United States District Court, S.D. New York
March 11, 2004.
JEFFREY EVANS, Plaintiff,
THE CITY OF NEW YORK and RICHARD E. JACKSON, individually and as former commissioner of the STATE OF NEW YORK DEPARTMENT OF MOTOR VEHICLES, RAYMOND P. MARTINEZ, individually and as commissioner of the STATE OF NEW YORK DEPARTMENT OF MOTOR VEHICLES, KENNETH J. RINGLER, JR., individually and as former interim commissioner of the STATE OF NEW YORK DEPARTMENT OF MOTOR VEHICLES and NEW YORK CITY POLICE OFFICER STEPHEN LEWIS, Defendants
The opinion of the court was delivered by: JOHN KOELTL, District Judge
OPINION AND ORDER
This action is brought by the plaintiff, Jeffrey Evans, pursuant to
42 U.S.C. § 1983 for alleged violations of the-plaintiff's federal
constitutional rights arising out of the suspension of the plaintiff's
New York State driver's license and his subsequent arrest and prosecution
for driving with a suspended license. The defendants are the former,
former interim, and current Commissioner of the State of New York
Department of Motor Vehicles ("DMV").*fn1 The plaintiff alleges
that his driver's license was suspended according to DMV procedures
that violated his rights to due process under the Fourteenth Amendment.
The plaintiff also asserts false arrest and malicious prosecution claims,
and to the extent these claims are asserted under state law the plaintiff
seeks to invoke the Court's supplemental jurisdiction over these claims.
The defendants now move for summary judgment pursuant to Federal Rule
of Civil Procedure 56 on all of the plaintiff's claims. The plaintiff has
also cross-moved for summary judgment on all of his claims.*fn2
The standard for granting summary judgment is well established. Summary
judgment may not be granted unless "the pleadings, depositions, answers
to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits,
if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and
that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." Fed.
R. Civ. P. 56(c); see also Celotex Corp. v. Catrett,
477 U.S. 317 (1986); Gallo v. Prudential Residential Servs. Ltd.
P'ship, 22 F.3d 1219, 1223 (2d Cir. 1994). "The trial
court's task at the summary judgment motion stage of the litigation is
carefully limited to discerning whether there are genuine issues of
material fact to be tried, not to deciding them. Its duty, in short, is
confined at this point to issue-finding; it does not extend to
issue-resolution." Gallo, 22 F.3d at 1224. The moving party
bears the initial burden of "informing the district court of the basis
for its motion" and identifying the matter that "it believes
demonstrate[s] the absence of a genuine issue of material fact."
Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323. The substantive law governing the
case will identify those facts which are material and "only disputes over
facts that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law
will properly preclude the entry of summary judgment." Anderson v.
Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986).
In determining whether summary judgment is appropriate, a court must
resolve all ambiguities and draw all reasonable inferences against the
moving party. See Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio
Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986) (citing United States v.
Diebold, Inc., 369 U.S. 654, 655 (1962)); see also Gallo,
22 F.3d at 1223. Summary judgment is improper if there is any evidence in
the record from any source from which a reasonable inference could be
drawn in favor of the
nonmoving party. See Chambers v. TRM Copy Ctrs. Corp.,
43 F.3d 29, 37 (2d Cir. 1994). If the moving party meets its burden, the
burden shifts to the nonmoving party to come forward with "specific facts
showing that there is a genuine issue for trial." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e).
The nonmoving party must produce evidence in the record and "may not rely
simply on conclusory statements or on contentions that the affidavits
supporting the motion are not credible." Ying Jing Gan v. City of
New York, 996 F.2d 522, 532 (2d Cir. 1993); see also Scotto v.
Almenas, 143 F.3d 105, 114-15 (2d Cir. 1998) (collecting cases).
Unless otherwise noted, the following facts are not in dispute. In
2000, the plaintiff, Jeffrey Evans, held a driver's license issued by the
New York State Department of Motor Vehicles ("DMV"). (Defs.'
Rule 56.1 St. ¶ 1; Transcript of Deposition of Jeffrey Evans dated Jan. 14,
2003 ("Evans Dep.") attached as Ex. E to Affirmation of Lisa E.
Fleischmann dated June 16, 2003 ("Fleischmann Affirm.") at 53-55.)
Defendant Richard E. Jackson served as Commissioner of the DMV from
February 14, 1995 to October 26, 2000. (Defs.' Rule 56.1 St. ¶ 2;
Affidavit of Richard E. Jackson, Jr., dated June 16, 2003 ("Jackson
Aff.") at ¶ 1.) Defendant Kenneth J. Ringler, Jr.,
served as interim Commissioner of the DMV from October 26, 2000 to
December 27, 2000. (Defs.' Rule 56.1 St. ¶ 4; Affidavit of Kenneth J.
