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JAOUAD v. CITY OF NEW YORK

March 13, 1999

REDOUANE A. JAOUAD AND JOSE A. VAZQUEZ, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
CITY OF NEW YORK; NEW YORK CITY DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION; NEW YORK CITY DEPARTMENT OF FINANCE; AND, NEW YORK CITY PARKING VIOLATIONS BUREAU, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Motley, District Judge.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Plaintiffs, Redouane A. Jaouad ("Jaouad") and Jose A. Vazquez ("Vazquez"), brought a class action suit against defendants, the City of New York, the New York City Department of Transportation ("DOT"), the New York City Department of Finance ("DOF"), and the New York City Parking Violations Bureau ("PVB") (collectively: "the City"), alleging that defendants violated 42 U.S.C. § 1983 by enforcing statutorily defective parking tickets ("Tickets") against plaintiffs. Before the court is defendant's Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss the amended complaint. For the reasons discussed below, defendants' motion to dismiss is GRANTED.

I. BACKGROUND

Plaintiffs filed a class action against defendants on June 16, 1997, alleging violations of constitutional due process in the administrative enforcement of Tickets. In the original complaint, plaintiffs alleged that they were unconstitutionally deprived their federal due process rights because: (1) Tickets could only be dismissed upon application by the Ticket recipient, and not sua sponte, as had been the practice before 1995; (2) Ticket recipients were not informed of their right to have the Tickets dismissed for being statutorily defective; (3) Ticket recipients who had a default judgment entered against them could not get the Tickets dismissed without first providing a good excuse for the default; and (4) the PVB administrative law judges ("ALJs") in charge of the enforcement of the Tickets were allegedly biased due to their appointment and connection with the DOF, which derives a substantial source of City revenue through the enforcement of Tickets. See Compl. at ¶¶ 1, 11, 16, 17. Plaintiffs further alleged that defendants' practices also violated New York state law. See Compl. at ¶ 14.

The statutory authority governing this dispute is the New York State Vehicle and Traffic Law ("VTL"), § 238(2), which requires certain information to be on the face of all parking tickets. Specifically, VTL § 238(2) requires the following:

  A notice of violation shall be served upon the operator of a
  motor vehicle . . . and his name, together with the plate
  designation and the plate type . . . the make or model, and
  body type of said vehicle; a description of the charged
  violation . . . information as to the days and hours the
  applicable rule or provision of this chapter is in effect
  . . . and the date, time, and particular place of occurrence
  of the charged violation, shall be inserted therein.

Prior to 1995, ALJs dismissed Tickets containing statutory defects sua sponte. However, the VTL was amended in 1995 to include Section 238(2-a)(b), which provides that "if any information which is required to be inserted on a notice of violation is omitted . . ., misdescribed, or illegible, then the violation shall be dismissed upon application of the person charged with the violation." (emphasis added).

On September 12, 1995, Acting Chief ALJ Rabinowitz wrote a memorandum to all the PVB ALJs regarding the new amendment to VTL § 238. The ALJs were instructed not to sua sponte dismiss all Tickets but instead to assess whether the statutory defect impinged on due process, such as "in a manner where a defense concerns a question of whether the correct party has been identified as being liable for a parking violation, or where the absence of required information prevents a party from asserting an appropriate defense" Ex. F to Williams Dec.Supp.Defs.' Mot. to Dismiss ("Williams Dec.") at 2. If the ALJ determines that the defect did impinge on the Ticket recipient's due process rights, then the ALJ must vacate the Ticket sua sponte, regardless of whether the Ticket recipient made an application as called for by VTL § 238(2-a)(b). See Id.

The crux of this lawsuit is over the policy enacted by the Acting Chief ALJ regarding the sua sponte dismissals of Tickets post-1995. While plaintiffs allege that all statutory defects amount to jurisdictional defects that must be dismissed sua sponte, see Pls.' Mem.Opp.Summ.J. (hereafter "Pls.' Br.") at 9, defendants claim that the ALJs have the discretion not to dismiss all Tickets sua sponte, but rather to require the Ticket recipient to request dismissal pursuant to Section 238(2-a)(b) and reserve sua sponte dismissals for misdescriptions or omissions that impinge on due process as outlined in Acting Chief ALJ Rabinowitz's memorandum. See Defs.' Mem.Supp.Summ.J. ("Defs.' Br.") at 3-4.

On May 11, 1998, the court dismissed this case, without prejudice, for failure to state a claim for relief under Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. See Jaonad and Vazquez v. City of New York, et al., 4 F. Supp.2d 311 (S.D.N.Y. 1998) (Motley, J.). The court held that the requirements of constitutional due process, i.e. notice and a meaningful opportunity to be heard, were adequately met. The court found that the City provided each Ticket recipient with a summons describing the parking violation and the mechanism for contesting the violation. The court opined that the PVB provided sufficient safeguards by sending Ticket recipients three additional notices advising them of outstanding summonses and reiterating the appeals procedure. Ticket recipients were also informed of the availability of a 24-hour helpline and numerous walk-in centers should they require further assistance. The court held that these safeguards satisfied the notice requirement. See Id. at 313. The court also explained that due process did not require the further safeguard that Ticket recipients be informed of their right to have their Tickets vacated since not all defects deprived plaintiffs of due process. The court held that the ALJs' post-1995 sua sponte dismissal policy also served to protect against any violation of plaintiffs' due process rights. See Id.

As for the second prong of federal due process analysis, i.e., meaningful opportunity to be heard, the court held that no unconstitutional limitations were placed on plaintiffs' right to be heard. The court determined that Article 78 proceedings, the mechanism for reviewing individual ALJ determinations, served as an adequate remedy for plaintiffs who wanted to challenge an adverse decision by an ALJ. Moreover, the court held that plaintiffs who wished to vacate their Tickets after a default judgment had been entered against them equally had a meaningful opportunity to be heard prior to the entering of the default judgment. The court held that plaintiffs' failure to provide a good excuse for the default was not an unlawful limitation on their opportunity to be heard. See Id. at 314.

The court gave plaintiffs sixty (60) days leave to file an amended complaint. Plaintiffs filed an amended complaint on June 16, 1998, and the City again moved to dismiss. See Id. at 315.

II. DISCUSSION

A. Standard for Motion to Dismiss Under
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