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In re Application of Ronnie Cheeseman

UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS, SECOND CIRCUIT


decided: July 17, 1980.

IN THE MATTER OF THE APPLICATION OF RONNIE CHEESEMAN; LEWIS POLLACK; ROCCO C. LABELLA, JR.; JAMES MANN; PETER SCANNELL; RICHARD WATSON; ROBERT VOSPER; BRIAN GUMMOE; THOMAS RYAN; RICHARD F. O'CONNELL; AMBROSE BURGER; STEPHEN KURPIL; TED KOTT; BRUCE SMITH; JAMES MULLEN; DAVID GUNDRUM; INDIVIDUALLY AND ON BEHALF OF ALL OTHERS SIMILARLY SITUATED, PLAINTIFFS-APPELLANTS,
v.
HUGH CAREY, AS THE DULY ELECTED GOVERNOR AND CHIEF EXECUTIVE OFFICER OF THE STATE OF NEW YORK; THE GOVERNOR'S OFFICE OF EMPLOYEE RELATIONS; MEYER S. FRUCHER, AS DIRECTOR OF THE NEW YORK STATE OFFICE OF EMPLOYEE RELATIONS; EDWARD REGAN, AS THE COMPTROLLER OF THE STATE OF NEW YORK; THOMAS COUGHLIN, AS THE ACTING DIRECTOR OF THE NEW YORK STATE DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONAL SERVICES; JAMES A. PREVOST, AS THE COMMISSIONER OF THE OFFICE OF MENTAL HYGIENE; CLIFTON R. WHARTON, AS THE CHANCELLOR OF THE STATE UNIVERSITY OF NEW YORK; JAMES C. O'SHEA, AS THE COMMISSIONER OF THE OFFICE OF GENERAL SERVICES OF THE STATE OF NEW YORK, DEFENDANTS-APPELLEES

Appeal from an order of the District Court for the Southern District of New York, Abraham D. Sofaer, Judge, 485 F. Supp. 203 (1980) dismissing, on grounds of abstention, the complaint in an action wherein New York State employees sought to enjoin the State from deducting from their wages the penalty for strikes provided by § 210 of the New York Civil Service Law. Remanded with directions to dismiss the complaint on the merits.

Before Friendly and Mansfield, Circuit Judges.*fn*

Author: Friendly

This action was brought by employee members of the Security Services Unit of the New York Inspection, Security and Law Enforcement Employees, District Council 82, to enjoin the State, on federal constitutional grounds, from deducting from their wages the penalty for strikes provided by § 210 of the New York Civil Service Law, commonly known as the Taylor Law.*fn1 Some 6,500 members of the 11,000 member Unit were determined to have engaged in a work stoppage lasting 16 days in April and May, 1979, which, as the district court found, had caused considerable disruption, particularly in prisons, and had required the mobilization of the National Guard. Class certification was granted. F.R.Civ.P. 23(c)(1). The complaint focused on the lack of a pre-deduction hearing to determine whether an employee's absence from work on a particular day or days was in fact due to his having engaged in a strike declared illegal by the Taylor Law, § 210(2)(g). Plaintiffs have also brought two actions in the New York courts to challenge the proposed deductions, in which they have refrained from raising federal constitutional claims.*fn2

The present action was instituted against a background of challenges to the Taylor Law, all predicated on substantially the same grounds, which stretches back to 1972.*fn3 In an action initially entitled Sanford v. Rockefeller, 32 N.Y.2d 788, 298 N.E.2d 681, 345 N.Y.S.2d 543 (1973), the New York Court of Appeals affirmed an order of the Appellate Division rejecting a constitutional challenge to the deduction procedure, 40 A.D.2d 82, 337 N.Y.S.2d 688 (3d Dep't. 1972). The Supreme Court, sub nom. Sanford v. Wilson, 416 U.S. 977, 94 S. Ct. 2377, 40 L. Ed. 2d 755 (1974), vacated the judgment of the Court of Appeals and remanded for further consideration in light of Arnett v. Kennedy, 416 U.S. 134, 94 S. Ct. 1633, 40 L. Ed. 2d 15 (1974). On remand the Court of Appeals, in a thorough opinion by Judge Gabrielli, adhered to its determination, with one judge dissenting, 35 N.Y.2d 547, 324 N.E.2d 113, 364 N.Y.S.2d 450 (1974). On a renewed appeal the Supreme Court dismissed "for want of substantial federal question", Sanford v. Carey and Collins v. Carey, 421 U.S. 973, 95 S. Ct. 1972, 44 L. Ed. 2d 465 (1975).*fn4

