Ruiz v. COM'R OF DEPT. OF TRANSP. OF CITY OF NY

Decision Date21 January 1988
Docket NumberNo. 85 Civ. 3263(RJW).,85 Civ. 3263(RJW).
Citation679 F. Supp. 341
PartiesWilliam R. RUIZ, Kevin J. Nally and John Greco, Jr., on Behalf of themselves and all others similarly situated, Plaintiffs, v. The COMMISSIONER OF the DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION OF the CITY OF NEW YORK and the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles, Traffic Violations Bureau, Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — Southern District of New York

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Altieri, Kushner, Miuccio & Frind, New York City, for plaintiffs; Alexander A. Miuccio, Debra Ruth Wolin, of counsel.

Peter L. Zimroth, Corporation Counsel of the City of New York, New York City, for defendant Commissioner; Anne P. Ward, Gabriel Taussig, Gary Tarnoff, George Gutwirth, of counsel.

Robert Abrams, Atty. Gen. of the State of N.Y., New York City, for defendant Dept. of Motor Vehicles; August L. Fietkau, Ann Horowitz, of counsel.

ROBERT J. WARD, District Judge.

Plaintiffs, who are truck drivers, brought this action to challenge the enforcement against them of New York City (the "City") regulations setting weight limits on trucks using streets and highways within the City. By order to show cause, plaintiffs sought to obtain a temporary restraining order pursuant to Rule 65(b), Fed.R. Civ.P., prohibiting enforcement of the challenged regulations, a preliminary injunction pursuant to Rule 65(a), Fed.R.Civ.P., and summary judgment pursuant to Rule 56, Fed.R.Civ.P. In addition, plaintiffs sought the joinder of two additional parties as plaintiffs pursuant to Rule 19, Fed.R. Civ.P., and class action certification pursuant to Rule 23, Fed.R.Civ.P. Defendants have cross-moved to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), Fed.R.Civ.P. Defendant New York State Department of Motor Vehicles, Traffic Violations Bureau ("State Defendant") also seeks costs, disbursements, attorney's fees and sanctions against plaintiffs pursuant to Rule 11, Fed. R.Civ.P. For the reasons that follow, plaintiffs' motions are denied in their entirety. Defendants' motions are granted insofar as they seek dismissal of this action and denied insofar as they seek costs, disbursements, attorney's fees and sanctions.

BACKGROUND

This action involves the interplay of local regulations with state and federal statutes. Plaintiffs do not challenge the regulations as currently written, but as they existed when plaintiffs were charged with violations. This action, then, is of intense personal interest to the parties, though it may be mainly of historical interest to others. Plaintiffs' challenges do not apply to the amended regulations as they appear on the books today.

The federal statute at issue in this case, 23 U.S.C. § 127, was enacted as part of the Federal Surface Transportation Assistance Act of 1982 ("STAA"). Pub.L. No. 97-424, 96 Stat. 2097 (codified as amended in scattered sections of Titles 15, 16, 23, 26, 33, 42, 46, 49 U.S.C.). The STAA, with an effective date of January 6, 1983, reflects generally "`a congressional interest in establishing uniform regulations governing the size, weight, and arrangements of trucks used in interstate commerce.'" New York State Motor Truck Ass'n, Inc. v. City of New York, 654 F.Supp. 1521, 1524 (S.D.N.Y.1987) (quoting United States v. Connecticut, 566 F.Supp. 571, 576 (D.Conn.1983), affirmed mem., 742 F.2d 1443 (2d Cir.1983), affirmed mem., 465 U.S. 1014, 104 S.Ct. 1263, 79 L.Ed.2d 670 (1984)), affirmed, 833 F.2d 430 (2d Cir. 1987). Section 127 of Title 23, in particular, sets forth a formula for determining the maximum permissible weight for vehicles using federal highways, depending on the vehicles' size and the number and arrangement of axles, with an overall maximum weight permitted of 80,000 pounds. The statute provides for the withholding of federal highway funds from any state which does not permit vehicles weighing up to 80,000 pounds to use its federal highways.1

Concerned with the potential loss of millions of dollars in federal highway funds, the New York State Legislature during its next session amended its own laws in an effort to ensure compliance with the requirements of the STAA. This statute, which became effective on September 30, 1983, prohibits both the state and its political subdivisions from "enacting or enforcing any law, statute, ordinance, rule or regulation with respect to vehicle dimensions or weights which shall violate any of the provisions of the STAA." N.Y. Veh. & Traf. Law § 385(20) (McKinney 1986). Furthermore, "any such law, statute, ordinance, rule or regulation which results in a notification of an imminent loss or withholding of federal highway aid to the state shall to the degree inconsistent hereafter be deemed null and void and shall not be enforced." Id.

