United States District Court, Southern District of New York
December 27, 2002
JAMES MULROE, ROBERT DUGAN, AND THOMAS HORWATH, ON BEHALF OF A CLASS OF SIMILARLY-SITUATED PERSONS, PLAINTIFFS,
NEW YORK STATE THRUWAY AUTHORITY AND JOHN R. PLATT, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, NEW YORK STATE THRUWAY AUTHORITY, DEFENDANTS.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: VICTOR Marrero, United States District Judge
DECISION AND ORDER
Plaintiffs James Mulroe, Robert Dugan, and Thomas Horwath
("Plaintiffs") brought this action on behalf of a class of
similarly-situated individuals against defendants New York State Thruway
Authority (the "Authority") and John R. Platt, Executive Director of the
Authority ("Platt," and together with the Authority, the "Defendants")
alleging violations of the rights of the plaintiff class to equal
protection of the law under the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States
Constitution. Defendants filed a motion for summary judgment dismissing
the complaint in its entirety. Plaintiffs opposed the
motion and filed a
cross-motion for summary judgment.*fn1 For the reasons described below,
Defendants' motion is GRANTED and Plaintiffs' cross-motion is DENIED.
The facts in the instant case are not in dispute. The New York State
Thruway (the "Thruway") is the longest toll highway in the United
States, connecting many cities in the State of New York (the "State") to
each other and to other states. Except for several toll-free sections,
the Thruway has two separate and distinct fee systems, one which charges
drivers a per-mile toll (the "Ticketed System") and one which charges
drivers a fixed toll regardless of distance driven (the "Toll System").
The Ticketed System stretches within the State from Exit 15 in Orange
County to Exit 50 in Erie County, with an additional section in Western
New York running between Exit 55 and Exit 61 near the Pennsylvania
border. Drivers using the Ticketed System receive a ticket upon entering
the Thruway, and then pay a fee when they exit the Thruway that
corresponds to the number of miles they have traveled on the Thruway. The
Toll System includes portions of the Thruway south of Exit 16 to the
Major Deegan Expressway in the Bronx, and west of Exit 50 to Buffalo.
Drivers using the Toll System pay fixed tolls regardless of distance,
collected at toll barriers placed periodically along the Thruway.
The Plaintiffs all reside in Orange County, and commute daily to their
jobs using the Thruway. Every workday morning, each Plaintiff enters the
Thruway at Exit 16 via the Toll System and travels south, either to
another exit on the Thruway or to Manhattan. At the end of the day, each
Plaintiff returns to Orange County, exiting via the Toll System at Exit
16. In the course of entering or exiting, each Plaintiff pays a $.50 toll
at the toll plaza located at Exit 16, which translates into a $1.00 toll
each roundtrip. Plaintiffs contend that such a toll adds up to $250 over
the course of a year, if only workdays are counted.
Plaintiffs have brought this action to protest their alleged unequal
treatment as opposed to other commuters who enter the Thruway either
north or south of Exit 16. Commuters who enter south of Exit 16 at Exits
1 through 15 pay no toll, while commuters entering north of Exit 16 at
Exit 17*fn2 can obtain a special discount through the "thruway annual
permit plan" (the "Permit Plan"), which allows them to pay a total of $80
a year to travel south on the Thruway if they enter from Exit 17.*fn3
Plaintiffs contend that, without any rational basis, the Authority has
divided commuters into unequal classes based solely on where they enter
the Thruway, thus violating the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth
Amendment to the United States Constitution.
A. STANDARD OF REVIEW
A motion for summary judgment may be granted only if the court
concludes on the
basis of the record before it that there is no genuine
issue as to any material fact and the moving party is therefore entitled
to judgment as a matter of law. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 56; Celotex Corp. v.
Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986). As noted above, there are no facts
in dispute in the case at bar. Rather, both sides have asked the Court to
render a judgment as a matter of law based on the record presented.
B. EQUAL PROTECTION ANALYSIS
The Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution prohibits a
state from "deny[ing] any person within its jurisdiction the equal
protection of the laws." U.S. Const. amend. XIV, § 1. When a state
statute or state action is subject to an equal protection challenge, the
level of judicial scrutiny varies with the type of classification
utilized and the nature of the right affected. If the statute or action
involves an issue of social or economic policy and designs a
classification that "neither proceeds along suspect lines nor infringes
fundamental constitutional rights," the classification "must be upheld
against equal protection challenge if there is any reasonably conceivable
state of facts that could provide a rational basis for the
classification." FCC v. Beach Communications, 508 U.S. 307, 313 (1993).
The first step in determining whether legislation survives
rational-basis scrutiny is identifying a legitimate government purpose
which the enacting government body could have been pursuing. The actual
motivations of the enacting governmental body are entirely irrelevant.
