Singh v. City of N.Y., 19-CV-5030 (PKC) (RER)

CourtUnited States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Court (Eastern District of New York)
Writing for the CourtPAMELA K. CHEN, United States District Judge
PartiesBALDEV SINGH, Plaintiff, v. CITY OF NEW YORK, THE NEW YORK CITY TAXI AND LIMOUSINE COMMISSION, MEERA JOSHI, JENNY MAR, and JOHN HANSEN, Defendants.
Docket Number19-CV-5030 (PKC) (RER)
Decision Date24 September 2020

BALDEV SINGH, Plaintiff,
v.
CITY OF NEW YORK, THE NEW YORK CITY TAXI AND LIMOUSINE COMMISSION,
MEERA JOSHI, JENNY MAR, and JOHN HANSEN, Defendants.

19-CV-5030 (PKC) (RER)

UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT EASTERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK

September 24, 2020


MEMORANDUM & ORDER

PAMELA K. CHEN, United States District Judge:

Plaintiff asserts various claims against Defendants City of New York, the New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission (the "TLC"), and Meera Joshi (collectively, the "City Defendants"), as well as Jenny Mar and John Hansen, in relation to the revocation of Plaintiff's TLC taxi license. Currently before the Court are Defendants' three separate motions to dismiss pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6), and Defendant Mar's motion for sanctions and attorney's fees.

BACKGROUND

I. Relevant Facts1

Plaintiff "is a former holder of a TLC taxicab license." (Second Amended Complaint ("SAC"), Dkt. 37, ¶ 4.) Plaintiff, an Indian American, "speaks English with a pronounced accent."

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(Id. ¶¶ 38-39.) "[T]he TLC is responsible for the regulation of the taxicab industry in New York City." (Id. ¶ 11.) Defendant Meera Joshi is a former Commissioner of the TLC. (Id. ¶ 17.)

On April 13, 2016, sometime after 2:00 a.m., Plaintiff picked up Defendant Jenny Mar in Manhattan and drove her to Long Island City, Queens. (Id. ¶¶ 40-41.) Upon arriving at the requested address, Plaintiff pressed a button that tallies the total fare for the trip, which included the nighttime surcharge. (Id. ¶ 43.) "When Defendant[ ]Mar saw this, she accused Plaintiff of 'changing the fare.'" (Id. ¶ 44.) Defendant Mar then "exited Plaintiff's cab without paying the required fare" and walked towards her apartment building, despite Plaintiff telling her that he would call the police and she should remain in the cab. (Id. ¶¶ 46-48.) Plaintiff exited the cab as well and "continued instructing Defendant[ ]Mar to wait for the police." (Id. ¶ 49.) Plaintiff then called 911. (Id. ¶ 50.)

As Plaintiff and Defendant Mar stood in front of Mar's building, a second cab driver, Varinder Kumar, arrived on the scene. (Id. ¶¶ 51-53.) Mr. Kumar, then unknown to Plaintiff and Defendant Mar, "explained to Defendant[ ]Mar that a cab driver cannot change the fare, and that the meter had simply tallied the total amount of the trip by adding the nighttime surcharge." (Id. ¶¶ 53, 56.) "After hearing Mr. Kumar's explanation, Defendant[ ]Mar turned and ran into her building[, and] Plaintiff followed her [into the building]." (Id. ¶ 57.) "After a short time,2 Defendant[ ]Mar exited the building and asked Mr. Kumar for change of a twenty-[]dollar bill." (Id. ¶ 58.) "Despite receiving change, Defendant[ ]Mar walked away from [Plaintiff and Kumar] and entered her building without paying the required fee." (Id. ¶ 59.) Plaintiff again followed Defendant Mar into the building. (Id. ¶ 60.) "A portion of the interaction between Plaintiff and

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Defendant[ ]Mar [inside the building] was captured on the building lobby's security video."3 (Id. ¶ 61.) "The images in the lobby video are relatively clear[,]" but "[t]he video's audio is unclear and unintelligible." (Id. ¶¶ 62-63.) As shown on the video, Defendant Mar, after initially entering the building followed by Plaintiff, exited the building, but then "almost immediately rushe[d] back inside." (Id. ¶ 65.) Also as shown on the video, Plaintiff followed her out of the building and then back inside a second time. (Video; see also SAC, Dkt. 37, ¶ 66.) Plaintiff then followed Defendant Mar to a door in the back of the lobby but stopped at the door, while Defendant Mar went through the back door. (SAC, Dkt. 37, ¶¶ 66-67.) Plaintiff exited Mar's building through the front door and called the police. (Video; SAC, Dkt. 37, ¶ 68.) Plaintiff spoke to Mr. Kumar, who was still outside, but said that he could not wait with Plaintiff for the police to arrive. (SAC, Dkt. 37, ¶¶ 70-72.) A short time later, Plaintiff left the scene when the police did not arrive. (Id. ¶ 73.) Defendant Mar did not call the police during the entire interaction. (Id. ¶ 69.)

Later that day, Defendant Mar filed a police report. (Id. ¶ 74.) The report stated that Defendant Mar paid the fare before exiting the cab and that Plaintiff threatened and harassed her

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"while attempting to collect a 'tip.'" (Id. ¶¶ 75-76.) Approximately ten days later, Defendant Mar filed a report with New York City's 311 information line stating the same as the police report. (Id. ¶¶ 77-78.)

