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Richard Dean Sawyer Iii v. New York State Department of Transportation

January 11, 2012

RICHARD DEAN SAWYER III, PLAINTIFF,
v.
NEW YORK STATE DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: John G. Koeltl, District Judge:

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

The plaintiff, appearing pro se, brings this action, under 42 U.S.C. § 1981, 49 U.S.C. § 5303, and the Fourteenth Amendment, against the New York State Department of Transportation ("DOT") and the New York City Metropolitan Transportation Authority ("MTA"). The plaintiff paid the filing fee for this action.

The Court dismisses a portion of the Complaint with prejudice, and dismisses the remainder of the Complaint without prejudice, for the reasons explained below.

I.

The Court has the authority to dismiss sua sponte a complaint, or portion thereof, for which a plaintiff has paid the filing fee, where the plaintiff presents no arguably meritorious issue. See Fitzgerald v. First East Seventh Tenants Corp., 221 F.3d 362, 363 (2d Cir.2000) (per curiam) ("[T]he District Court . . . possessed the power to dismiss the instant action sua sponte, notwithstanding the fact that Fitzgerald had paid the . . . filing fee."); Pillay v. Immigration & Naturalization Serv., 45 F.3d 14, 17 (2d Cir. 1995) (per curiam). While the law authorizes dismissal of frivolous complaints even if the filing fee has been paid, district courts "remain obligated to construe a pro se complaint liberally." Harris v. Mills, 572 F.3d 66, 72 (2d Cir. 2009); see generally Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520--521, 92 S. Ct. 594, 30 L.Ed.2d 652 (1972) (per curiam). Pro se complaints should be read with "special solicitude" and should be interpreted to raise the "strongest [claims] that they suggest." Triestman v. Fed. Bureau of Prisons, 470 F.3d 471, 474--75 (2d Cir. 2006) (citations omitted).

II.

The plaintiff alleges that the Gunhill Road section of Bronx County is being denied "equal access" to public transportation. He asserts violations of 49 U.S.C. § 5303, including the fact that there is "No Transportation Improvement Plan [TIP]" in place, as required by § 5303, and that "the People" were not given an "opportunity of participation in the development of any program to their benefit." According to the plaintiff, rerouting two bus lines would make the subway more accessible and that the "only major cost to the State would be the building of one alcove or roofed bus stop."

III.

The plaintiff names as a defendant the New York State Department of Transportation (DOT), a state agency. The Eleventh Amendment bars suits against States and State agencies unless the State expressly waives its immunity or Congress validly abrogates that immunity. Seminole Tribe of Fla. v. Florida, 517 U.S. 44, 72--73 (1996). The DOT is an agency and an arm of New York State entitled to the protections of the Eleventh Amendment. See, e.g., Kilcullen v. New York State Department of Transportation, 55 F. App'x. 583, 584 (2d Cir. 2003) (summary order) (noting dismissal of a claim against the New York State DOT because the claim was barred by the Eleventh Amendment).

Accordingly, the plaintiff's claims against the DOT cannot proceed and are dismissed with prejudice.

IV.

The Complaint alleges a violation of the Fourteenth Amendment. With regard to the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, a due process claim raises "two distinct issues: 1) whether [the] plaintiff[] possess[es] a liberty or property interest protected by the Due Process Clause; and, if so, 2) whether existing state procedures are constitutionally adequate." Kapps v. Wing, 404 F.3d 105, 112 (2d Cir. 2005) (citing Sealed v. Sealed, 332 F.3d 51, 55 (2d Cir. 2003)).

Here, the plaintiff does not allege the existence of a liberty or property interest, and therefore this Complaint does not state a due process claim. With regard to the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, an equal protection claim may be stated where, for example, a plaintiff pleads that the plaintiff is the member of a class of persons that the defendant has "intentionally treated . . . differently from other similarly situated [persons] because of a malicious intent to injure them," or "with no rational basis for the difference in treatment." Bizzarro v. Miranda, 394 F.3d 82, 86 (2d Cir. 2005). This Complaint fails to allege ...


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