See id., 508 U.S. at 315. Indeed, the Equal Protection Clause does not
even require government decisionmakers to articulate any reason for their
actions, see id., nor does it require any evidence on the record of a
legitimate purpose. See Panama City Medical Diagnostic Ltd. v. Williams,
13 F.3d 1541, 1546 (11th Cir. 1994).
The second step of rational-basis scrutiny asks whether a rational
basis exists for the enacting governmental body to believe that the
legislation would further the hypothesized purpose. "The proper inquiry
is concerned with the existence of a conceivably rational basis, not
whether that basis was actually considered by the legislative body." Id.
at 1547. As long as reasons for the legislative classification may have
been considered to be true, and the relationship between the
classification and the goal "is not so attenuated as to render the
distinction arbitrary or irrational," the legislation survives
rational-basis scrutiny. Nordlinger v. Hahn, 505 U.S. 1, 11 (1992). As
with the legitimate purpose inquiry, courts are not confined to the
record when determining whether a rational basis for the classification
exists. Beach Communications, 508 U.S. at 315; Panama City, 13 F.3d at
1545. In sum, "those attacking the rationality of the legislative
classification have the burden `to negative every conceivable basis which
might support it.'" Beach Communications, 508 U.S. at 315 (quoting
Lehnhausen v. Lake Shore Auto Parts Co., 410 U.S. 356, 364 (1973)).
In the instant case, Defendants offer a variety of reasons why the two
different systems and the alleged inequality among Thruway users exist.
One stated reason is the Authority's desire to maintain a steady traffic
flow. The Authority contends that the section of the Thruway from Exit 16
to New York City is one of the busier portions of the Thruway, so in an
effort to reduce traffic jams, there are no toll plazas on this stretch,
which allows commuters to
drive at a constant speed without slowing down
or stopping as they enter or exit the Thruway. Indeed, the Authority
claims that similar traffic jams are what spurred the Authority to move
the southern terminus of the Ticketing System from Exit 14 to Exit 16 in
Such a claim is reasonable in light of the evidence the Authority
submitted showing that the stretch from Exit 16 to New York City, while
less than one-tenth the length of the Ticketed System, accounts for a
total of vehicle miles traveled that is more than one-quarter that of the
Ticketed System, and nearly one-sixth that of the entire Thruway. It also
is logical that a road leading to the Tappan Zee Bridge, a massive Hudson
River crossing that connects to one of the most populous cities in the
world, would be a busy one. Thus, it is reasonable that the Authority has
chosen not to build more toll plazas before Exit 16 to avoid making this
already busy Thruway section even more congested.
The Authority also asserts that the disruption to traffic and the costs
involved with erecting new toll plazas to extend the Ticketing System
south would be disruptive and prohibitive. The Court finds this argument
compelling. Construction often is the cause of significant traffic
congestion in the New York region, and the thought of performing such
construction work in close proximity to a major bridge inevitably raises
the risk of major traffic problems.
In addition to the reasons mentioned above, the Authority raises
several other factors that persuade the Court that there is a rational
basis for the alleged unequal treatment of which Plaintiffs complain.
First, the Authority contends that the Permit Plan was originally
designed to appease the upstate communities which were disrupted by the
building of the Thruway and did not have the same alternative routes that
commuters like the Plaintiffs have. Moreover, the Authority claims that
extending the Permit Plan could possibly cause the Authority to violate
the terms of its covenants with the Thruway's bondholders. Plaintiffs do
not refute any of these contentions, other than to claim that the
Defendants "cannot elucidate any rationale, real or imaginable, for the
differences" between the Plaintiffs and other commuters. Thus, the Court
is inclined to accept the logical rationales that the Defendants provide
in explaining the disparate treatment between the Plaintiffs and other
commuters on the Thruway.
In accepting these rationales, the Court observes once again that
rationality in making such classification decisions is all that the
Defendants need demonstrate, for "equal protection is not a license for
courts to judge the wisdom, fairness, or logic of legislative choices."
Beach Communications, 508 U.S. at 313. Indeed, absent evidence of
invidious discrimination or utterly arbitrary decision-making, this Court
does not have the power to act as "a superlegislature to judge the wisdom
or desirability of legislative policy determinations made in areas that
neither affect fundamental rights nor proceed along suspect lines." City
of New Orleans v. Dukes, 427 U.S. 297, 303-04 (1976) Policy relating to
installing, removing or relocating toll booths on the Thruway is a matter
for the legislature to decide because such a decision involves a complex
interplay of economic analysis, environmental considerations and
political and community input. Were this Court to decide that the location
of the Thruway's Exit 16 toll plaza was unconstitutional, it would be
engaging in a legislative act based on the brief record before it and
without the ability to evaluate the entire context of the Ticketed and
Toll Systems. Such action would constitute an unsound and unjustifiable
exercise of judicial discretion.
C. QUALIFIED IMMUNITY
In light of the Court's decision discussed above, the Court finds it
unnecessary to discuss whether Platt is entitled to qualified immunity
III. CONCLUSION AND ORDER
For the reasons set forth above, it is hereby
ORDERED that the Defendants' motion for summary judgment is GRANTED;
and it is further
ORDERED that the Plaintiffs' cross-motion for summary judgment is
The Clerk of the Court is directed to close this case.