Ringler, Jr., dated June 13, 2003 ("Ringler Aff.") at ¶ 2.) Since
December 27, 2003, defendant Raymond P. Martinez has been Acting
Commissioner and then Commissioner of the DMV. (Defs.' Rule 56.1 So.
¶ 3; Affirmation of Raymond P. Martinez dated June 16, 2003
("Martinez Aff.") at ¶ 2.)
On April 27, 2000, the plaintiff received a speeding ticket in
Brooklyn, New York. (Defs,' Rule 56.1 St. ¶ 5; Ticket No. 4052404956
attached as Ex. A to Affirmation of Paul D. Shur ("Shur Affirm.") dated
June 16, 2003.) The back of the ticket contains a "Plea Notice" that
states: "If you plead guilty, it is the same as being found guilty by a
judge. In either case, you may be required to pay a fine and, in
addition, your driver license . . . may be suspended or revoked as
prescribed by law." (Ticket No. 4052404956.) On November 10, 2000, the
plaintiff appeared for a hearing on the speeding ticket. (Pl.'s
Rule 56.1 St. ¶ 1; Defs.' Resp. Rule 56.1 St. ¶ 1.) The hearing was held at
the Brooklyn South Traffic Violations Bureau ("TVB") in Coney Island, New
York, and the hearing was presided over by Administrative Law Judge Paul
D. Shur ("ALJ Shur"). (Defs.' Rule 56.1 St. ¶ 6; Shur Affirm. ¶¶
1-2; Transcript of Deposition of Paul D. Shur, dated Mar. 25, 2003 ("Shur
Dep.") at 11.)
ALJ Shur found the plaintiff guilty of speeding. (Pl's Rule 56.1 So.
¶ 2; Defs.' Resp. Rule 56.1 St. ¶ 2.) ALJ Shur pointed out to the
plaintiff that because this speeding ticket was the plaintiff's third
speeding ticket in eighteen months, the plaintiff faced mandatory
revocation of his license, which would begin thirty days from that date,
on December 10, 2000. (Defs.' Rule 56.1 St. ¶ 8; Transcript of
Hearing dated Nov. 10, 2000 ("Hearing Tr.") attached as Ex. B to Shur
Affirm, at 21-24.) ALJ Shur informed the plaintiff that he would receive
a letter in the mail stating that his license would be revoked as of
December 10, 2000. (Pl.'s Rule 56.1 St. ¶ 6; Defs.' Resp.
Rule 56.1 St. ¶ 6.) ALJ Shur imposed a $275 fine, which the plaintiff was
required to pay by November 24, 2000. (Pl's Rule 56.1 St. ¶ 2; Defs.'
Resp. Rule 56.1 St. ¶ 2.) At the conclusion of the hearing, ALJ Shur
instructed the plaintiff to see the cashier. (Hearing Tr. 27-28.)
According to the DMV's procedural and training manual, ALJs should warn
motorists if convictions on tickets could result in suspension of their
licenses. (Pl's Rule 56.1 St. ¶ 23; Defs.' Resp. Rule 56.1 St. ¶
There is no evidence that the plaintiff visited the cashier following
the hearing, and the plaintiff does not claim that he did so. (Defs.'
Rule 56.1 St. ¶ 11; Shur Affirm. ¶¶ 9-10.) In
instances like this, where a motorist fails to pick, up a bill
from the cashier following a conviction, the DMV computer is programmed
to mail out a "Notice of Fine and Surcharge Payment Due" ("Notice of
Fine") to the address on the speeding ticket. (Defs.' Rule 56.1 St. ¶
12; Shur Affirm. ¶ 9.) The Notice of Fine generated after the
plaintiff's speeding conviction on November 10, 2000 stated that if the
plaintiff failed to pay his fine by November 24, 2000, his driver's
license would be suspended from that date until full payment was made.
(Defs.' Rule 56.1 St. ¶ 13; "Notice of Fine and Surcharge Payment
Due" attached in Ex. I to Fleischmann Affirm, and as Ex. B to Pl.'s Mot.
Sum. J.) The Notice of Fine stated that such a suspension is authorized
by Section 227(3) of the New York State Vehicle and Traffic Law.
