Ruiz v. Commissioner of Dept. of Transp. of City of New York

Decision Date07 October 1988
Docket NumberNo. 236,D,236
Citation858 F.2d 898
PartiesWilliam R. RUIZ, Kevin J. Nally and John Greco, Jr., on behalf of themselves and all others similarly situated, Plaintiffs-Appellants, 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-Appellees. ocket 88-7514.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Second Circuit

Debra Ruth Wolin, New York City (Altieri, Kushner, Miuccio & Frind, P.C., Alexander A. Miuccio, of counsel), for plaintiffs-appellants.

August L. Fietkau, New York City, Asst. Atty. Gen. of the State of N.Y. (Robert Abrams, Atty. Gen. of the State of N.Y., of counsel), for defendant-appellee New York State Dept. of Motor Vehicles, Traffic Violations Bureau.

Elizabeth Dvorkin, New York City, Asst. Corp. Counsel of the City of New York (Peter L. Zimroth, Corp. Counsel of the City of New York, Edward F.X. Hart, Asst. Corp. Counsel, of counsel), for Mun. appellee The Com'r of the Dept. of Transp. of the City of New York.

Before FEINBERG, Chief Judge, and CARDAMONE and PRATT, Circuit Judges.

FEINBERG, Chief Judge:

William R. Ruiz, Kevin J. Nally and John Greco, Jr., plaintiffs in this putative class action, appeal from a judgment of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, Robert J. Ward, J., for defendants Commissioner of the Department of Transportation of the City of New York and the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles, Traffic Violations Bureau. Although no class has been certified, we are informed that appellants are part of a group of approximately 40 truck drivers for the concrete industry who were ticketed for driving overweight trucks during 1984 and early 1985. Appellants challenge on various federal constitutional grounds the validity of summonses issued to them under New York City's former program of vehicle weight regulation. The district court found each of appellants' arguments without merit. We do not reach the substantive issues because, for reasons given below, we find the suit barred by res judicata.

I. Background

Plaintiffs challenge the validity of summonses issued to them for violating former Sec. 211(10) of the New York City Traffic Regulations (City Regulations). This section set a maximum weight limitation of 73,280 pounds for all vehicles on roads and highways within New York City. New York, N.Y., Traffic Regulations art. 19, Sec. 211(10). Regulation enforcement officers, employed by the New York City Commissioner of Transportation, stopped plaintiffs while they were driving trucks on federal highways or on access ramps to federal highways within the city limits. Each driver was directed to proceed to a station where his truck was weighed, and was then issued a summons for violating the weight limitation. The drivers challenge the validity of these summonses.

The relevant statutes

Pursuant to N.Y. Vehicle and Traffic Law (V & TL) Secs. 1640(a)(20), 1642(a)(1), New York City is authorized to regulate the weight of vehicles on streets and highways of the City. The City exercised this regulatory power by enacting former section 211(10). A violation of the weight regulations, if the summons was returnable at the Traffic Violations Bureau, was punishable by a sliding scale of fines, depending on the extent of the violation.

In January 1983, Congress enacted the 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.). Section 133(a) of the STAA attempts to establish uniform weights on federal highways by putting conditions on receipt of federal highway funds. 23 U.S.C. Sec. 127. This section provides that if a state does not set a maximum permissible gross weight restriction of 80,000 pounds for vehicles on "the National System of Interstate and Defense Highways," the state's federal funds may be cut off or withheld. 23 U.S.C. Sec. 127(a).

After Congress enacted the STAA, New York State enacted V & TL Sec. 385(20) in order to insure continued receipt of federal funds. This regulation provides in pertinent part:

[A city] shall not enact nor enforce any ... regulation with respect to vehicle dimensions or weights which shall violate any of the provisions of [the STAA]. Any such ... 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.

V & TL Sec. 385(20) took effect on September 30, 1983.

