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MILLER v. SILBERMANN

January 22, 1997

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, against JACQUELINE 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 Chief Administrator of the Courts, MILTON L. WILLIAMS, 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: KRAM

 SHIRLEY WOHL KRAM, U.S.D.J.

 In this civil rights action brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, defendants move, pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(c), for judgment on the pleadings dismissing the amended complaint. For the reasons set forth below, defendants' motion is granted.

 BACKGROUND1

 The New York State legislature established the Civil Court of the City of New York and its Housing Part (the "Housing Court") in 1972 to enforce municipal codes pertaining to housing issues. See N.Y. Civ. Ct. Act § 110(a) (McKinney 1983). The Housing Court has jurisdiction over "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 . . . ." Id. The legislature has empowered the Housing Court to enforce its housing laws by, inter alia, issuing injunctions, id., removing tenants from residential premises, id., and granting rent abatements for breaches of the warranty of habitability, see N.Y. Real Prop. Law ("NYRPL") § 235-b (McKinney 1989).

 The Housing Court is part of New York City's Civil Court, which has branches in each of the city's five boroughs. The administrative judge of the Civil Court oversees the Housing Court on behalf of the Civil Court's chief administrative judge. The Housing Court is further administered by several supervising judges, county clerks and deputy county clerks. The judicial aspect of the Housing Court consists of a body of judges who adjudicate the majority of cases brought before the courts.

 On May 22, 1989, plaintiffs, consisting of an association of residential apartment building owners in New York City and nine individual landlords representing a class of landlords, commenced the present action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Plaintiffs charge defendant administrators, judges and clerical personnel of the Housing Court with systematically depriving landlords of their constitutional and state law rights by unfairly favoring tenants in landlord-tenant disputes. Specifically, plaintiffs allege that defendants have: (1) publicly pronounced anti-landlord policies; (2) assisted tenants in filing frivolous claims; (3) issued illegal rulings against landlords; (4) engaged in "case shopping," whereby judges seek to resolve disputes involving landlords against whom they have formed a specific bias; (5) awarded rent abatements or refused to evict tenants based on non-existent building violations; (6) unlawfully forbidden landlords' attorneys from recovering fees and costs; (7) permitted the distribution of pro-tenant literature in Housing Court buildings while simultaneously denying the same right to landlords; and (8) unlawfully delayed issuances of warrants of eviction and rent deposit orders against tenants. See Amended Complaint PP 8-20.

 On September 12, 1991, the parties entered into a Stipulation of Settlement (the "Stipulation") pursuant to which defendants agreed to change certain Housing Court policies in response to plaintiffs' concerns. At the same time, Judge Jacqueline Silbermann, the New York City Civil Court's administrative judge, issued a Statement of Intention setting forth several specific policies that would be changed in the Housing Court's operations. The Stipulation also provided that this Court would place this case on the suspense calendar but would reinstate the action if the steps outlined in the Statement of Intention were not taken.

 On December 4, 1992, after plaintiffs charged defendants with failing to honor the Stipulation and the Statement of Intention, the Court restored the case to the active docket. The amended complaint filed in conjunction with the restoration of the present action sets forth the following seven claims for relief: (1) systematic bias by the Housing Court against 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 provisions requiring tenants to pay attorneys' fees (Second Claim for Relief); (3) prohibiting the establishment of landlord information areas in the Housing Court in violation of the First Amendment and the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment (Third Claim for Relief); (4) unequal treatment of landlords and tenants in violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment (Fourth Claim for Relief); (5) systematic delay in issuing warrants against tenants in violation of NYRPL § 732 (Fifth Claim for Relief); (6) systematic refusal to require tenants to deposit rent or state why the deposit is not required in violation of NYRPL § 745 (Sixth Claim for Relief); and (7) systematic refusal to award costs to landlords in summary proceedings in violation of NYRPL § 747 (Seventh Claim for Relief).

 Plaintiffs seek several forms of relief, including, inter alia: An order certifying that this action may proceed as a class action, pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23; an order appointing a special master or administrator to report to the Court on the issues presented in this case and to assist the Court in enforcing and monitoring defendants' compliance with any orders issued to remedy the current injustices; and a permanent injunction requiring the Housing Court to conform its actions to federal and state law.

 In 1993, three tenant organizations, the Metropolitan Council on Housing, the City-Wide Task Force on Housing Court and the 588 Park Place Tenants Association (collectively, the "Intervenor Defendants"), moved to intervene as defendants in this litigation pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 24. In Miller v. Silbermann, 832 F. Supp. at 673-74, the Court granted the Intervenor Defendants' motion for permissive intervention in light of their interest in the litigation and the likelihood that their presence would contribute to the Court's ability to resolve all of the issues raised in the instant case.

 Presently before the Court is defendants' motion, pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1), 12(b)(6) and 12(c), to dismiss the amended complaint or for judgment on the pleadings. *fn2" Specifically, defendants argue that (1) plaintiffs lack standing; (2) principles of comity and federalism, as well as the Younger and Burford abstention doctrines, render the lawsuit an improper subject for consideration by a federal court; (3) the First, Fifth, Sixth and Seventh Claims for Relief are barred by the Eleventh Amendment; and (4) the amended complaint fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted. Because plaintiffs allege injury that is only speculative in nature, the Court finds that plaintiffs lack standing to bring the present action. In addition, because the relief sought by plaintiffs would require this Court's continuous supervision of and interference in Housing Court proceedings, this action is barred by the principles of comity and federalism. *fn3"

 DISCUSSIO ...


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