York. Compl. ¶ 3. Plaintiffs’ patrons "pay an admission fee to watch auto racing and occasional special events such as fireworks." Id. ¶ 32. The auto-racing season runs for approximately six months, from mid-April until mid-September, with races held weekly. See id. ¶¶ 3, 32.

Cuomo is Governor of New York, and James is its Attorney General. Id. ¶ 1.

2. COVID-19, New York's Response, and the Racetrack Spectator Ban

This case arises amidst the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, of which New York has been described as the "epicenter." Defs.’ Mot. at 10. On March 2, 2020, the New York State Legislature passed S7919 to amend the New York State Executive Law to establish an enumerated list of disaster events, including epidemics, during which a governor may suspend statutes or regulations and issue directives. See Defs.’ Mot. at 10–11. This lawsuit concerns the state executive branch's use of this new authority to respond to the pandemic.1

On March 7, 2020, Cuomo issued Executive Order 202, declaring a statewide disaster emergency. Compl. ¶ 16. This order was soon followed by a number of supplemental orders restricting gatherings across the state. See id. ¶ 17; Dkt. No. 15 ("Hutton Declaration") ¶ 24.

On May 21, 2020, Cuomo issued Executive Order 202.32, which included a provision (the "Racetrack Spectator Ban") allowing racetracks to operate effective June 1, 2020 as long as they do not "permit any visitor or fan into the facility, and allow[ ] on site only essential personnel[.]" Executive Order 202.32, https://www.governor.ny.gov/news/no-20232-continuing-temporary-suspension-and-modification-laws-relating-disaster-emergency (May 21, 2020). Under the Racetrack Spectator Ban, which was initially in effect until June 20, 2020, racetracks must also "adhere to any directive or guidance issued by the Department of Health and/or by the Gaming Commission." Id. The Racetrack Spectator Ban has been extended a number of times, most recently on July 30, 2020, and is in effect until August 29, 2020. See Dkt. No. 18 (citing Executive Order 202.54, https://www.governor.ny.gov/news/no-20254-continuing-temporary-suspension-and-modification-laws-relating-disaster-emergency).

Summarizing the current regulatory state of play, Defendants write that "currently, Plaintiffs may operate their auto racetrack facilities without spectators or fans (even if some spectators or fans would otherwise be permitted under current outdoor gathering limitations), as long as such operation is in compliance with applicable State guidance." Defs.’ Mot. at 12.

B. Procedural History

Plaintiffs filed their Complaint on July 16, 2020. Docket. In it, they ostensibly raise four causes of action: one alleging that Defendants violated their equal protection rights, one alleging a First Amendment2 violation, one alleging that Defendants’ actions constitute a Fifth Amendment taking, and one alleging that Defendants committed ultra vires state action with respect to New York Executive Law § 29-a. See Compl. at 1–2, 10–15. The same day, Plaintiffs filed their motion for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction. Docket. They ask the Court to "enjoin Defendants from enforcing those Orders which prevent Plaintiffs from opening their businesses." Pls.’ Mot. at 4.

In asking for relief, Plaintiffs rely exclusively on the decision in Soos v. Cuomo, No. 20-CV-651, 470 F.Supp.3d 268, 2020 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 111808 (N.D.N.Y. June 26, 2020).3 There, the court held that a group of plaintiffs had demonstrated that they were likely to succeed on the merits of their claim that these same defendants had infringed upon the plaintiffs’ free exercise of religion in selectively enforcing gathering limitations against religious groups but not protestors or graduation participants. See id. at 282, 2020 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 111808 at *32–33. The Soos court therefore preliminarily enjoined the defendants from enforcing gathering limitations against those plaintiffs. Id. at 284–85, 2020 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 111808 at *35.

On July 27, 2020, Defendants filed their opposition to Plaintiffs’ Motion and their cross-motion to dismiss. Docket. Defendants argue that Plaintiffs fail to state a plausible claim for relief in any cause of action and therefore cannot demonstrate that they are likely to succeed on the merits as required for the Court to grant a preliminary injunction. Defs.’ Mot. at 9. Defendants also argue that Plaintiffs fail to demonstrate irreparable harm, another requirement for the relief sought. Id. Finally, Defendants argue that the balance of equities weighs against enjoining the Racetrack Spectator Ban. Id. at 9–10.

III. LEGAL STANDARD
A. Motion to Dismiss

To survive a motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), "a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter ... ‘to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.’ " Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007) ). The plausibility standard "asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully." Id. at 678, 129 S.Ct. 1937 (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556, 127 S.Ct. 1955 ). "A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Id. "Put another way, a claim is plausible if it is supported by ‘enough fact[s] to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence of [the alleged misconduct].’ " Pare v. Valet Park of Am., Inc., No. 19-CV-206, 2020 WL 495038, at *4 (N.D.N.Y. Jan. 30, 2020) (Kahn, J.) (alterations in original) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556, 127 S.Ct. 1955 ). "In assessing whether this standard has been met, courts ‘must accept all allegations in the complaint as true and draw all inferences in the light most favorable to the non-moving party[ ]....’ " Charles Ramsey Co., Inc. v. Fabtech-NY LLC, No. 18-CV-546, 2020 WL 352614, at *9 (N.D.N.Y. Jan. 21, 2020) (Kahn, J.) (alteration in original) (quoting In re NYSE Specialists Sec. Litig., 503 F.3d 89, 95 (2d Cir. 2007) ).

B. Temporary Restraining Order and Preliminary Injunction

The standard for the issuance of a temporary restraining order is identical to that for the issuance of a preliminary injunction. See Local 1814, Int'l Longshoremen's Ass'n v. New York Shipping Ass'n, 965 F.2d 1224, 1228 (2d Cir. 1992). To obtain a preliminary injunction, "a plaintiff must demonstrate (1) irreparable injury and (2) either (a) a likelihood of success on the merits or (b) sufficiently serious questions on the merits and a balance of hardships tipping decidedly in the plaintiff's favor in order for a preliminary injunction to issue." Fair Hous. in Huntington Comm. v. Town of Huntington, 316 F.3d 357, 365 (2d Cir. 2003) (internal quotation marks omitted). "When a plaintiff seeks an injunction staying governmental action ‘taken in the public interest pursuant to a statutory or regulatory scheme,’ however, an injunction will issue only if the plaintiff can show irreparable injury and meet ‘the more rigorous likelihood-of-success standard.’ " Id. (quoting Bery v. City of New York, 97 F.3d 689, 694 (2d Cir. 1996) ).

IV. DISCUSSION

The Court first considers Defendantsmotion to dismiss because, if granted, it would moot Plaintiffsmotion for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction. See Hanover Ins. Group v. Singles Roofing Co., No. 10-CV-611, 2012 WL 2368328, 2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 85813 (N.D. Ill. June 21, 2012) (analyzing a motion to dismiss prior to a motion for preliminary injunction). Because the Court grants Defendantsmotion to dismiss, Plaintiffs’ Motion is mooted.

A. Motion to Dismiss
1. PlaintiffsFirst Amendment Claim

The First Amendment of the United States Constitution provides that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the...

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