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Selevan v. New York Thruway Authority

January 18, 2007


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Gary L. Sharpe U.S. District Judge


I. Introduction

Plaintiffs allege, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, that defendants violated their constitutional rights by implementing and enforcing discriminatory toll practices on Grand Island Bridge in Grand Island, New York. Pending under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) is defendants' motion to dismiss. See Dkt. Nos. 6, 21. For the reasons that follow, defendants' motion is granted.

II. Facts

Robert Selevan resides in Nassau County, New York. See Am. Compl. ¶5, Dkt. No. 20. Anne Rubin is a United States citizen residing in Ontario, Canada. See id. ¶6. Both Selevan and Rubin have used the Grand Island Bridge and paid tolls there during the period relevant to this lawsuit. See id. ¶¶5-6.

The Grand Island Bridge is owned and operated by defendant, New York Thruway Authority (NYTA). See id. ¶¶13-14. During the period relevant to this lawsuit, the NYTA implemented and maintained a new toll policy on Grand Island Bridge. See Am. Compl. ¶12, Dkt. No. 20. According to that policy, motorists who show proof of Grand Island residency are afforded a discounted toll rate.*fn3 See Am. Compl. ¶12, Dkt. No. 20. The normal toll on Grand Island Bridge is $0.75, but residents of Grand Island have been afforded a discount off their toll price of up to $0.66.*fn4 See id. ¶21. Consequently, Selevan and Rubin, motorists who are non-residents of Grand Island, pay higher tolls prices than Grand Island residents when they traverse the bridge. See id. ¶23.

III. Procedural History

On March 7, 2006, plaintiffs filed their original complaint in this court pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. See Dkt. No. 1. On May 4, defendants moved to dismiss the complaint. See Dkt. No. 6. At an oral hearing held on August 3, the court granted plaintiffs additional time to amend their complaint. See Dkt. No. 18. Plaintiffs filed an amended complaint on September 5, and defendants renewed their motion to dismiss on September 26. See Dkt. Nos. 20, 21. The motion is now fully briefed. See Dkt. Nos. 21, 24, 25.

IV. Discussion

A. Motion to Dismiss Standard

Rule 12(b)(6) provides that a cause of action shall be dismissed if a complaint fails "to state a claim upon which relief can be granted." FED. R. CIV. P. 12(b)(6). In other words, the court should dismiss the complaint pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) if "it appears beyond doubt that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of the complaint which would entitle him to relief." Twombly v. Bell Atl. Corp., 425 F.3d 99, 106 (2d Cir. 2005) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). "A court's task in ruling on a Rule 12(b)(6) motion is merely to assess the legal feasibility of the complaint, not to assay the weight of the evidence which might be offered in support thereof." AmBase Corp. v. City Investing Co. Liquidating Trust, 326 F.3d 63, 72 (2d Cir. 2003) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). Therefore, in reviewing a motion to dismiss, a court "must accept the facts alleged in the complaint as true and construe all reasonable inferences in [the plaintiff's] favor." Fowlkes v. Adamec, 432 F.3d 90, 95 (2d Cir. 2005) (citation omitted).

B. Standing*fn5

Defendants argue that plaintiffs lack standing to pursue their constitutional claims. In every federal case, the party seeking to invoke federal jurisdiction must establish standing to prosecute the action. See Lujan v. Defenders of Wildlife, 504 U.S. 555, 561 (1992); see also Denney v. Deutsche Bank AG, 443 F.3d 253, 263 (2d Cir. 2006) (The "threshold question in every federal case [is] determining the power of the court to entertain the suit."); Ctr. for Reprod. Law v. Bush, 304 F.3d 183, 191 (2d Cir. 2002) ("A federal court has jurisdiction only if a claim presents a 'case' or 'controversy' under Article III of the U.S. Constitution.").

"In essence[,] the question of standing is whether the litigant is entitled to have the court decide the merits of the dispute or of particular issues." Elk Grove Unified Sch. Dist. v. Newdow, 542 U.S. 1, 11 (2004) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). "Standing generally has two aspects: constitutional standing, a mandate of the 'case or controversy' requirement in Article III, and prudential considerations of standing, which involve 'judicially self-imposed limits on the exercise of federal jurisdiction.'"