During this period, New York City's traffic regulations prohibited the operation on its streets and highways of any vehicle exceeding 73,280 pounds. New York, N.Y., Traffic Regulations art. 19, § 211(10) (amended 1985).2 Regulation enforcement officers, employed by the New York City Commissioner of Transportation for the purpose of enforcing the City's traffic regulations, stopped plaintiffs while they were driving their cement trucks within the City limits, either on federal highways or on access ramps leading to or from federal highways. Each plaintiff was directed to proceed to a station where his truck was weighed, and he was issued a summons for violating the weight limitation of former section 211(10).

Although the 73,280 pound limitation of former section 211(10) appears on its face to be at odds with the 80,000 pound limit found in the STAA, the City maintained an informal policy whereby it enforced the 73,280 pound limit only on local roads and issued summons for overweight trucks on federal highways only where they exceeded the federal limit of 80,000 pounds. Plaintiffs' Exhibit J, filed October 15, 1987. Each plaintiff, in fact, is charged with driving a vehicle that weighed in excess of 80,000 pounds. Plaintiffs do not assert that former section 211(10) was ever enforced against anyone operating on federal highways a truck weighing in excess of 73,280 pounds but less than 80,000 pounds.

Nevertheless, plaintiffs argue that former section 211(10) is invalid and cannot be enforced against them. They present several grounds for this contention. First, plaintiffs argue that former section 211(10) is void for vagueness, because it failed to give fair notice of what conduct was prohibited. Second, the plaintiffs assert that the informal enforcement practice of the Commissioner amounted to an unauthorized amendment of the regulation violating plaintiffs' right to due process. Third, plaintiffs argue that the regulation enforcement officers who stopped plaintiffs' trucks and issued their summonses were not authorized to enforce former section 211(10), rendering the stops unreasonable seizures in violation of the Fourth Amendment. Finally, plaintiffs argue that former section 211(10) imposes an undue burden on interstate commerce in violation of the Commerce Clause.3

The named plaintiffs in this action are not alone in their challenge to former section 211(10). On February 4, 1985, Jack A. Manno and George Dempster brought an action in New York State Supreme Court to challenge the same provisions. Manno v. Comm'r New York City Dep't of Transp., No. 3522/85 (N.Y.Sup.Ct.) ("the Manno action"). Attorneys for plaintiffs, who also represented Manno and Dempster in their action, have at various times averred that between forty and seventy other individuals have been issued summonses charging them with violation of former section 211(10).

Plaintiffs William R. Ruiz, Kevin J. Nally and John Greco, Jr. brought this action on April 26, 1985. The Court placed this action on its suspense docket on August 9, 1985, pursuant to conditions agreed to by the parties. Defendants agreed to suspend all proceedings then pending before the State Department of Motor Vehicles, Traffic Violations Bureau to enforce former section 211(10), pending the outcome of the Manno action. Plaintiffs agreed that an amended complaint would be served in the Manno action to include the federal claims they had been asserting in this action, and that the plaintiffs in the Manno action would move for summary judgment after the defendants had served their answer to the amended complaint. Finally, the parties agreed that "except as set forth herein, no party shall be deemed to have waived any claim or defense in this matter." Plaintiffs' Exhibit C, filed October 15, 1987.

Accordingly, this action was held in abeyance while the Manno action went forward. On April 8, 1986 Acting State Supreme Court Justice Leonard Cohen issued a decision in which he denied in its entirety the plaintiffs' motion for summary judgment and granted the defendants' cross-motions, dismissing the complaint. Plaintiffs' Exhibit D, filed October 15, 1987. The Appellate Division granted the plaintiffs' applications, first for a temporary restraining order and then for a preliminary injunction prohibiting enforcement pending appeal of summonses issued under former section 211(10). Plaintiffs Ruiz, Nally and Greco were specifically named in the order and received the benefit of the injunction. The Appellate Division ultimately affirmed the decision below without opinion. Plaintiffs' Exhibit E, filed October 15, 1987. Manno and Dempster thereafter appealed to the New York State Court of Appeals pursuant to N.Y.Civ.Prac.L. & R. § 5601(b)(1) (McKinney 1978), but the appeal was dismissed on the ground that "no substantial constitutional question was directly involved." Plaintiffs' Exhibit F, filed October 15, 1987. The plaintiffs were thereafter denied leave to appeal by the Court of Appeals pursuant to N.Y.Civ.Prac.L. & R. § 5602(a)(1)(i) (McKinney 1978). Plaintiffs' Exhibit G, filed October 15, 1987.

Plaintiffs Ruiz, Nally and Greco reactivated this case on October 14, 1987 by order to show cause, seeking a temporary restraining order and preliminary...

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