The City's 73,280 pound limitation set forth in former Sec. 211(10) was obviously more restrictive than, and therefore inconsistent with, the 80,000 pound limit established by the STAA. The City initially resolved the conflict by modifying its enforcement policies. The City enforced the 80,000 pound maximum permissible weight level on the "National System of Interstate and Defense Highways" as mandated by the STAA and enforced the 73,280 pound maximum weight limit on all other roads within the City as directed by former section 211(10) of its own regulations. In 1985, the City stopped this informal enforcement policy and ultimately amended its regulations to bring them into conformity with the 80,000 pound maximum weight limit of the STAA. Our decision in this case, therefore, rejecting appellants' attack on the statute before it was amended, has only a limited practical effect, although it is, of course, of direct concern to appellants, who received their summonses before the amendment became effective. All the drivers involved in this suit were issued summonses for driving trucks in excess of 80,000 pounds.

Prior proceedings

Appellants originally brought this action in April 1985, seeking temporary and permanent relief against enforcement of the summonses. They claimed that they were subjected to unconstitutional searches and seizures by unauthorized Department of Transportation officers; that the statutory scheme under which appellants were given summonses was void for vagueness and deprived them of due process of law; and that the enforcement procedures used by the City violated due process for lack of publication. In February 1985, other truck drivers in the same situation as appellants, and represented by the same counsel, had brought suit in state court challenging their summonses on grounds somewhat different from those urged in the action now before us.

In August 1985, Judge Ward, who was in charge of the federal action (Ruiz ), placed it on his suspense docket pursuant to a stipulation between the parties. That stipulation provided that within five days "plaintiffs" would amend the complaint in the pending state action, Manno v. Comm'r New York City Dep't of Transp., New York County Clerk Index No. 3522/85 (Manno ), apparently to include the claims of the plaintiffs in Ruiz and that, within 30 days after service of answers to the amended complaint, "plaintiffs" would move for summary judgment in Manno. (It is unclear whether "plaintiffs" in the stipulation means the plaintiffs in Manno or the plaintiffs in Ruiz or both. But, as indicated below, we do not believe that this is of controlling significance.) Defendants consented to the amendment in open court. Moreover, defendant Department of Motor Vehicles agreed to stay proceedings regarding the summonses then pending before the Traffic Violations Bureau until the outcome of the Manno action. The stipulation also provided that if "plaintiffs" did not amend the complaint or move for summary judgment in Manno, the stay would be vacated. The list of potential class members whose hearings would be stayed included appellants.

Thereafter, the Manno complaint was amended to include appellants' federal claims and the parties moved in state court for summary judgment. In April 1986, the Supreme Court, New York County (Cohen, J.), granted appellees summary judgment. Judge Cohen found, among other things, that the officers issuing the summonses were properly authorized, that Sec. 211(10) was not void for vagueness, and that the statute did not violate due process. He denied plaintiffs' claims in their entirety.

The plaintiffs in Manno appealed Judge Cohen's decision to the Appellate Division, First Department, and simultaneously applied for a stay. That court granted the stay to all members of the group including appellants. The Appellate Division then unanimously affirmed the Supreme Court, and the New York Court of Appeals thereafter denied leave to appeal.

After defendants won Manno in the state courts, appellants in October 1987 reactivated the case now before us by again seeking a temporary restraining order and a preliminary injunction against further proceedings on the summonses issued against them under former Sec. 211(10). Judge Ward granted a temporary restraining order, which was later extended by consent. In January 1988, however, the judge granted appellees' motion for summary judgment in a thorough opinion. Ruiz v. Comm'r of Dept. of Transp. of New York, 679 F.Supp. 341 (S.D.N.Y.1988). Although the court stated that "res judicata in this case may not be inappropriate," it avoided what it regarded as "the unnecessary resolution of the res judicata question," id. at 349, finding for defendants on the merits. Assuming that the stopping and weighing of the vehicles were conducted by unauthorized individuals, the judge held that a stop conducted by an unauthorized person does not per se violate the Fourth Amendment. Id. at 355. Judge Ward also rejected plaintiffs' vagueness challenge, reasoning that under the appropriate standard of review "plaintiffs had adequate notice that driving trucks in excess of 80,000 pounds on federal highways within New York City was prohibited[.]" Id. at 353. The judge also held that the City's enforcement procedures did not violate due...

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