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NATIONAL CONGRESS P.R. RIGHTS v. CITY OF NEW YORK
October 20, 1999
NATIONAL CONGRESS FOR PUERTO RICAN RIGHTS, BY RICHIE PEREZ, NATIONAL COORDINATOR; AND KELVIN DANIELS; POSEIDON BASKIN; DJIBRIL TOURE; HECTOR RIVERA; VICTOR RODRIGUEZ; AND KAHIL SHKYMBA, INDIVIDUALLY AND ON BEHALF OF A CLASS OF ALL OTHERS SIMILARLY SITUATED, PLAINTIFFS,
THE CITY OF NEW YORK; THE NEW YORK CITY POLICE DEPARTMENT; AND NEW YORK CITY POLICE OFFICERS JOHN DOES # 1-500; MAYOR RUDOLPH GIULIANI; AND NEW YORK CITY POLICE COMMISSIONER HOWARD SAFIR, IN THEIR INDIVIDUAL AND OFFICIAL CAPACITIES, DEFENDANTS.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Scheindlin, District Judge.
Plaintiffs, a civil rights organization and six black and
Latino men, bring this civil rights case under the Civil Rights
Act of 1871, 42 U.S.C. § 1983, the Fourth and Fourteenth
Amendments to the United States Constitution, Title VI of the
Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000d et seq., and the
Constitution and laws of the State of New York. In addition to
money damages, they seek declaratory and injunctive relief for
themselves and on behalf of a class of similarly situated
individuals. Plaintiffs seek a judgment declaring the Street
Crime Unit's ("SCU") practice and/or custom of suspicionless
stops and frisks to be unconstitutional. Their request for
injunctive relief is considerably broader.*fn1 Defendants the
City of New York, Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, and Police Commissioner
Howard Safir have moved to dismiss plaintiffs' equitable claims
as well as their Equal Protection and conspiracy claims.*fn2 For
the following reasons, defendants' motion is granted in part and
denied in part.
This case involves alleged constitutional violations by a unit
of the New York City Police Department (the "NYPD") known as the
Street Crime Unit (the "SCU"). The SCU is an elite squad of
police officers whose purported mission is to interdict violent
crime in New York City and, in particular, remove illegal
firearms from the streets. Amended Complaint ("Compl.") ¶ 38. It
is alleged that SCU officers subject residents of high crime
areas, particularly Black and Latino men, to stops and frisks
based not on reasonable suspicion but on their race and national
origin. Id. ¶ 39.
The named individual plaintiffs are six Black and Latino men
between the ages of 23 and 31 years old who reside in the
boroughs of the Bronx and Brooklyn. Id. ¶¶ 12-17. Each
plaintiff alleges that he has been stopped and frisked by police
officers believed to be members of the SCU without reasonable
suspicion and on the basis of his race and national origin. Id.
¶¶ 63-74. Each claims to have sustained injuries as a result of
these encounters including fear of the possibility of future
stops and frisks.*fn3
Plaintiff National Congress for Puerto Rican Rights ("National
Congress") is a membership organization opposed to discrimination
against Puerto Ricans in the United States. Compl. ¶ 18. Since
1986, it has been fighting police brutality and
racially-motivated violence. Id. It has received numerous
complaints from its members and others regarding "suspicionless
stops and frisks of young Puerto Rican males by New York City
police officers." Id. ¶ 76. National Congress has alleged that
it expends substantial resources at the city, state and national
levels to advocate reforms to end police misconduct. Id. ¶ 77.
National Congress is not suing in a representational capacity on
behalf of its members but rather in its own right for injuries it
allegedly sustained as a result of the SCU's activities.
A. Motion to Dismiss Standard
In a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal
Rules of Civil Procedure, all factual allegations set forth in
the complaint must be accepted as true and all reasonable
inferences must be drawn in plaintiff's favor. Bernheim v.
Litt, 79 F.3d 318, 321 (2d Cir. 1996). In deciding such a
motion, a court "looks to the four corners of the complaint and
evaluates the legal viability of the allegations contained
therein." Hoffman v. Empire Blue Cross and Blue Shield, 96 Civ.
5448, 1999 WL 782518, at *1 (S.D.N.Y. Sept. 30, 1999) (citing
Cortec Indus., Inc. v. Sum Holding L.P., 949 F.2d 42, 47 (2d
A court should not dismiss a complaint unless it "appears
beyond doubt that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts in
support of [its] claim that would entitle [it] to relief."