The plaintiff was not informed at the November 10, 2000 hearing that he
would receive the Notice of Fine if he failed to pick up his bill from
the cashier, and he was not told that his license would be suspended if
he failed to pay the bill by November 24, 2000. (Pl's Rule 56.1 St. ¶
4; Defs.' Resp. Rule 56.1 St. ¶ 4.) The plaintiff denies ever
receiving the Notice of Fine in the mail, but he conceded at his
deposition that the Notice of Fine did contain his correct home address.
(Defs.' Rule 56.1 St. ¶ 13; Evans Dep. at 29.) The plaintiff did
receive a letter informing him that his licensed would be revoked
on December 10, 2000 as a result of having received three speeding
tickets in eighteen months. (Pl.'s Rule 56.1 St. ¶ 7; Defs.' Resp.
Rule 56.1 St. ¶ 7.)
On November 14, 2000, the plaintiff went to the Brooklyn North Traffic
Violations Bureau and pleaded guilty to two other outstanding speeding
tickets. (Pl.'s Rule 56.1 St. ¶ 8; Defs.' Resp. Rule 56.1 St. ¶
8.) After pleading guilty, the plaintiff went to the DMV cashier. (Pl.'s
Rule 56.1 St. ¶ 9; Defs.' Resp. Rule 56.1 St. ¶ 9.) The parties
disagree whether the plaintiff requested to pay all of his fines
including the one imposed by ALJ Shur on November 10, 2000 or
simply the two fines imposed that day. The plaintiff testified that he
asked the cashier whether he was paying "everything," because he wanted
to "[m]ake sure [he] was paying all [his] fines." The DMV cashier
allegedly responded, "From what she had, yes." (Evans Dep. attached as
Ex. C to Pl.'s Mot. Summ. J. at 34.) By contrast, Norma Lamboy, the DMV
cashier who dealt with the plaintiff that day, testified that the
plaintiff "kept insisting that he wasn't interested in taking care
of . . . the ticket from Coney Island.' (Transcript of Deposition of
Norma Lamboy dated Jan. 27, 2003 attached as Ex. G to Fleischmann
Affirm, at 16; see also Pl.'s Rule 56.1, St. ¶ 11; Defs.'
Resp. Rule 56.1 St. ¶ 11.)
It is undisputed that on November 14, 2000 the plaintiff paid the
cashier a total of $610 with his credit card. (Pl.'s Rule 56.1 St. ¶
10; Defs.' Resp. Rule 56.1 St. ¶ 10.) The bill plainly lists the two
tickets disposed of on November 14, 2000, and not the earlier ticket for
which he received the fine on November 10, 2000, and the plaintiff's
credit card receipt also does not refer to the fine imposed by ALJ Shur
on November 10, 2000. (Defs.' Rule 56.1 St. ¶ 21; Bill and Credit
Card Receipt dated Nov. 14, 2000 attached as Ex. K to Fleischmann
Affirm.) On November 24, 2000, the plaintiff's New York State driver's
license was suspended for failing to pay the fine imposed by ALJ Shur.
(Pl.'s Rule 56.1 St. ¶ 12; Defs.' Resp. Rule 56.1 St. ¶ 12.)
On November 27, 2000, the plaintiff was arrested in the Bronx, New
York, for driving a motor vehicle with a suspended license, in violation
of New York Vehicle and Traffic Law § 511(1)(a). (Pl.'s Rule 56.1 So.
¶ 13; Defs.' Resp. Rule 56.1 St. ¶ 13; Arrest Report attached in
Ex. I to Fleischmann Affirm.) The plaintiff was given a desk appearance
ticket following his arrest. (Defs.' Rule 56.1 St. ¶ 26; Evans Dep.
at 25-26.) On November 29, 2000, the plaintiff went to the Brooklyn North
TVB and paid the fine imposed by ALJ Shur. (Pl.'s Rule56.1 St. ¶ 14;
Defs.' Resp. Rule 56.1 St. ¶ 14.)
When a motorist pays a fine and clears a suspension that was imposed
for failure to pay the fine, the TVB does not notify the district
attorney that payment has been made. (Defs.' Rule 56.1 St. ¶ 32; Shur
Affirm. ¶ 15.) The plaintiff was arraigned on the charges of driving
with a suspended license on January 22, 2001. (Defs.' Rule 56.1 St. ¶
33; Second Am. Compl. ¶ 20.) The case was adjourned to February 28,
2001. Thereafter the Bronx District Attorney's Office requested an
abstract of the plaintiff's DMV record. The abstract, which was printed
on February 13, 2001, showed that the plaintiff's license was suspended
on November 24, 2000 for "failure to pay fine" and that the suspension
was cleared on November 29, 2000 "scofflaw paid." (Defs.'
Rule 56.1 St. ¶¶ 34-35; Abstract attached in Ex. I to Fleischmann Affirm.)
