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M.O.C.H.A. Society, Inc. v. City of Buffalo

December 13, 2007


The opinion of the court was delivered by: John T. Curtin United States District Judge

The City of Buffalo has filed a motion in this action (Item 292), and in two other actions pending in this court (United States v. City of Buffalo, No. 74-CV-195, Items 544, 545 and 550 (the "Fire Case")), and M.O.C.H.A. v. City of Buffalo, No. 03-CV-580, Item 57 ("M.O.C.H.A. II")), seeking an order preliminarily enjoining certain Buffalo firefighters and their attorneys from further prosecuting or participating as plaintiffs in an action in New York State Supreme Court known as Margerum, et al. v. City of Buffalo, et al., Index No. 1462/2007. Upon consideration of the matters set forth in the City's application, the motion is granted.

In the M.O.C.H.A. cases, a group of African-American firefighters challenge the City's policy for promoting firefighters to the rank of lieutenant from civil service eligibility lists which were generated based upon the results of a promotional examination administered by the City in 1998, and again in 2002 (referred to herein as the "1998 Lieutenant's Exam"). The cases have been actively litigated in this court for many years, and the court has ruled on a multitude of pretrial and dispositive issues--most recently, in No. 98-CV-99, denying the parties' cross-motions for summary judgment at the close of all discovery (see Item 291, entered November 9, 2007). The matter is now postured for trial, with a focus on determining whether the 1998 Lieutenant's Exam was "job related for the position in question and consistent with business necessity" as required under federal statutory and constitutional law. 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(k)(1)(A)(I).

In the Margerum action in state court, several White firefighters whose names were on the civil service eligibility lists generated from the results of the City's 2002 administration of the Lieutenant's Exam have challenged the City's decision to let those eligibility lists expire and "to move forward with developing new eligible lists based on a new examination, rather than to continue to appoint firefighters from lists based on an exam series that is subject to two pending federal, purported class-action, employment discrimination challenges" (Affidavit of Leonard Matarese, Item 293, Ex. E, ¶ 3). These same firefighters initially petitioned for relief under N.Y.C.P.L.R. Article 78 claiming that the expiration of the eligibility lists violated New York Civil Service Law, but State Supreme Court Justice John A. Michalek denied the petition to the extent it sought to have the lists reinstated. See Hynes v. City of Buffalo, Index No. 11989/2005 (N.Y. Sup. Ct. December 20, 2006) (copy attached as Ex. G to Item 293). The Margerum complaint was then filed in February 2007, in which the plaintiffs allege that the City's determination to expire the eligibility lists not only violates the state Civil Service Law, but also has resulted in unlawful discrimination based upon race in violation of the state Human Rights Law and the equal protection and due process clauses of the state constitution (see generally Margerum Complaint, attached as Ex. F to Item 293).

The City defendants moved to dismiss or stay the Margerum action, arguing that the remedies sought by the White firefighters in that action (i.e., reinstatement to their promotional positions on the expired lists, and damages) are diametrically opposed to the remedies sought in federal court by the African-American firefighters in the M.O.C.H.A. cases. In response, the Margerum plaintiffs cross-moved for partial summary judgment in their favor on liability. On September 10, 2007, Justice Michalek issued a Memorandum Decision and Order in which he denied the City's motion to dismiss or stay the action, and granted the plaintiffs' motion for partial summary judgment, finding as follows:

It is clear that the [City] let the lists expire as a result of a race based or race conscious decision due to concern as to what might be the outcome of a Federal litigation.

Even when race based or race conscious decisions are allowed under the law, they are only permitted where the government has a compelling interest in [sic] and where the decision is narrowly tailored to achieve that compelling interest.

Here, there is simply no evidence of either requirement being met. Rather than relying on compelling government interest, at best, [the City] relied on speculation as to a future outcome in a Federal matter. Rather than engaging in "narrow tailoring", the [City] herein took broad-sweeping and drastic action in allowing the list and/or lists to expire.

Under these facts and the applicable law, the Plaintiffs are entitled to judgment as a matter of law on the issue of liability.

Margerum, et al. v. City of Buffalo, Index No. 1462/2007, at 4 (N.Y. Sup. Ct. September 10, 2007) (copy attached as Ex. A to Item 293).

On November 15, 2007, following this court's denial of the parties' cross-motions for summary judgment in M.O.C.H.A. I, the City filed the present motion for preliminary injunctive relief in the M.O.C.H.A. cases, and in the Fire Case, seeking an order enjoining the Margerum plaintiffs from proceeding any further in the state courts*fn1 until the federal court has determined whether the City's administration of the 1998 Lieutenant's Exam violated the M.O.C.H.A. plaintiffs' civil rights under federal law. The City contends that a preliminary injunction is warranted, and available under the federal All Writs Act, because any relief granted by the state courts in Margerum could effectively preclude this court's ability to fully adjudicate or otherwise fashion an appropriate remedy in the M.O.C.H.A. actions, and in addition, could place the City at risk of violating the longstanding remedial consent decree in the Fire Case.

The All Writs Act provides the federal courts with broad authority to "issue all writs necessary or appropriate in aid of their respective jurisdictions and agreeable to the usages and principles of law." 28 U.S.C. § 1651. The courts have often relied upon this provision to enjoin actions pending in state court "where necessary to prevent relitigation of an existing federal judgment, notwithstanding the fact that the parties to the original action could invoke res judicata in state courts against any subsequent suit brought on the same matters." In re Baldwin-United Corp., 770 F.2d 328, 335 (2d Cir. 1985). Even where no judgment has been entered in the federal court, an All Writs Act injunction is available when "necessary to prevent a state court from so interfering with a federal court's consideration or disposition of a case as to seriously impair the federal court's flexibility and authority to decide that case." Atlantic Coast Line R.R. Co. v. Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers, 398 U.S. 281, 295 (1970), quoted in In re Baldwin-United Corp., 770 F.2d at 335; see also Federated Conservationists of Westchester County, Inc. v. City of Yonkers, 117 F. Supp. 2d 371, 379-81 (S.D.N.Y. 2000) (All Writs Act provides authority for removal of state court action which threatened integrity of longstanding remedial order in housing desegregation case), aff'd, 26 Fed.Appx. 84 (2d Cir. 2002).

The authority granted to the federal court by the All Writs Act includes the power to "issue such commands . . . as may be necessary or appropriate to effectuate and prevent the frustration of orders it has previously issued in its exercise of jurisdiction otherwise obtained." Sheet Metal Contractors Ass'n v. Sheet Metal Workers' Int'l Ass'n, 157 F.3d 78, 82 (2d Cir.1998) (quoting General Bldg. Contractors Ass'n v. Pennsylvania, 458 U.S. 375, 401 (1982)). This authority "is plainly broad and, on its face, makes no distinction between parties and nonparties. Indeed, the Act's reference to writs issued 'in aid of . . . jurisdiction[ ]' encompasses orders imposed against third parties to the extent such parties are poised to interfere with the implementation of a prior judicial order." United States v. International Brotherhood of Teamsters, Chauffeurs, Warehousemen and Helpers of America, AFL-CIO, 266 F.3d 45, 50 (2d Cir. 2001). As stated by the Second Circuit:

An important feature of the All Writs Act is its grant of authority to enjoin and bind non-parties to an action when needed to preserve the court's ability to reach or enforce its decision in a case over which it has proper jurisdiction.

The power to bind non-parties distinguishes injunctions issued under the Act from injunctions issued in situations in which the activities of the third parties do not interfere with the ...

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