Metro. Taxicab Bd. of Trade v. City of New York, No. 08 Civ. 7837 (PAC).

CourtUnited States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. Southern District of New York
Writing for the CourtPaul A. Crotty
Citation633 F.Supp.2d 83
Decision Date22 June 2009
Docket NumberNo. 08 Civ. 7837 (PAC).
PartiesMETROPOLITAN TAXICAB BOARD OF TRADE; Midtown Car Leasing Corp.; Bath Cab Corp.; Ronart Leasing Corp.; Geid Cab Corp.; Linden Maintenance Corp.; and Ann Taxi Inc, Plaintiffs, v. CITY OF NEW YORK; Michael R. Bloomberg, in his official capacity as Mayor of the City of New York; The New York City Taxicab & Limousine Commission ("TLC"); Matthew W. Daus, in his official Capacity as Commissioner, Chair, and Chief Executive Officer of the TLC; Peter Schenkman, in his official capacity as Assistant Commissioner for Safety & Emissions of the TLC; and Andrew Salkin, in his official capacity as First Deputy Commissioner of the TLC, Defendants.
633 F.Supp.2d 83
METROPOLITAN TAXICAB BOARD OF TRADE; Midtown Car Leasing Corp.; Bath Cab Corp.; Ronart Leasing Corp.; Geid Cab Corp.; Linden Maintenance Corp.; and Ann Taxi Inc, Plaintiffs,
v.
CITY OF NEW YORK; Michael R. Bloomberg, in his official capacity as Mayor of the City of New York; The New York City Taxicab & Limousine Commission ("TLC"); Matthew W. Daus, in his official Capacity as Commissioner, Chair, and Chief Executive Officer of the TLC; Peter Schenkman, in his official capacity as Assistant Commissioner for Safety & Emissions of the TLC; and Andrew Salkin, in his official capacity as First Deputy Commissioner of the TLC, Defendants.
No. 08 Civ. 7837 (PAC).
United States District Court, S.D. New York.
June 22, 2009.

Page 84

Elizabeth Sykes Saylor, Matthew D. Brinckerhoff, Richard D. Emery, Emery Celli Brinckerhoff & Abady, LLP, New York, NY, for Plaintiffs.

Page 85

Scott M. Pasternack, NYC Law Department, Brooklyn, NY, Adam Michael Stolorow, NYC Law Department, Office of the Corporation Counsel, New York, NY, Ramin Pejan, New York City Law Depart., Office of the Corporation Counsel, Bronx, NY, for Defendants.

OPINION & ORDER

PAUL A. CROTTY, District Judge:


This case involves a dispute between New York City taxicab fleet owners and the City's Taxicab & Limousine Commission ("TLC"), relating to new TLC regulations that promote the purchase of hybrid taxicabs by reducing the rates at which taxicab owners may lease their vehicles to taxi drivers—thus reducing the owners' overall profit—if the vehicle does not have a hybrid or clean-diesel engine. The questions in this case are whether the TLC's new rules are a mandate to taxicab owners to purchase only hybrid or clean-diesel vehicles, and whether such a mandate is preempted by federal law.

The history of this case is relevant: on October 31, 2008, 2008 WL 4866021, the Court preliminarily enjoined New York City's requirement that all new taxicabs meet a specific miles-per-gallon ("mpg") rating. The mpg regulation required taxicab owners in New York City to purchase vehicles with hybrid or clean-diesel engines, or wheelchair-accessible vehicles. The Court found that the federal Energy Policy and Conservation Act ("EPCA") preempted the local imposition of mpg standards. The City immediately announced it would pursue an alternative strategy. Mayor Bloomberg stated that, "The courts are not the only way we can reach our goal of a cleaner fleet of taxi cabs. Greening the taxi fleet is a major priority, and we are going to use every mechanism at our disposal to make New York a cleaner, healthier city."1

The City pursued a regulatory framework that would encourage taxicab fleet owners to buy hybrid taxicabs in increasing numbers and discourage them from purchasing long bodied, conventionally powered taxicabs, which the City had approved for use in 2001. Under the City's new rules, if an owner purchases a taxicab with a hybrid or clean-diesel engine (hereinafter, "hybrid"), the rate at which the vehicle can be leased to a driver for a 12-hour shift is increased by $3. By contrast, if an owner leases out a non-hybrid, non-wheelchair accessible vehicle (i.e. a Crown Victoria), the maximum lease rate an owner may charge a driver is reduced by $4 immediately, $8 in May 2010, and $12 in May 2011. The new rules substantially reduce profits for the owner who continues to choose non-hybrid taxicabs, and Plaintiffs challenge the disincentive aspect of the new regulations.

The City explained its desire for the new regulation:

Last month, we hit a speed bump in our efforts to turn New York City's yellow cabs green when the courts upheld an archaic law, preventing us from reducing greenhouse gases and improving air quality . . . By offering incentives that will encourage more taxi fleet owners to purchase hybrids, we have found another avenue to reach our goal of greening our yellow cabs, improving our air quality, and reducing our carbon emissions.