On February 28, 2001, the Bronx District Attorney's Office requested a
dismissal of the charges against the plaintiff for driving with a
suspended license, and the charges were dismissed. (Pl's Rule 56.1 So.
¶ 15; Defs.' Resp. Rule 56.1 St. ¶ 15.)
In order to prevail on a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, a plaintiff
must satisfy two elements: "First, the plaintiff must allege that some
person has deprived him of a federal right. Second, he must allege that
the person who has deprived him of
that right acted under color of state or territorial law."
Gomez v. Toledo, 446 U.S. 635, 640 (1980) (citing Monroe
v. Pape, 365 U.S. 167, 171 (1961)); see also Finley v.
Giacobbe, 79 F.3d 1285, 1296 (2d Cir. 1996); Bernheim v.
Litt, 79 F.-3d 318, 321 (2d Cir. 1996). In this case, there is no
dispute-that the alleged actions by the defendants arose under color of
state law. The plaintiff alleges that he was deprived of constitutional
rights afforded by the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments.
State officers in their official capacities, like States themselves,
are not amenable to suit for damages under § 1983. See Will v.
Michigan Dept. of State Police, 491 U.S. 58, 71 & n.10 (1989).
However, state officers are amenable to suit for damages under § 1983
in their personal capacities, even when the conduct in question relates
to their official duties. Hafer v. Melo, 502 U.S. 21, 25-31
(1991). The plaintiff asserts his claims for damages against the
defendants solely in their personal capacities. (Second Am. Compl. ¶
The parties have cross moved for summary judgment on the plaintiff's
claim that his driver's license was suspended in a manner that violated
the plaintiff's right to procedural due progress. The plaintiff claims
that he was not given sufficient
notice that his license would be suspended if he failed to pay the
fine imposed by ALJ Shur, and that he was not given sufficient notice of
the procedures by which he could appeal the impending suspension. The
defendants contend that the plaintiff received all the process he was
To succeed on a procedural due process claim, a plaintiff must
establish (1) a deprivation of life, liberty or property; and (2) without
due process of law. Cf. Logan v. Zimmerman Brush Co.,
455 U.S. 422, 428 (1982) (describing the "familiar two-part inquiry" in
which a court "must determine whether [the plaintiff] was deprived of a
protected interest, and if so, what process was he due."); Narumanchi v.
Bd. of Trustees, 850 F.2d 70, 72 (2d Cir. 1988). A driver's license
is a protected property interest, and the Due Process Clause thus applies
to the deprivation of a driver's license by the State. See Bell v.
Burson, 402 U.S. 535, 539 (1971) ("Suspension of issued
licenses . . . involves state action that adjudicates important
interests of the licensees. In such cases the licenses are not to be
taken away without that procedural due process required by the
"An essential principle of due process [is] that deprivation of life,
liberty, or property *be preceded by notice and, opportunity for hearing
appropriate to the nature of the
case.'" Cleveland Bd. of Educ. v. Loudermill,
470 U.S. 532, 542 (1985) (quoting Mullane v. Central Hanover Bank & Trust
Co., 339 U.S. 306, 313 (1950)). Thus, "some kind of hearing" is
required, but the nature of the hearing may vary "depending upon the
importance of the interests involved and the nature of the subsequent
proceedings." Loudermill, 470 U.S. at 542, 545 (internal
quotation marks omitted).
The plaintiff contends that the process that is due a motorist whose
license is suspended for failure to pay a fine is-essentially codified in
New York Vehicle and Traffic Law ("VTL") § 510 (4-a). Section
510(4-a) provides in pertinent part:
Upon receipt of a court notification of the failure
of a person . . . to pay a fine imposed by a court
the commissioner or his or her agent may suspend
the driver's license or privileges of such person
pending receipt of notice from the court that such
person . . . has paid such fine. Such suspension
shall take effect no less than thirty days from the
day upon which notice thereof is sent by the
commissioner to the person whose driver's license
or privileges are to be suspended.
N.Y.V.T.L. § 510(4-a). The plaintiff points out that the
constitutionality of the 30-day period in § 510 (4-a) has been
upheld. See Harding v. Melton, 415 N.Y.S.2d 286, 288 (App. Div.
1979). The plaintiff contends that because his license was suspended
after notice of only fourteen days, the suspension ran afoul of §
510(4-a) and thus violated his right to due process.
However, § 510 (4-a) of the VTL does not provide the procedures
governing the hearing on the plaintiff's speeding ticket or the eventual
suspension of his driver's license for failure to pay the fine imposed.