On June 1, 2016, the TLC filed a petition with the Office of Administrative Trials and Hearings (the "OATH"), seeking to revoke Plaintiff's TLC license under Section 80-12 of Title 35 of the Rules of the City of New York ("Section 80-12"), which was previously enacted as Section 54-12. (Petition, Dkt. 22-1.)4 The petition stated that Plaintiff "threatened, harassed, and abused the complaining witness, a female passenger, by screaming at her, telling her that she 'deserved to be raped' because she was 'out late' and that she 'was out to have sex, and [she was] looking for a man,'" and that Plaintiff "threatened use of physical force against the complaining witness by throwing punches in the air." (Id. (alteration in original).) On July 27, 2016, a hearing was held before Administrative Law Judge Astrid Gloade (the "ALJ"). (SAC, Dkt. 37, ¶¶ 86-87.) Both Plaintiff and Defendant Mar testified at the hearing. (Id. ¶¶ 88, 114-15.) Defendant John Hansen represented Plaintiff at the hearing. (Id. ¶ 32.) The ALJ also reviewed the lobby video, to which Defendant Hansen did not object. (Id. ¶¶ 94, 106.) At the hearing, Defendant Mar denied that a second cab driver, Kumar, was at the scene. (Id. ¶ 90.) Defendant Hansen "did not subpoena or otherwise secure" Kumar's testimony prior to the hearing. (Id. ¶ 91.) On August 12, 2016, the ALJ issued a Report and Recommendation, finding that Plaintiff had threatened, harassed, and abused Defendant Mar and, in so doing, had acted against the best interest of the public under Section 80-12. (Report and Recommendation, Dkt. 22-3, at 1.) The ALJ found Defendant Mar's testimony to be credible and corroborated by the lobby video, and recommended the revocation of

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Plaintiff's license and a $1,350 fine. (Id. at 1, 4.) The Report and Recommendation was adopted by Defendant Joshi as the Commissioner of the TLC and Chair of the TLC Board. (SAC, Dkt. 37, ¶ 108; Commissioner's Decision, Dkt. 22-4.) Plaintiff then appealed the decision to the Executive Board of the TLC, which affirmed Defendant Joshi's decision on December 8, 2016. (SAC, Dkt. 37, ¶¶ 110-11.)

On December 15, 2016, Plaintiff commenced an Article 78 proceeding in state court, challenging the revocation of his license and the imposition of the fine.5 (Id. ¶ 112; Article 78 Petition, Dkt. 53-1, at ECF6 2-21.) Plaintiff argued in the Article 78 proceeding that Defendant Hansen committed "malpractice and ineffective assistance of counsel by failing to secure" the testimony of Mr. Kumar.7 (Article 78 Petition, Dkt. 53-1, at ECF 5.) Plaintiff also argued that the ALJ's findings were "without sound basis" on the grounds that (1) the ALJ wrongly invoked Section 54-14(e) of the Rules of the City of New York; (2) Plaintiff's conduct did not constitute "threats, harassment or abuse"; (3) the complaining witness was not credible; and (4) the revocation of Plaintiff's license was excessive. (Id. at ECF 7-11.) The Appellate Division

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dismissed Plaintiff's petition on March 1, 2018, holding that substantial evidence supported a finding that Plaintiff had "threatened and harassed a passenger where the passenger's testimony and security video footage demonstrated that [Plaintiff] shouted sexual threats at the passenger, and chased her through the building's lobby while screaming obscenities, forcing her to hide in fear." (Appellate Division Decision, Dkt. 53-1, at ECF 23-24.)

II. Procedural History

Plaintiff filed this action on September 4, 2019. (Complaint, Dkt. 1.) Defendant Hansen and the City Defendants filed separate pre-motion conference requests relating to their anticipated motions to dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). (Dkts. 13, 17.) On December 5, 2019, the Court denied the requests as unnecessary and granted the City Defendants and Defendant Hansen leave to file their respective motions to dismiss. (Dec. 5, 2019 Order.)

On December 6, 2019, Defendant Mar sought leave to file a motion to dismiss both claims against her, namely, abuse of process and tortious interference under state law. (Dkt. 20.) On December 10, 2019, the Court set a briefing schedule and an oral argument date on the single issue of Defendant Mar's immunity as a witness. (Dec. 10, 2019 Order.) Plaintiff filed his first amended complaint on December 19, 2019. (First Amended Complaint, Dkt. 22.) After Plaintiff and Defendant Mar had briefed the witness immunity issue in Mar's motion, but before the scheduled oral argument, Plaintiff requested leave to file a second amended complaint, adding, inter alia, federal claims against Defendant Mar under 42 U.S.C. §§ 1983 and 1985 (Dkt. 32-1), which the Court granted (Feb. 13, 2020 Order). On February 18, 2020, the Court held an oral argument during which the Court reserved decision on Mar's motion to dismiss all claims against her, including the newly added federal claims, and set an additional briefing schedule. (Feb. 18, 2020

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Minute Entry.) Plaintiff then withdrew his state law claims against Defendant Mar (Dkt. 36) and filed the SAC, which is the operative complaint, on February 23, 2020 (SAC, Dkt. 37).

The SAC alleges the following claims: (1) First Cause of Action—due process violation against the City Defendants, pursuant to § 1983, based on the unintelligibility of Plaintiff's testimony at the OATH hearing; (2) Second Cause of Action—denial of equal protection against the City Defendants, pursuant to § 1983, based on the unintelligibility...

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