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James Yandow v. G. Lawrence Kronau

January 24, 2011

JAMES YANDOW, PLAINTIFF,
v.
G. LAWRENCE KRONAU, TOWN JUSTICE FOR THE TOWN OF POESTENKILL, NEW YORK;
NEW YORK STATE DEPARTMENT OF MOTOR VEHICLES;
DAVID J. SWARTS, COMMISSIONER OF THE NY DEPARTMENT OF MOTOR VEHICLES, DEFENDANTS.



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

MEMORANDUM-DECISION AND ORDER

I. Introduction

Plaintiff James Yandow brings this action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Gregory T. Kronau, Town Justice for the Town of Poestenkill, the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), and David J. Swarts, Commissioner of the DMV. (See Am. Compl., Dkt. No. 10.) Yandow alleges that the suspension of his driver's license pursuant to New York's Prompt Suspension Law*fn1 violated his rights to procedural and substantive due process under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments. (See id.) Pending are Yandow's motion for summary judgment, and the DMV and Swarts's cross-motion for summary judgment. (Dkt. Nos. 21, 22.) For the reasons that follow, Yandow's motion is denied, and the DMV and Swarts's cross-motion is granted.

II. Background

A. New York's Prompt Suspension Law

"In an effort to reduce the incidence of drunk driving on New York's roadways, the State Legislature enacted the prompt suspension law ... which under certain circumstances mandates the suspension of a driver's license to operate a motor vehicle pending prosecution for driving while intoxicated." Pringle v. Wolfe, 88 N.Y.2d 426, 429 (N.Y. 1996). Specifically, at the time a person charged with driving while intoxicated (DWI) is arraigned, the Prompt Suspension Law requires the court to suspend that person's license if (1) the accusatory instrument is sufficient on its face, and (2) there is reasonable cause to believe that the driver operated a motor vehicle with a blood alcohol level (BAC) of at least 0.08 as shown by a chemical analysis of the driver's blood, breath, urine, or saliva. See N.Y. VEH. & TRAF. LAW § 1193(2)(e)(7)(b). If the court finds that these criteria are satisfied, "a prima facie showing for license suspension has been established." Pringle, 88 N.Y.2d at 432. However, before the driver's license can be suspended, he must be given an "opportunity to make a statement regarding [the two criteria] and to present evidence tending to rebut the court's findings."N.Y. VEH. & TRAF. LAW §1193(2)(e)(7)(b). This pre-suspension proceeding is known as a "Pringle hearing."

If suspension is ultimately deemed appropriate, the court is required to suspend the driver's license pending prosecution. However, if a driver can demonstrate "extreme hardship," the Vehicle and Traffic Law (VTL) authorizes a "hardship privilege" which permits the driver to operate a vehicle for such limited purposes as traveling to or from employment, school, or necessary medical treatment. See id. § 1193(2)(e)(7)(e). The VTL also provides that thirty days after a license is suspended, an eligible holder may be issued a pre-conviction conditional license (PCCL), which grants the holder limited driving privileges pending prosecution. See id. §§ 1193(2)(e)(7)(d), (e), 1196(7)(a); 15 N.Y.C.R.R. § 134.18(a). Neither the hardship privilege nor the PCCL is valid for the operation of commercial motor vehicles.*fn2 See N.Y. VEH & TRAF LAW § 1193(2)(e)(7) (d).

If a driver is sentenced for DWI, any hardship privilege or PCCL in effect at that timeis terminated. See 15 N.Y.C.R.R. § 134.18(d). However, if the driver is eligible, the sentencing court may, in its discretion, grant him a twenty-day stay of the driver's license suspension or revocation required under the VTL. See N.Y. VEH. & TRAF. LAW § 1193(2)(d)(1), (2). According to defendants, and as Yandow appears to concede, "[t]he purpose of this short and temporary stay is to give the driver an opportunity to enroll in the Drinking Driver Program (DDP) and to obtain a conditional license before any license suspension or revocation takes place." (Defs. SMF ¶ 17, Dkt. No. 22:1; Pl. Mem. of Law at 8, Dkt. No. 21:3.) The DDP is available only to those persons convicted of alcohol and/or drug related offenses, and only those convicted persons who qualify for and enroll in the DDP are eligible for a conditional license. (See Defs. SMF at ¶ 17, Dkt. No. 22:2;N.Y. VEH. & TRAF. LAW § 1196(1), (4), (7).) Further, if a convicted driver is not eligible for DDP, or is eligible and elects not to enroll in DDP, that driver's license will be suspended or revoked as set forth in VTL § 1193(2)(a) or (b). (See Defs. SMF ¶ 20, Dkt. No. 22:2; N.Y. VEH. & TRAF. LAW § 1196(7).) Defendants contend that if a convicted driver "is not eligible for DDP or is eligible and elects not to enroll in DDP that [driver's] license will be suspended or revoked as set forth in VTL Section 1193(2)(a) or (b)," and that "[s]uch convicted individuals will have no driving privileges whatsoever during the required period of license suspension or revocation." (Defs. SMF ¶ 20, Dkt. No. 22:1.)

B. Facts*fn3

On June 8, 2009, Yandow was stopped by Rensselaer Sheriff's Deputy Zachary J. Sharpe and subsequently charged with DWI in violation of VTL §1192. On July 27, pursuant to the Prompt Suspension Law, Town Justice Lawrence Kronau requested Yandow's license. Yandow's counsel requested and was granted an opportunity to contest the request at a Pringle hearing.

On July 30, a Pringle hearing was held at the Poestenkill Town Court, at which time Judge Kronau made findings that the accusatory instruments were facially sufficient, and that there was reasonable cause to believe that Yandow operated a motor vehicle with a BAC in excess of 0.08. Yandow claims that Judge Kronau did "not allow any questioning of Deputy Sharpe regarding the blood alcohol test or how the stop was conducted." (Pl. SMF ¶ 8, Dkt. No. 21:1.) At the conclusion of the hearing, Judge Kronau issued an order suspending Yandow's license to operate a motor vehicle pending the outcome of the criminal trial. As a result of the suspension, Yandow lost his Commercial Driver License (CDL) privileges pending prosecution of the DWI charge.

On August 6, 2009, Yandow commenced this action against defendants, alleging that the suspension of his CDL pursuant to the Prompt Suspension Law violated his procedural and substantive due process rights. (See Compl, Dkt. No. 1; see also Am. Compl., Dkt. No. 10.) On December 18, 2009, this court denied Yandow's motion for preliminary injunction. (Dkt. No. 14.) On April 30, 2010, Yandow filed the current motion for summary judgment, seeking the grant of "a permanent injunction against [d]efendants precluding any pre-conviction suspension against [him] on due process grounds." (Dkt. No. 21; see also Am. Compl. at 5, Dkt. No. 10.) Defendants DMV and Swarts subsequently cross-moved for summary judgment. (Dkt. No. 22.)

III. Standard of Review

The standard for judgment pursuant to Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure is well established and will not be repeated here. For a full discussion of the standard, the court refers the parties to its previous opinion in Bain ...


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