Section 510(4-a), according to its explicit language, applies when a
person fails to pay a fine imposed by a court. See
N.Y.V.T.L. § 510(4-a). In this case, the plaintiff's hearing was
before ALJ Shur in the Brooklyn South TVB, an-administrative tribunal.
Therefore, a statutory framework entirely separate from § 510(4-a)
governed the adjudication of the plaintiff's speeding violation.
The TVB was established by Article 2-A of the VTL, which provides that
certain traffic violations, including speeding violations, may be
adjudicated by administrative tribunals when the violations occur in
cities, like New York City, with populations exceeding 200,000.
See N.Y.V.T.L. § 225(1); Rosenthal v. Hartnett,
326 N.E.2d 811, 812-13 (N.Y. 1975). Section 225(1) of the VTL provides
that adjudications in administrative tribunals like the TVB are conducted
"pursuant to the regulations of the commissioner." N.Y.V.T.L. §
225(1). Section 227(4)(a), as in effect in November 2000, provided that
upon a finding of guilt, the ALJ may impose a fine, and it further
provided that "[t]he driver's license or privileges . . . may be
suspended pending the payment of any penalty so imposed."
N.Y.V.T.L. § 227(4)(a). The Commissioner's Regulations
implementing these provisions similarly provide that when a fine is not
paid immediately, "the driver's license or operating privilege will be
suspended . . . until full payment is made." 15 N.Y. Comp. Codes R. &
Regs. § 125.2(a). The Commissioner's Regulations allow the ALJ, for
good cause, to adjourn payment of the fine for up to thirty days
following conviction and imposition of the fine. 15 N.Y. Comp. Codes R.
& Regs. § 125.2(b). The ALJ does not have authority, however, to
delay the effective date of a suspension imposed for failure to pay a
fine immediately. See N.Y.V.T.L. § 227(6).
The plaintiff's due process claim thus turns on whether the procedures
afforded him under this statutory framework comported with the
requirements of due process. The plaintiff does not contend that he did
not receive notice or that he was not afforded an opportunity to be heard
in connection with the hearing before ALJ Shur on November 10, 2000. Nor
does he contest the fine imposed by ALJ Shur that day. Rather, the
plaintiff maintains that he was not given adequate notice or an
opportunity to be heard concerning the suspension of his license for
failure to pay the fine imposed by ALJ Shur.
The plaintiff contends that § 510(4-a) of the VTL required that he
receive thirty days notice of the fact that his license
would be suspended for failure to pay the fine. However, as
explained, § 510(4-a) does not apply to the plaintiff's case.
Moreover, there is nothing sacrosanct about a thirty-day notice period
for the purposes of due process. See Mathews v. Eldridge,
424 U.S. 319, 334 (1976) ("`Due process,' unlike some legal rules, is not a
technical conception with a fixed content unrelated to time, place and
circumstances. Due process is flexible and calls for such procedural
protections as the particular situation demands." (internal quotation
marks, alterations, and citations omitted)).
The plaintiff was provided notice that his license would be suspended
if he failed to pay the fine imposed by ALJ Shur by November 24, 2000.
Because the plaintiff did not pay his fine immediately following his
hearing before ALJ Shur, the DMV computer automatically generated and
mailed a Notice of Fine to the plaintiff that indicated that the
plaintiff's license would be suspended as of November 24, 2000 unless he
paid his fine by that date.*fn3
The plaintiff maintains that he never received the Notice of Fine, but
actual receipt of notice is not required to satisfy due process. When the
state deprives an individual of property, due process requires "notice
reasonably calculated, under all the circumstances, to apprise interested
parties of the pendency of the action and afford them an opportunity to
present their objections." Weigner v. City of New York,
852 F.2d 646, 649 (2d Cir. 1988) (citing Mullane v. Central Hanover Bank
& Trust Co., 339 U.S. 306, 314 (1950)). To determine whether the
defendants violated the plaintiff's right to due process, "the proper
inquiry is whether the state acted reasonably in selecting the means
likely to inform persons affected, not whether each [affected person]
actually received notice." Id.; see also Weinstein v.
Albright, No. 00 Civ. 1193, 2000 WL 1154310, at *11 (S.D.N.Y. Aug.
14, 2000), aff'd, 261 F.3d 127 (2d Cir. 2001). The evidence
demonstrates that the Notice of Fine indicating that the plaintiff's
license would be suspended in fourteen days if he failed to pay his fine
was mailed to the plaintiff following his hearing on November 10, 2000.