See Press Release, Office of the Mayor, Mayor Bloomberg Announces New Incentive/Disincentive Program to Reach Goal

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of Green Taxi Fleet (Nov. 14, 2008). The same press release quoted TLC Commissioner Matthew Daus as stating:

Our goal from the beginning was to get fuel efficient taxis on the road using whatever appropriate methods required to achieve our goal. The new program will incentivize the purchase of cleaner vehicles, while ensuring taxi drivers are not penalized because a taxicab owner is reluctant to make the wiser purchase of a hybrid vehicle. The 1,551 hybrid taxicabs already on the road have saved their drivers lots of money, while contributing to cleaner air. This incentive package will help us take these advances to the next level, and help our city become a cleaner, healthier place.

Id.

After several months of study, the TLC promulgated the new regulations. The regulations: (1) eliminated the prior requirement that determination of lease rates and changes thereof be based on costs, and substituted policy concerns as the key criterion for determining lease rates; (2) described the incentives for hybrids (higher lease rate) and the disincentives for conventionally powered taxicabs (lower lease rates, in increasing amounts over the next two years); and (3) did not grandfather taxis purchased by owners subsequent to 2001, when the City began mandating taxicabs with Crown Victoria dimensions.

The City states that the new regulations correct a structural disincentive that prevented many taxicab owners from switching their fleets to hybrid vehicles, while also meeting the goal of improving taxicab fuel efficiency and minimizing the effect of taxicab emissions on the environment.

The Mayor announced the new regulations:

We have never let roadblocks prevent us from achieving our goals. So when the courts prohibited New York City from taking forward-looking actions that would create cleaner air and a healthier place to live, we said we would find another way to continue to green the City's yellow cabs — and we have. Today's actions by the Taxi and Limousine Commission provide financial incentives for the purchase of fuel efficient taxis and will speed up the phase-out of older, inefficient vehicles. Taxi fleet owners will have more reason to purchase cleaner vehicles and taxi drivers will be held financially harmless for the vehicle purchase decisions of fleet owners. The result will be more clean taxis on City streets. Turning yellow cabs green will be another step towards improving our air quality, reducing the use of fossil fuels and lowering our carbon emissions.

See Press Release, Office of the Mayor, Statement of Mayor Bloomberg on Passage of Green Taxi Incentives by the Taxi and Limousine Commission Board of Commissioners (Mar. 26, 2009).

The TLC Commissioner echoed and amplified the Mayor's remarks:

It is good public policy to incentivize the purchase of vehicles that will help us to clean our environment, while equalizing the playing field for drivers who have no say in the kinds of vehicles they drive, and how big a role fuel costs play in their income. With more than 15% of the city's taxi fleet already clean-fueled, this was the right thing to do, and it was the right time to do it.

See Press Release, TLC, NYC Taxi and Limousine Commission Approves Hybrid Incentive Plan (Mar. 26, 2009).

Plaintiffs filed an Amended Complaint challenging the City's revised regulations and now bring a motion for a preliminary injunction, pursuant to Rule 65 of the Federal

Page 87

Rules of Civil Procedure, to enjoin the City's enforcement of the rules.

At the beginning it is appropriate to point out what this case is not about. No one questions the desirability of fuel efficient and environmentally "clean" vehicles; all parties agree that the City's pursuit of these goals is laudable. Nor is there a question whether New York City can incentivize the purchase of certain types of taxicabs. Several years ago the City issued new taxi medallions which were limited to hybrid vehicles. See N.Y. City Administrative Code § 19-532(b)(2003). There was no challenge to the incentive. Recently the City extended the service life of hybrid vehicles from three to five years. Id. § 19-535(b)(2006). Again, there was no challenge to this incentive. Similarly, in the present case, Plaintiffs do not challenge the $3 per shift "incentive" increase in lease rates for hybrid taxicabs.

On the other hand, there is no doubt that the City could not demand that new motor vehicles purchased, sold, or operated in New York City meet certain mileage or emission standards. The City does not contend otherwise. The issue in this case is more limited and the question is more focused: do the new lease cap regulations have the preempted effect of mandating that taxicab owners purchase only taxicabs with hybrid or clean diesel engines.

The Court's purpose is not to interfere with government officials taking actions in the public interest. Increasing the number of hybrid taxicabs is an appropriate and important governmental priority. Congress, however, has exercised its powers and imposed both national fuel efficiency and engine emissions standards. Congress also directed that the federal standards controlled and preempted state and local governments from acting where Congress has already spoken. If the new rules are in fact a mandate, the Court must determine whether the City's program interferes with the Congressional intent to preserve exclusive jurisdiction. This involves two questions.

The Court first must determine whether the City's new lease cap regulations are a mandate to purchase hybrid vehicles. Plaintiff taxi owners say that they have no real choice under the proposed rules; they will be forced to buy only hybrid vehicles to sustain economic viability. The City maintains that the new lease cap rules permit owners to continue to make a profit, and, therefore, taxicab owners still have a choice. Second, the...

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