Cooper v. Parsky, 140 F.3d 433, 440 (2d Cir. 1998) (quoting
Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 78 S.Ct. 99, 2 L.Ed.2d 80
(1957)). Thus, the issue is not whether the plaintiff will
prevail but whether it is entitled to offer evidence in support
of its claims. Villager Pond, Inc. v. Town of Darien,
56 F.3d 375, 378 (2d Cir. 1995) (citation omitted).
B. Standing — Individual Plaintiffs — Constitutional
In order to invoke the jurisdiction of the federal courts, a
party must "satisfy the threshold requirement imposed by Article
III of the Constitution by alleging an actual case or
controversy." City of Los Angeles v. Lyons, 461 U.S. 95, 101,
103 S.Ct. 1660, 75 L.Ed.2d 675 (1983) (citations omitted).
[p]laintiffs must demonstrate a personal stake in the
outcome in order to assure that concrete adverseness
which sharpens the presentation of issues necessary
for the proper resolution of constitutional
questions. Abstract injury is not enough. The
plaintiff must show that he sustained or is
immediately in danger of sustaining some direct
injury as the result of the challenged official
conduct and the injury or threat of injury must be
both real and immediate, not conjectural or
Id. at 101-02, 103 S.Ct. 1660 (citations and internal
quotations omitted). Specifically, a plaintiff must demonstrate
that "(1) he or she has suffered an injury; (2) the injury is
traceable to the defendants' conduct; and (3) a federal court
likely to redress the injury." Deshawn v. Safir, 156 F.3d 340,
344 (2d Cir. 1998) (citing Northeastern Florida Contractors v.
City of Jacksonville, 508 U.S. 656, 663, 113 S.Ct. 2297, 124
L.Ed.2d 586 (1993)). Moreover, "a plaintiff seeking injunctive or
declaratory relief cannot rely on past injury to satisfy the
injury requirement but must show a likelihood that he or she will
be injured in the future." Id. (citing Lyons, 461 U.S. at
105-06, 103 S.Ct. 1660). "Past exposure to illegal conduct does
not in itself show a present case or controversy regarding
injunctive relief, however, if unaccompanied by any continuing,
present adverse effects." O'Shea v. Littleton, 414 U.S. 488,
495-96, 94 S.Ct. 669, 38 L.Ed.2d 674 (1974).*fn4
Defendants contend that the present case is on "all fours" with
Lyons which compels dismissal of plaintiffs' claims for
injunctive and declaratory relief. In Lyons, the plaintiff had
been placed in a chokehold without provocation or justification
after being stopped for a minor traffic violation. 461 U.S. at
97, 103 S.Ct. 1660. Plaintiff sought injunctive relief barring
the use of chokeholds alleging that police officers "`pursuant to
the authorization, instruction and encouragement of defendant
City of Los Angeles, regularly and routinely apply these choke
holds in innumerable situations where they are not threatened by
the use of any deadly force whatsoever.'" Id. at 103, 103 S.Ct.
1660. The Court found plaintiff's assertion that he may again be
subject to an illegal chokehold in the future to be too
speculative and dismissed the case for lack of standing. Id. at
108-09, 103 S.Ct. 1660.
The Court found the likelihood of a future encounter with the
police to be remote especially in light of the assumption that
individuals will conduct their activities within the law. Id.
at 103, 103 S.Ct. 1660 (citing O'Shea, 414 U.S. at 497, 94
S.Ct. 669, for the proposition that "respondents will conduct
their activities within the law and so avoid prosecution and
conviction as well as exposure to the challenged course of
conduct said to be followed by petitioners"). In order to have
another encounter with the police, the plaintiff would have to be
"arrested in the future and provoke the use of a chokehold by
resisting arrest, attempting to escape, or threatening deadly
force or serious bodily injury." Id. at 108, 103 S.Ct. 1660.
Thus, for the plaintiff in Lyons to establish an actual
controversy, he would not only have to allege that he would have
another encounter with the police but he would have to make "the
incredible assertion either, (1) that all police officers in Los
Angeles always choke a citizen with whom they happen to have an
encounter, whether for the purpose of arrest, issuing a citation
or for questioning or, (2) that the City ordered or authorized
police officers to act in such manner." Id. at 106, 103 S.Ct.