The plaintiff conceded at his deposition that the Notice of Fine
contained his correct home address. While the plaintiff denies receiving
the Notice of Fine, the plaintiff's due process right has not been
violated because the defendants acted reasonably in providing for
the notice to be sent by regular mail to the current address on file.
"Under most circumstances, notice sent by ordinary mail is deemed
reasonably calculated to inform interested parties that their property
rights are in jeopardy." Weigner, 852 F.2d at 650.*fn4
The plaintiff argues that the suspension of his license was, in any
event, a "summary" suspension that violated the requirement of a
pre-suspension hearing established by Bell v. Burson,
402 U.S. 535 (1971). However, the purpose of the pre-suspension hearing
prescribed by Bell is to allow a motorist the opportunity to show
that he or she is free from fault and that suspension of the license is
unwarranted. See id. In this case, however, the plaintiff had a
full opportunity to contest his guilt before ALJ Shur.
Therefore, the plaintiff's case is more akin to Dixon v.
Love, 431 U.S. 105 (1977), where the Supreme Court upheld an
Illinois statute that provided for summary suspension, based on official
records, of the driver's licenses of motorists who had
been repeatedly convicted of traffic offenses. As the Court in
[T]he risk of an erroneous deprivation in the
absence of a prior hearing is not great. Under the
Secretary's regulations, suspension and revocation
decisions are largely automatic. Of course, there
is the possibility of clerical error, but written
objection will bring a matter of that kind to the
Secretary's attention. In this case appellee had
the opportunity for a full judicial hearing in
connection with each of the traffic convictions on
which the Secretary's decision was based. Appellee
has not challenged the validity of those
convictions or the adequacy of his procedural
rights at the time they were determined. Since
appellee does not dispute the factual basis for
the Secretary's decision, he is really asserting
the right to appear in person only to argue that
the Secretary should show leniency and depart from
his own regulations. Such an appearance might make
the licensee feel that he has received more
personal attention, but it would not serve to
protect any substantive rights. We conclude that
requiring additional procedures would be unlikely
to have significant value in reducing the number
of erroneous deprivations.
Id. at 113-14 (citation and footnote omitted).
The same considerations apply in this case, and they reveal that the
plaintiff received all the process he was due. Like the habitual
offenders in Dixon, the plaintiff was afforded a hearing on his
underlying speeding violation. He could have appealed his conviction on
that offense, but he chose not to do so.*fn5 He was given fourteen days
to pay the fine imposed as a
result of his conviction, even though he could have been required
to pay the fine immediately. The plaintiff was given notice, by means
reasonably calculated to reach him, that his license would be suspended
if he failed to pay the fine by the specified date.
The plaintiff's argument that the Notice of Fine should have provided
additional notice of procedures by which he could appeal or contest the
suspension is unavailing. As the Court in Dixon noted, where,
as here, a motorist's guilt has already been, determined in a judicial
hearing, and where subsequent license suspensions are largely automatic,
"there is the possibility of clerical error, but written objection will
bring a matter of that kind" to the DMV Commissioner's attention.
Id. The plaintiff, like the motorist in Dixon, does
not dispute the factual basis for his underlying conviction, and indeed
did not appeal his conviction. Rather, as in Dixon, the plaintiff "is
really asserting the right to appear in person to argue that the
[Commissioner] should show leniency and depart from his own regulations."
Id. As the Supreme Court concluded in Dixon, such an
appearance is not required by the Due Process Clause.
The plaintiff's reliance on Memphis Light, Gas & Water Div. v.
Craft, 436 U.S. 1 (1978), is misplaced. In Memphis Light,
the Supreme Court held that a public utility must inform its customers of
the utility's administrative procedures for resolving billing disputes
when the utility notifies customers that service is being terminated for
nonpayment. The Court subsequently explained that this requirement
relied not on any general principle that the government must provide
notice of the procedures for protecting one's property interests but on
the fact that the administrative procedures at issue were not described
in any publicly available document." City of West Covina v.
Perkins, 525 U.S. 234, 242 (1999). The Court concluded that
"individualized notice of state-law remedies" is not required when those
remedies are "established by published, generally available state
statutes and case law." Id. at 241. The procedures by which the
plaintiff could appeal his speeding conviction and the resulting fine are
published in § 228 of the New York Vehicle and Traffic Law.
N.Y.V.T.L. § 228. To the extent the plaintiff hoped to convince the
Commissioner to depart from established regulations and refrain from
suspending his license for failure to pay the fine, then, as the Court
observed in Dixon, a letter to the Commissioner would have
sufficed. See Dixon, 431 U.S. at 413; cf. Atkins v.
