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NEW YORK STATE NATIONAL ORGANIZATION FOR WOMEN v. PATAKI

October 17, 2002

NEW YORK STATE NATIONAL ORGANIZATION FOR WOMEN, NEW YORK CHAPTER OF THE NATIONAL ORGANIZATION FOR WOMEN, WESTCHESTER COUNTY CHAPTER OF THE NATIONAL ORGANIZATION FOR WOMEN, ON BEHALF OF THEMSELVES, THEIR MEMBERS, AND ALL OTHERS SIMILARLY SITUATED, AND CLARICE SEEGARS, BERNADETTE THOMAS, DELLIE BRITT, AND JANE DOE, AS ADMINISTRATRIX, ON BEHALF OF THEMSELVES, AND ALL OTHERS SIMILARLY SITUATED, PLAINTIFFS-INTERVENORS,
V.
GEORGE W. PATAKI, INDIVIDUALLY AND AS GOVERNOR OF THE STATE OF NEW YORK, AND EDWARD MERCADO, INDIVIDUALLY AND AS COMMISSIONER OF THE DIVISION OF HUMAN RIGHTS OF THE EXECUTIVE DEPARTMENT OF NEW YORK STATE, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Robert L. Carter, United States District Judge.

OPINION

Plaintiffs New York State National Organization for Women, et al., move for curative notice relief to aid in further enforcement of a permanent injunction entered by this court in its decision N.Y. Nat'l Org. for Women v. Pataki, 189 F.R.D. 286 (S.D.N.Y. 1999) (Carter, J.). Defendants George W. Pataki, et al., cross-move to dismiss plaintiffs' cause of action in its entirety. Plaintiff Class-Member Abby Oshinsky moves for an order reinstating her claims of discrimination and harassment before the New York State Division of Human Rights. The New York City Housing Authority moves to intervene in this litigation and oppose Oshinsky's motion for relief. For the reasons set forth below, each of these motions is denied.

BACKGROUND

The motions and cross-motions at issue here represent the closing chapters in a class-action lawsuit that was the subject of a bench trial by this court, has since been appealed to the Second Circuit and United States Supreme Court, and is back before this court once again for resolution. A more complete description of the litigation can be found in this court's decision in N.Y. Nat'l Org. for Women v. Pataki, 189 F.R.D. 286 (S.D.N.Y. 1999) (Carter, J.) ("NOW III"), as well as the Second Circuit's subsequent opinion in N.Y. Nat'l Org. for Women v. Pataki, 261 F.3d 156 (2d Cir. 2001) ("NOW IV"). See also N.Y. Nat'l Org. for Women v. Cuomo, 14 F. Supp.2d 424 (S.D.N.Y. 1998) (Carter, J.) ("NOW II"); N.Y. Nat'l Org. for Women v. Cuomo, 182 F.R.D. 30 (S.D.N.Y. 1998) (Carter, J.) ("NOW I"). However, a simplified review of the relevant legal and factual history is nonetheless appropriate.

The Suit

The underlying suit is a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 class action brought by the New York State, New York City, and Westchester County chapters of the National Organization for Women (collectively, "NOW), as well as four individual plaintiff-intervenors, seeking monetary, injunctive, and declaratory relief. NOW IV, 261 F.3d at 159. From the outset, plaintiffs basic challenge has been to the administrative practices and procedures of the New York State Division of Human Rights (the "Division), the state agency responsible for handling and processing of claims of housing and employment discrimination. NOW III, 189 F.R.D. at 291. Over time, the litigation came to comprise three main allegations. The first and foremost was that protracted delays in the Division's handling of certain class members' claims violated Fourteenth Amendment rights to procedural due process and equal protection. Id. at 291, 308, 311-12. The second was that certain notice deficiencies preceding the administrative convenience dismissal ("ACD") of some class members' claims violated procedural due process. Id. at 311. The third and final was that the institution of particular intake rules (the "1995 Intake Rules"),*fn1 which authorized Division personnel to refuse arbitrarily to accept the filing of valid discrimination complaints, offended procedural due process and the Supremacy Clause. Id. at 291, 312-14.

