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MILLER v. SILBERMANN

September 13, 1993

JOHN MILLER, KINGS HEIGHTS ASSOCIATES, LINDA BLOOM, MICHAEL LAUB, GUNILLA KNUTSON, MANN REALTY ASSOCIATES, 22-24 ELLIOT ASSOCIATES LTD., and CAROL MANAGEMENT CORPORATION, on behalf of themselves and a class consisting of all others similarly situated, and the RENT STABILIZATION ASSOCIATION of N.Y.C., INC., Plaintiffs,
v.
JACQUELINE W. SILBERMANN, individually and as Administrative Judge of The New York City Civil Court, ISRAEL RUBIN, individually and as former Administrative Judge of the New York City Civil Court, ALBERT ROSENBLATT, individually and as former Chief Administrative Judge of the Unified Court System, MATTHEW T. CROSSON, individually and as Chief Administrator of the Courts, MILTON L. WILLIAMS, individually and as Deputy Chief Administrative Judge for the New York City Courts, JACK BAER, individually and as Chief Clerk of the New York City Civil Court, SOL WACHTLER, individually and as former Chief Judge of the Unified Court System, RICHARD D. SIMONS, individually and as Acting Chief Judge of the Unified Court System, various Judges of the New York City Civil Court, and various administrative officers denominated as "Judges" of the Housing Part of Civil Court, Defendants.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: SHIRLEY WOHL KRAM

 SHIRLEY WOHL KRAM, U.S.D.J.

 In this civil rights action, brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, owners of leased residential property in New York City and the Rent Stabilization Association, a landlord trade organization (collectively, the "Landlords"), allege that the Civil Court of the City of New York and its Housing Part (the "Housing Court") have deprived the Landlords of their constitutional rights. Specifically, the Landlords allege that the judges, administrators and clerical personnel of the Housing Court are biased against landlords and have implemented policies and applied the laws so as to discriminate in favor of tenants. The Landlords contend further that as a result of the Housing Court's pro-tenant bias, landlords are denied access to an unbiased tribunal before which to adjudicate owner-tenant disputes.

 Presently before the Court is the motion of Metropolitan Council on Housing ("Met Council"), the City-Wide Task Force on Housing Court ("City-Wide Task Force"), and the 588 Park Place Tenants Association ("Park Place Association") (collectively, the "Proposed Intervenors" or "Tenants"), to intervene as of right, or in the alternative, by permission, pursuant to Rule 24 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, as defendants in this case. The Landlords oppose the motion. For the reasons stated below, the motion is granted.

 BACKGROUND

 I. The Parties

 A. The Defendants

 The Housing Court was established in 1972 to hear "actions and proceedings involving the enforcement of state and local laws for the establishment and maintenance of housing standards, including, but not limited to, the multiple dwelling law and the housing maintenance code, building code and health code of the administrative code of the city of New York . . . ." N.Y. Civ. Ct. Act § 110(a) (McKinney 1983). The primary purpose of the Housing Court was, and remains, to afford redress for violations of the municipal codes that govern the operation and maintenance of housing. The Housing Court is empowered to entertain petitions and issue injunctions to enforce housing maintenance standards, id. at § 110(a)(4), grant rent abatements for breaches of the warranty of habitability, see N.Y. Real Prop. Law § 235-b (McKinney 1989), and suspend rent deposit requirements when hazardous conditions exist in a building or dwelling, see N.Y. Real Prop. Acts. Law ("RPAPL") § 745.2(c) (McKinney 1979).

 Defendants are judges, administrators and clerical personnel of the Housing Court who are responsible for administering the court's daily operations and establishing its administrative policies. Defendants include judges who hear and determine the majority of cases that come before the Housing Court.

 B. The Plaintiffs

 Plaintiff Landlords consist of a class of individual owners and an association of owners of residential apartment buildings in the City of New York who have appeared before the Housing Court to settle disputes with tenants and are likely to do so again in the future. The Landlords claim that as a result of the alleged systematic bias of the Housing Court against owners, disputes are often settled unfairly in favor of tenants. The Landlords seek an Order directing the judges, administrators and clerical Personnel of the Housing Court to implement changes in their procedures and policies so as to eradicate any pro-tenant bias.

 C. Proposed Defendant-Intervenors

 II. The Lawsuit

 The Landlords claim that the officials who administer the Housing Court have systematically deprived them of their due process and equal protection rights, and have also failed to enforce New York State laws which protect the rights of landlords. Specifically, the Landlords allege that Housing Court judges and administrators have, among other things: (1) publicly announced pro-tenant and anti-owner policies; (2) routinely hindered evictions by granting meritless orders to show cause and delaying the processing of warrants of eviction; (3) unfairly granted rent abatements, failed to require rent deposits and failed to award attorneys' fees to prevailing owners; and (4) permitted the proliferation and distribution of pro-tenant literature in the courthouse.

 On May 22, 1989, the Landlords filed a complaint setting forth six causes of action: (1) systemic bias by the Housing Court against the Landlords in violation of the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment (First Claim for Relief); (2) violation of the Landlords' freedom to enter into contracts by the Housing Court's refusal to enforce lease provisions requiring tenants to pay attorneys' fees (Second Claim for Relief); (3) refusal by defendants, in violation of the Free Speech and Due Process Clauses of the First and Fourteenth Amendments, to allow the Landlords to establish information tables in the Housing Court (Third Claim for Relief); (4) unequal treatment of owners and tenants in violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment (Fourth Claim for Relief); (5) systematic delay in the issuance of warrants against tenants in violation of RPAPL § 745 (Fifth Claim for Relief); and (6) systematic refusal by defendants to require the deposit of rent or state why the deposit is not being required in violation of RPAPL § 745 (Sixth Claim for Relief). The Landlords seek declaratory and permanent injunctive relief in the form of an order which, among other things, (1) declares the pro-tenant bias unconstitutional; (2) requires Housing Court administrators to correct that bias; and (3) appoints a special master to the Court to report on the issues involved in this lawsuit and insure compliance with any orders and judgments.

 On September 12, 1991, the parties entered into a Stipulation of Settlement whereby defendants agreed to alter certain Housing Court practices. See Stipulation of Settlement, annexed to the Affidavit of John J. Gilbert, III, sworn to on March 17, 1993 (the "Gilbert Aff."), as Exhibit "C". At the same time, Judge Jacqueline W. Silbermann, in her capacity as Administrative Judge of the New York City Civil Court, executed a Statement of Intention which set forth initiatives that the Housing Court would take, or had taken, to modify its practices. *fn1" The Stipulation of Settlement also provided that this Court would not dismiss this case, but would instead, place it on the suspense calendar for a period not to exceed three years. Id. During that time, the Landlords had the right to reinstate the action, upon thirty days notice, if the defendants failed to implement the initiatives contained in the Statement of Intention. Id.

 By motion dated November 18, 1992, the Landlords, in response to what they believed was a failure on the part of the Housing Court to abide by the Stipulation of Settlement and Statement of Intention, requested that this action be restored to the Court's active docket and that leave be granted to file an amended complaint. Thereafter, on December 4, 1992, at a pre-motion conference, the Court ...


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