Lerner v. Fleet Bank, N.A., 318 F.3d 113, 126 (2d Cir. 2003) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). "It is clear that constitutional standing is a jurisdictional prerequisite to suit, [and] prudential considerations of standing are also generally treated as jurisdictional in nature." Lerner, 318 F.3d at 126-127; see also Leibovitz v. New York City Transit Auth., 252 F.3d 179, 184 (2d Cir. 2001) ("Prudential and constitutional rules of standing are alike 'threshold determinants of the propriety of judicial intervention.'") (quoting Warth v. Seldin, 422 U.S. 490, 498 (1975)). Thus, the Court is obligated to determine whether plaintiffs have standing under Article III and whether, if such standing exists, any prudential considerations limit the Court's jurisdiction to reach the merits of their claims.

1. Article III Standing

The Supreme Court has articulated the constitutional requirements imposed by Article III as "irreducible constitutional minim[a]." Bennett v. Spear, 520 U.S. 154, 167 (1997) (citing Lujan, 504 U.S. at 560). In analyzing a plaintiff's standing, the central issue is "whether the plaintiff has alleged such a personal stake in the outcome of the controversy as to warrant his invocation of federal-court jurisdiction and to justify exercise of the court's remedial powers on his behalf." U.S. v. Vazquez, 145 F.3d 74, 81 (2d Cir. 1998) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). Therefore, a plaintiff's standing must be resolved "irrespective of the merits of [the] substantive claims [alleged]." Bordell v. Gen. Elec. Co., 922 F.2d 1057, 1060 (2d Cir. 1991).

"Article III of the United States Constitution confines federal courts to adjudicating actual 'cases' and 'controversies.'" Allen v. Wright, 468 U.S. 737, 750 (1984). A plaintiff asserting standing must demonstrate "a sufficient stake in an otherwise justiciable controversy to obtain judicial resolution of that controversy." Sierra Club v. Morton, 405 U.S. 727, 731 (1972).

In particular, plaintiffs must "satisfy three elements to come within the judicial power of the federal courts." L.A.M. Recovery, Inc. v. Dep't of Consumer Affairs, 377 F. Supp. 2d 429, 437 (S.D.N.Y. 2005). "First and foremost, there must be alleged (and ultimately proved) an injury in fact - a harm suffered by the plaintiff that is concrete and actual or imminent, not conjectural or hypothetical." Steel Co. v. Citizens for a Better Env't, 523 U.S. 83, 103 (1998) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). "Second, there must be causation - a fairly traceable connection between the plaintiff's injury and the complained-of conduct of the defendant." Id.; see also Lujan, 504 U.S. at 560-61. "[T]hird, there must be redressability -a likelihood that the requested relief will redress the alleged injury." Id.; see also Denney, 443 F.3d at 263 (citing Lujan, 504 U.S. at 561).

"[E]ach element of Article III standing 'must be supported in the same way as any other matter on which the plaintiff bears the burden of proof, i.e., with the manner and degree of evidence required at the successive stages of the litigation.'" Bennett, 520 U.S. at 167-168 (citing Lujan, 504 U.S. at 561). "Thus, while a plaintiff must set forth by affidavit or other evidence specific facts to survive a motion for summary judgment...and must ultimately support any contested facts with evidence adduced at trial, at the pleading stage, general factual allegations of injury resulting from the defendant[s'] conduct may suffice[.]" Id. at 168 (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). "[F]or on a motion to dismiss[,] [the court must] presume that general allegations embrace those specific facts that are necessary to support the claim." Id. (internal quotation marks and citation omitted).

2. Prudential Standing

Even if plaintiffs have Article III standing, prudential considerations may limit their ability to invoke federal jurisdiction. See Lamont v. Woods, 948 F.2d 825, 829 (2d Cir. 1991) ("If [the Article III] constitutional minima are satisfied, a court may nevertheless deny standing for prudential reasons[.]"). Prudential standing "embodies judicially self-imposed limits on the exercise of federal jurisdiction." Elk Grove Unified Sch. Dist., 542 U.S. at 11 (internal quotation marks and citation omitted).

The Supreme Court has said that "[e]ven in cases concededly within [the court's] jurisdiction under Article III, [the court should] abide by a series of rules under which [it has] avoided passing upon a large part of all the constitutional questions pressed upon [it] for decision." Id. (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). The court "must balance the heavy obligation to exercise jurisdiction, Colorado River Water Conservation Dist. v. U.S., 424 U.S. 800, 820 (1976), against the 'deeply rooted' commitment 'not to pass on questions of constitutionality' unless adjudication of the constitutional issue is necessary, Spector Motor Service, Inc. v. McLaughlin, 323 U.S. ...

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