Despite this the plaintiffs here moved on a broad front for a temporary injunction against the deductions. In an opinion filed on September 8, 1979, the district judge concluded that "it does not seem likely that plaintiffs will succeed on the merits of their more general claims". He approved the reasoning in the Court of Appeals' second Sanford decision and noted the Supreme Court's dismissal of the appeal for want of a substantial federal question. This, as held in Hicks v. Miranda, 422 U.S. 332, 343-45, 95 S. Ct. 2281, 2288-2289, 45 L. Ed. 2d 223 (1975), was binding upon him in any event.*fn5 He found no legal significance in plaintiffs' primary attempts to distinguish Sanford : the arguments that the deprivations in that case were calculated on the basis of two strike days while the fines in the present action might be for an average of 12 strike days,*fn6 and that the strike here at issue had involved more employees than the Sanford walk-out with the consequent probability that larger numbers of objections would be filed. However, he found possible merit in one of plaintiffs' contentions, namely, that absent a pre-deduction hearing, due process might be violated by the combined effect of the magnitude of the deductions in this case, the likelihood of erroneous strike determinations, and the rapid pace of the penalty deductions (with attendant harm to employee cash flow) that was seemingly mandated by the requirement that deductions be made not earlier than 30 days or later than 90 days after the chief executive officer of the appropriate department determines that an employee has struck illegally, § 210(1)(g).*fn7 For reasons outlined in his opinion he entered an order allowing the State to deduct up to two days' wages per pay period.*fn8 Neither side appealed from this decision.

The issuance of the temporary injunction was followed by additional argument, presentation of evidence, and a further opinion, 485 F. Supp. 203, issued on March 11, 1980, which recited at the outset that:

(t)he parties have agreed that their submissions to date should be treated as complete, and that a final opinion and judgment is now appropriate,

id. at 206. After a scholarly discussion of several venue issues, not now before us, the March 11 opinion turned to defendants' request for abstention. Although rejecting most of the grounds urged in support of this request,*fn9 the district judge concluded that a recent state court decision, Local 2021 of Dist. Council 37 v. N.Y.C. Off-Track Betting Corp., Index No. 6065-79 (S. Ct.N.Y.Co., Nov. 11, 1979) (appeal pending), argued for Pullman -type abstention*fn10 from final determination of the narrow due process issue that had prompted his preliminary injunction, 485 F. Supp. at 220. He noted that a federal court had abstained from deciding a similar rate-of-deduction issue in the Off-Track Betting litigation, see Local 2021 of Dist. Council 37 v. N.Y.C. Off-Track Betting Corp., supra note 3, and that shortly thereafter, Justice Okin of the Supreme Court of New York County issued an opinion extending Taylor Law deductions over a period longer than the statutorily-prescribed 60-day interval, on the basis that principles of equity empowered New York courts "to ameliorate a harsh and unduly burdensome enforcement of a particular law," Local 2021 of Dist. Council 37, supra, at 2. Judge Sofaer reasoned that if this holding were followed by other New York courts, it would eliminate the only potential due process claim against the Taylor Law enforcement provisions, and thus leave the federal courts with nothing to decide. He went on to say:

One modification of ordinary Pullman abstention practice does seem appropriate, however. While Pullman abstention normally requires the federal court to retain jurisdiction in case the need to decide the federal question is not obviated by state court action on state law grounds, a dismissal here seems proper. The deduction schedule established by the preliminary injunction should by now be complete. Nothing therefore remains for federal courts to correct in this controversy, except perhaps on appeal from this ruling, which a dismissal should facilitate. (citation omitted.) 485 F. Supp. at 220.

Accordingly he dismissed the complaint "on the ground that it would be improper to decide the constitutional question presented." Id. at 221. This appeal followed.

Although the briefs have focused on the propriety of the district court's abstention on the issue whether due process mandates a pre-deduction hearing in light of the combined size and rate of deductions that were threatened in this case, that question is not truly before us. By the time the district court rendered its final opinion, the deductions under the extended schedule imposed by it had all been effected and plaintiffs could gain nothing from having the injunction made final. The question whether this should be done had thus become moot; there was no occasion for the judge to consider abstaining on the point which he had thought to warrant a temporary injunction; and, absent any other grounds for relief, the case was ripe for dismissal. Indeed, it must have been his perception of mootness that caused the judge to consider the appropriate course to be dismissal rather than the normal procedure in Pullman -type abstentions, to wit, a stay pending state court determination of the relevant issues of state law. See 6A Moore, Federal Practice P 57.13 at 57-121, 122 (1979 ed.) ("if the mooted issues are controlling the trial court should dismiss the action."); Golden v. Zwickler, 394 U.S. 103, 89 S. Ct. 956, 22 L. Ed. 2d 113 (1969). Although the combination of circumstances that led to the grant of the temporary injunction in this case may arise in strikes by other New York public employees, plaintiffs-appellants have no stake in that. Moreover, any grant of similar relief, as to the propriety of which we express no opinion, would necessarily turn on the particular facts as well as on how New York law develops in consequence of the Off-Track Betting Corporation case.*fn11 The rate-of-deduction issue thus now lacks one of the requisites of a live controversy, namely, a "real and immediate" threat of injury faced by any member of the plaintiff class. See Sosna v. Iowa, 419 U.S. 393, 402-03, 95 S. Ct. 553, 558-559, 42 L. Ed. 2d 532 (1975). There is little indication that these employees will again face Taylor Law penalties of equal or greater severity. Having received all the relief due them, even assuming arguendo that they are right on the merits of the narrow rate-of-deduction issue, it ill behooves plaintiffs to insist that further judicial effort be expended upon this claim.