The 1995 Intake Rules

In 1998, this court granted plaintiffs' request for a preliminary injunction barring implementation of the 1995 Intake Rules because plaintiffs established they were likely to prevail on their claim that the rules violated the procedural due process rights of NOW's members by randomly barring individuals from filing valid complaints with the Division. NOW I, 182 F.R.D. at 42; see also NOW III, 189 F.R.D. at 312. In 1999, following a bench trial, this court issued an opinion finding, among other things, that the preliminary injunction should be converted into a permanent one prohibiting the Division from ever resuming use of the 1995 Intake Rules. NOW III, 189 F.R.D. at 312-14. The court noted that NOW had presented clear evidence at trial showing "that the [1995] Intake Rules had great impact, and potentially deprived large numbers of persons of their discrimination complaints without cause." Id. at 313. The court further concluded that there was ample proof of continuing harm, observing that "Division officials' behavior during the course of this lawsuit suggests that there is an impending threat that defendant or his successor might later reimplement the 1995 Intake Rules." Id. at 313-14.

Processing Delays and Notice Deficiencies

In addition to ruling that the 1995 Intake Rules should be permanently enjoined, the court also considered plaintiffs' two other main contentions relating to protracted delays in the processing of class members' complaints, and notice deficiencies in the Division's contact procedures for complaints at risk of being ACD'ed. In terms of the latter, the court found that "the balance of evidence favor[ed] plaintiffs' claims, and that the Division's ACD complainant contact procedures and its Post 1991 ACD letter violated [certain class members'] due process rights." Id. at 311. In regard to the former, the court found that plaintiffs had clearly demonstrated that the Division's processing delays severely compromised the evidentiary basis of certain class members' claims, thereby causing them actual prejudice. Id. at 308. The court acknowledged that some delay was inevitable, but concluded that the prejudice created by the Division's delays — which typically exceeded three years — nonetheless violated due process by depriving complainants of the property interest in their valid discrimination claims. Id. at 310. However, the court rejected plaintiffs' related equal protection challenge to the processing delays, concluding that the Division procedure responsible "survives the rational basis test." Id. at 311-12.

Injunctive Relief

In response to the three categories of harms described above, the court formulated a broad injunction prohibiting the Division from taking "any action in violation of plaintiffs' Fourteenth Amendment due process rights." Id. at 314. More specifically, the court ordered defendants to work with plaintiffs to formulate a "Joint Remedial Plan" designed to ameliorate prejudicial processing delays of more than three years. Id. at 314-15. Additionally, the court ordered defendants to refrain from implementing the 1995 Intake Rules, officially transforming the preliminary injunction granted in NOW I into a permanent one. Id. at 312-14, 315. Finally, the court ordered defendants to reform their contact procedures in a number of specific ways to provide better notice to complainants at risk for having their claims ACD'ed. Id. at 315. of particular relevance, as part of this notice relief, the court enjoined further use of the "ACD notification letter in circulation after April 11, 1999, because that letter provides insufficient notice to complainants that they are at risk for . . . ." Id.

On November 24, 1999, defendants filed notice of their appeal of this court's grant of declaratory, injunctive, and monetary relief in NOW III. On November 30, 1999, NOW filed notice of a cross-appeal of that same relief to the extent that it did not go far enough in vindicating class members' due process claims. Over the next few months, the parties filed various motions and cross-motions of little consequence to this opinion. Then, on June 4, 2000, class member Abby Oshinsky ("Oshinsky") filed a motion with this court seeking an order requiring that defendants vacate the ACD of two human rights claims she had filed against her former employer, the New York City Housing Authority ("NYCHA"). She further requested that the order require defendants to restore her complaints to the Division's hearing calendar and accord them the highest scheduling priority. (Mem. of Law of Pl. Class Member Abby Oshinsky at 1.) On July 9, 2001, ...


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