472 U.S. 115f 131 (1985) (noting that "[t]he entire structure of our
democratic government rests on the premise that the individual citizen is
capable of informing himself about the particular policies that affect
his destiny.") The plaintiff received all the process that was due, and
his due process claim is therefore dismissed.*fn6
The plaintiff's due process claim must be dismissed for the additional
reason that he has failed to establish the defendants' personal
involvement in the alleged constitutional violations. "It is well settled
in this Circuit that personal involvement of defendants in alleged
constitutional deprivations is a prerequisite to an award of damages
under § 1983." Wright v. Smith, 21 F.3d 496, 501 (2d Cir.
1994) (internal quotation marks omitted). Personal involvement for
purposes of a § 1983 claim means "direct participation, or failure to
remedy the alleged wrong after learning of it, or creation of a policy or
custom under which unconstitutional practices occurred or gross
negligence in managing subordinates." Black v. Coughlin,
76 F.3d 72, 74 (2d Cir. 1996). Based on the record before the
Court, and drawing all inferences in favor of the plaintiff, no
reasonable jury could conclude that the plaintiff had established any of
these bases for the personal involvement of the defendants.*fn7
The defendants would also be entitled to dismissal of the plaintiff's
due process claim on the grounds of qualified immunity. Under the
doctrine of qualified immunity, "government officials performing
discretionary functions generally are shielded from liability for civil
damages insofar as their conduct does not violate clearly established
statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would
have known." Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 818 (1982).
The plaintiff's right to procedural due process in the suspension of his
driver's license was clearly established at the time his license was
suspended. See Bell v. Burson, 402 U.S. 535 (1971).
Nevertheless, "even where the plaintiff's federal rights and the
scope of the official's permissible conduct are clearly
established, the qualified immunity defense protects a government actor
if it was `objectively reasonable' for him to believe that his actions
were lawful at the time of the challenged act." Lennon v.
Miller, 66 F.3d 416, 420 (2d. Cir. 1995) (citations omitted);
Frank v. Relin, 1 F.3d 1317, 1328 (2d Cir. 1993). The Court of
Appeals has held that on a summary judgment motion, a defendant is
entitled to summary judgment on these grounds when "no reasonable jury,
looking at the evidence in the light most favorable to, and drawing all
inferences most favorable to, the plaintiff's, could conclude that it was
objectively unreasonable for the defendant  to believe that he was
acting in a fashion that did not clearly violate an established federally
protected right." Lee v. Sandberg, 136 F.3d 94, 102 (2d Cir.
1997) (internal citations omitted); Lennon, 66 F.3d at 420. For
the reasons explained above, based on the record before the Court and
drawing all inferences in the plaintiff's favor, no reasonable jury could
conclude that the defendants were objectively unreasonable in believing
that due process was satisfied by mailing to the plaintiff, following a
full hearing adjudicating his guilt, a notice that his license would be
suspended if he did not pay the resulting fine within fourteen days.
Indeed, the fact that Judge Rakoff and the Court
have both concluded that the procedures followed with respect to
mailing notices of suspension do comport with the requirements of due
process is strong support for the conclusion that it was not objectively
unreasonable for the defendants to believe that they were not acting in a
fashion that violated clearly established federally protected rights.
The defendants' motion for summary judgment on the plaintiff's due
process claim is therefore granted.
The parties, have also made cross motions for summary judgment on the
plaintiff's false arrest and malicious prosecution claims. The plaintiff
alleges that the defendants, "via their subordinates," permitted the
plaintiff to be arrested, imprisoned, and prosecuted.*fn8 The plaintiff
asserts that the defendants provided false information to the New York
City Police Department and to the Bronx District Attorney's Office
concerning the status of the plaintiff's driver's license, and that they
thereafter withheld exculpatory
information-namely, the fact that the plaintiff paid his fine on
November 29, 2000.
The Second Amended Complaint is unclear as to whether the plaintiff is
raising the false arrest and malicious prosecution claims under federal
law, state law, or both. However, "[t]he elements of false arrest and
malicious prosecution under § 1983 are `substantially the same' as
the elements under New York law." Boyd v. City of New York,
336 F.3d 72, 75 (2d Cir. 2003) (quoting Hygh v. Jacobs,
961 F.2d 359, 366 (2d Cir. 1992). Therefore, the analysis of the claims is the
same whether they are brought under state or federal law. Id.
According to the Court of Appeals, a "§ 1983 claim for false
arrest, resting on the Fourth Amendment right of an individual to be
freer from unreasonable seizures, including arrest without probable
cause, is substantially the same as a claim for false arrest under New
York law." Weyant, 101 F.3d at 852 (citations omitted).