All that remains is appellants' contention that the complaint set forth other constitutional challenges which are not adversely resolved by the Supreme Court's dismissal of the appeal in Sanford. The first of these, that doctrinal developments since the dismissal of the Sanford appeal indicate that the Court would now reach a different result, is clearly without merit. One of the cases that appellants invoke, North Georgia Finishing Co. v. Di-Chem Inc., 419 U.S. 601, 95 S. Ct. 719, 42 L. Ed. 2d 751 (1975), antedated Sanford ; indeed, it was cited in the jurisdictional statement of the Sanford plaintiffs, p. 10. The other, Memphis Light, Gas & Water Division v. Craft, 436 U.S. 1, 98 S. Ct. 1554, 56 L. Ed. 2d 30 (1978), turned on the total failure to give any notice of the availability of a procedure to contest the proposed termination of an essential utility service. Appellants do not mention the most important decision on pre-termination hearings since the dismissal of the Sanford appeal, to wit, Mathews v. Eldridge, 424 U.S. 319, 96 S. Ct. 893, 47 L. Ed. 2d 18 (1976), which held that no such hearing was constitutionally required before the termination of Social Security disability payments provided to completely disabled workers surely a more serious deprivation, if erroneously made, than the loss of two days' pay for each day not worked of a two-and-a-half week strike. Moreover, the Eldridge decision, which laid down guidelines for general application, was rendered despite a showing that "the delay between the actual cutoff of benefits and final decision after a hearing exceeds one year," 424 U.S. at 342, 96 S. Ct. at 906, and that a significant proportion of appealed decisions (58.6%) were reversed as a result of the post-termination hearings, 424 U.S. at 346-47, 96 S. Ct. at 908.*fn12 The post-Sanford trend has thus been to limit and refine the reach of the protean due process principles announced in earlier cases such as Goldberg v. Kelly, 397 U.S. 254, 90 S. Ct. 1011, 25 L. Ed. 2d 287 (1970), which themselves were held insufficient to present a substantial constitutional question in Sanford.

Like the district judge, we see no constitutional significance in the fact that the strikers here chose to violate the law for sixteen days rather than for only two as in Sanford. Although the Court indicated in Goss v. Lopez, 419 U.S. 565, 584, 95 S. Ct. 729, 741, 42 L. Ed. 2d 725 (1975), that longer periods of suspension from school might demand more elaborate procedures than what was there required for suspensions of ten days or less, there is no basis for assuming that the Court meant this to apply to a situation where the student had engaged in a number of discrete although similar acts, each entailing a suspension of ten days or less. We likewise see no significance of constitutional magnitude in the larger number of hearings here requested, with attendant possibility of greater delay; the jurisdictional statement in Sanford had rung the changes on the theme of delay (pp. 18-19), as well as on that of the possibility of error in the deduction decision (p. 20), and it is always open to a union to inflate the figures by filing baseless objections. The claim that § 210(2)(g) deprives employees of equal protection by denying a pre-deduction hearing because § 210(3) affords a union a hearing before it loses the privileges of recognition and dues check-off afforded by § 208, borders on the frivolous.

There was equally little merit in the argument that statistics for the years 1969-78 demonstrate that the Taylor Law was ineffective in preventing or shortening strikes by public employees. Apart from the fact that the bare figures prove nothing, the effectiveness of the Taylor Law is a question of policy for the New York legislature, and not for the federal courts. Moreover, the figures shed no light on what the situation would have been in those years if the Taylor Law had not been in place.

Since the only constitutional attack having any possible merit which was not foreclosed by the dismissal in Sanford had become moot, the district court was bound to dismiss the complaint, whether its views with respect to abstention were correct or not. Compare Brown v. New York City Transit Authority, S.D.N.Y. 80 Civ. 2912, dated June 4, 1980 (Lowe, J.). We therefore remand with directions to dismiss the complaint on the merits.


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