1660. Such a contention, the Court noted, was squarely refuted by
the record which contained no evidence of "any written or oral
pronouncement by the LAPD or any evidence showing a pattern of
police behavior that would indicate that the official policy
would permit the application of the control holds on a suspect
that was not offering, or threatening to offer, physical
resistance." Id. at 110, n. 9, 103 S.Ct. 1660. The Court
further noted that in the time between plaintiff's encounter with
the police and the filing of the complaint, there were no
"further unfortunate encounters between Lyons and the police."
Id. at 108, 103 S.Ct. 1660.
Lyons is distinguishable from the present case on a number of
grounds. First, there is the difference in the number of alleged
constitutional violations resulting from the challenged policies.
In Lyons, in addition to himself, the plaintiff alleged in his
first amended complaint that 10 chokehold-related deaths had
occurred as a result of defendant's official policies. 461 U.S.
at 100, 103 S.Ct. 1660. Here defendants' policy, evidenced by a
pervasive pattern of unconstitutional stops and frisks, has
allegedly affected tens of thousands of New York City residents,
most of whom have been black and Latino men. Compl. ¶ 5. Courts
have not been hesitant to grant standing to sue for injunctive
relief where numerous constitutional violations have resulted
from a policy of unconstitutional practices by law enforcement
officers. See, e.g., Allee v. Medrano, 416 U.S. 802, 815, 94
S.Ct. 2191, 40 L.Ed.2d 566 (1974) (injunctive relief appropriate
given a "persistent pattern of police misconduct" as manifested
by a series of unconstitutional acts by police officers against
union organizers); Thomas v. County of Los Angeles, 978 F.2d at
508 (realistic threat of future injury found where record
indicated that in numerous instances the challenged police
conduct was "condoned and tacitly authorized by department policy
A second distinguishing factor is that here at least three of
the named individual plaintiffs claim they have been victimed by
these unconstitutional practices repeatedly. See Compl. ¶¶ 63,
64, 66, 69 & 70. As plaintiffs' allegations must be accepted as
true for purposes of this motion, see Gladstone, Realtors v.
Village of Bellwood, 441 U.S. 91, 109, 99 S.Ct. 1601, 60 L.Ed.2d
66 (1979), this alone establishes that plaintiffs face a
realistic threat of future harm.*fn5 See Nicacio v. United
States I.N.S., 797 F.2d 700, 702 (9th Cir. 1985) (the
"possibility of recurring injury ceases to be speculative when
actual repeated incidents are documented"). Unlike the situation
presented in Lyons, here there is no chain of contingencies
making the threat of future harm speculative. This is especially
true in light of the fact that, unlike the plaintiff in Lyons,
plaintiffs do not have to break the law to be exposed to the
alleged constitutional violations. The fact that plaintiffs were
stopped while engaging in everyday tasks further illustrates a
realistic risk of future harm. Courts have distinguished Lyons
and found standing where innocent individuals are victims of
unconstitutional police conduct. See, e.g., Thomas, 978 F.2d at
508 (plaintiffs had standing to sue for injunctive relief because
in contrast to Lyons, "many victims purportedly did nothing to
warrant detention or apprehension prior to the mistreatment");
LaDuke v. Nelson, 762 F.2d 1318, 1326 (9th Cir. 1985) (court
found standing where class members were subjected to
constitutional injury based on completely innocent behavior).
If in fact this case is on "all fours" with any case, it is
with Thomas, not Lyons. In Thomas, the plaintiffs were
predominately black and Latino residents of the City of Lynwood,
California. 978 F.2d at 505. They alleged that deputy sheriffs in
Lynwood used excessive force in detaining minority citizens and
employed unlawful procedures in searching the home of minority
residents. Id. at 506. The Ninth Circuit found that "[r]epeated
instances of violence and retaliatory confrontations are
`continuing present adverse affects' and cause the threatened
injury to be `sufficiently real and immediate to show an existing
controversy.'" Id. at 507 (quoting O'Shea v. Littleton,
414 U.S. 488, 496, 94 S.Ct. 669, 38 L.Ed.2d 674 (1974)). The court
went on to distinguish Lyons as follows:
Id. at 507-08 (quoting Lyons, 461 U.S. at 103, 103 S.Ct.
1660). Given the similarities between Thomas and the present
case, plaintiffs have adequately alleged a real and immediate
threat of future injury and have thus ...