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Scheiner v. Bloomberg

March 17, 2009

BRANDI DAWN SCHEINER, ET AL., PLAINTIFFS,
v.
MICHAEL BLOOMBERG, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Sidney H. Stein, U.S. District Judge.

MEMORANDUM OPINION ORDER

Last year, the New York City Council passed Introduction 845-A, an amendment to the New York City term limits law, N.Y. City Charter §§ 1137-38. Mayor Michael Bloomberg signed Introduction 845-A into law shortly thereafter. Under the old law, which was passed by a voter referendum in 1993, city officials could, with limited exceptions, serve no more than two consecutive terms in office. Under the new law, city officials-including most famously Mayor Bloomberg and current City Council members-may serve up to three consecutive terms in office.

This action challenges the new law. It alleges that Mayor Bloomberg and City Council members violated plaintiffs' rights by passing the term limits amendment by means of legislation, rather than via a citywide voter referendum. Defendants have moved to dismiss the complaint pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6). Because the complaint fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, that motion is granted.

I. Background

Plaintiffs are a group of New York City teachers who fear that Mayor Bloomberg will end teacher tenure if he is reelected under the new term limits law in November 2009. (Compl. ¶ 28 n.3.) Defendants are Michael Bloomberg, "individually and as Mayor of [the] City of New York"; Christine C. Quinn, "individually and as Speaker of New York City Council"; the "New York City Council"; and numerous individual City Council members. (Id. at 1.)

Plaintiffs began this action by filing a complaint on October 22, 2008. Defendants moved to dismiss the complaint on November 7, 2008, and plaintiffs have failed to oppose that motion despite being informed that "[f]ailure to do so [would] result in either a dismissal of this action pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 41(b) or a determination of the motion on the existing papers." (Order, Dec. 10, 2008.)*fn1

This case, therefore, stands in stark contrast to Molinari v. Bloomberg, No. CV-08-4539, 2009 WL 87578 (E.D.N.Y. Jan. 13, 2009) (Sifton, J.), which also challenges the new term limits provision. In Molinari, a coalition of City Council members, City Council candidates, City officials, voters, and private advocacy groups brought suit claiming that the new term limits provision violates the First Amendment, the Fourteenth Amendment, the New York State Constitution, and other provisions of state and local law. Id. at *6-25.The plaintiffs in Molinari fully briefed cross-motions for summary judgment, created an evidentiary record through sworn statements and exhibits, and advocated their case at oral argument. Judge Sifton issued a carefully reasoned opinion granting defendants' motion for summary judgment, id. at *25, and the plaintiffs in that action have appealed Judge Sifton's determination. In sum, Molinari involved a challenge to the new term limits provision that was prosecuted with vigor and care.

The complaint here asserts two claims brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983.*fn2 (Compl. ¶¶ 6, 36-51.) Count One seeks a declaration that defendants' efforts "to change the term limits laws without a Voter Referendum or Court Order [constituted] a violation of their Oath of Office." (Id. ¶ 43.) Count Two alleges that the use of legislation to amend the term limits provision was a violation of plaintiffs' "civil rights" and "right to vote." (Id. ¶ 45-49.) Count Three does not set forth an additional substantive claim but rather seeks an injunction against the enforcement of the new term limits provision. (Id. ¶¶ 52-56.)

II. Plaintiffs Have Failed to State a Claim Upon Which Relief May Be Granted

As noted above, defendants have moved to dismiss each of plaintiffs' claims pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6). When reviewing a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, the Court assumes the truth of all facts asserted in the complaint and draws all reasonable inferences from those facts in favor of the plaintiff. See Cleveland v. Caplaw Enters., 448 F.3d 518, 521 (2d Cir. 2006). A motion to dismiss will be granted only if the plaintiff has failed to allege "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). Under this "flexible 'plausibility standard,'" Iqbal v. Hasty, 490 F.3d 143, 158 (2d Cir. 2007), the factual allegations in a complaint "must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level," Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555.

A. The Mayor and City Council Members Are Entitled to Absolute Immunity for Their Roles in Passing the New Term Limits Provision

Insofar as the complaint asserts section 1983 claims against the Mayor and City Council members in their individual capacities, those claims must be dismissed under the doctrine of absolute legislative immunity. "The principle that legislators are absolutely immune from liability for their legislative activities has long been recognized in Anglo-American law," and the U.S. Supreme Court has held that "local legislators are likewise absolutely immune from suit under § 1983 for their legislative activities." Bogan v. Scott-Harris, 523 U.S. 44, 48-49 (1998). Plaintiffs brought this action against the Mayor and City Council members solely for their actions in passing the new term limits law. Those actions were clearly "taken 'in the sphere of legitimate legislative activity,'" id. at 54 (quoting Tenney v. Brandhove, 341 U.S. 367, 376 (1951)), and thus cannot form the basis of individual liability under section 1983. Furthermore, allegations that defendants engaged in non-legislative conduct-that they used "improper and potentially illegal pressures to intimidate others" (Compl. ¶ 29)-are far too speculative and imprecise "to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570.

Plaintiffs may, however, challenge the new term limits provision by asserting section 1983 claims against defendants in their official capacities. Plaintiffs arguably could have challenged the new term limits provision by bringing a section 1983 action directly against the City of New York. See Monell v. Dep't of Soc. Servs. of the City of N.Y., 436 U.S. 658, 690 (1978). Plaintiffs chose instead to bring an action against the Mayor and City Council members in their official capacities. "As long as the government entity receives notice and an opportunity to respond, an official-capacity suit is, in all respects other than name, to be treated as a suit against the entity." Kentucky v. Graham, 473 U.S. 159, 166 (1985). Because the Corporation Counsel of the City of New York ...


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