Moreover, "[t]he existence of probable cause to arrest constitutes
justification and `is a complete defense to an action for false arrest,'
whether that action is brought under state law or under § 1983."
Id. (quoting Bernard v. United States, 25 F.3d 98,
102 (2d Cir. 1994)). Probable cause exists "when the arresting officer
has knowledge or reasonably trustworthy information sufficient to warrant
person of reasonable caution in the belief that an offense has been
committed by the person to be arrested." Singer v. Fulton County
Sheriff, 63 F.3d 110, 119 (2d Cir. 1995) (internal quotation marks
omitted). The existence of probable cause may be determined "as a matter
of law if there is no dispute as to the pertinent events and the
knowledge of the officers." Weyant, 101 F.3d at 852. The
plaintiff was arrested on November 27, 2000 for driving with a suspended
license. The plaintiff was arrested because the DMV computer records
reflected that the plaintiff's license had been suspended for failure to
pay his fine. There is no evidence that the information on the computer
was false or inapplicable.*fn9 Therefore, there was probable cause for
the plaintiff's arrest, and his false arrest claim is dismissed. See
McGuire, 2004 WL 250505, at *3 (collecting cases); Johnson v.
Harron, No. 91 Civ. 1460, 1995 WL 319943, at *9 (N.D.N.Y. May 23,
1995) (concluding that DMV computer information showing driver's license
was suspended established probable cause for arrest).
The plaintiff's malicious prosecution claim must also be dismissed.
"Section 1983 liability may also be anchored in a claim for malicious
prosecution as this tort `typically implicates, constitutional rights
secured by the fourteenth amendment, such as deprivation of liberty.'"
Cook v. Sheldon, 41 F.3d 73, 79 (2d Cir. 1994) (quoting
Easton v. Sundram, 947 F.2d 1011, 1017 (2d Cir. 1991)). To
sustain a § 1983 claim based on malicious prosecution, a plaintiff
must demonstrate conduct by the defendant that is tortious under state
law and that results in a constitutionally cognizable deprivation of
liberty. See Singer, 63 F.3d at 116.
"In order to state a claim for the tort of malicious prosecution under
New York State law," the law that is applicable here, "a plaintiff must
prove Ml) the initiation or continuation of a criminal proceeding against
plaintiff; (2) termination of the proceeding in plaintiff's favor; (3)
lack of probable cause for commencing the proceeding; and (4) actual
malice as a motivation for defendant's actions.'" Murphy v.
Lynn, 118 F.3d 938, 947 (2d Cir. 1997) (quoting Russell v.
Smith, 68 F.3d 33, 36 (2d Cir. 1995)); Boyd, 336 F.3d at
The malicious prosecution claim fails because probable cause existed
for the prosecution in the same way that it existed for the arrest, as
explained above. In mid-February
2001, the Bronx District Attorney's Office obtained, an abstract of
the plaintiff's DMV record that showed that the plaintiff paid his fine
two days after he was arrested for driving with a suspended license and
that confirmed that his license was suspended on the date of his arrest.
The fact that the District Attorney's Office thereafter chose not to
pursue the prosecution did not negate the probable cause that had
In any event, the plaintiff's malicious prosecution claim against the
defendants must be dismissed because the plaintiff has failed to submit
evidence from which a reasonable jury could conclude that the defendants
were personally involved in his prosecution. The plaintiff contends that
it was the custom and policy of the DMV not to inform the district
attorney when individuals, like the plaintiff, paid fines and reinstated
previously suspended licenses. However, the fact that the plaintiff paid
the fine was reflected on the abstract of the plaintiff's DMV record, and
the plaintiff has submitted no evidence that the defendants encouraged or
instigated the continued prosecution of the plaintiff despite the fact
that he had paid his fine. Indeed, the prosecution was dismissed as soon
as the district attorney requested the DMV file and learned that the
plaintiff had paid his fine.
The plaintiff's malicious prosecution claim must also be dismissed
because no reasonable jury could conclude, based on the record before the
Court, that the defendants acted with actual malice. The plaintiff
asserts that the DMV's failure to alert the district attorney of the fact
that he had paid his fine is sufficient evidence to infer the defendants'
malicious intent. No reasonable jury could conclude that this evidence is
sufficient to establish actual malice.
Therefore, the defendants' motion for summary judgment on the
plaintiff's false arrest and malicious prosecution claims is granted.
For the reasons explained above, the defendants' motion for summary
judgment is granted, and the plaintiff's cross motion for. summary
judgment is denied. The Clerk is directed to enter Judgment dismissing
the Complaint and closing this case.