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In Re New York Skyline, Inc., et al v. City of New York

February 23, 2012

IN RE NEW YORK SKYLINE, INC., ET AL., PETITIONERS-APPELLANTS,
v.
CITY OF NEW YORK, ET AL., RESPONDENTS-RESPONDENTS.



Petitioners appeal from a judgment of the Supreme Court, New York County (Donna Mills, J.), entered October 17, 2011, which denied the petition and dismissed the proceeding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Richter, J.

Matter of Matter of New York Skyline, Inc. v City of New York

Decided on February 23, 2012

Published by New York State Law Reporting Bureau pursuant to Judiciary Law § 431.

This opinion is uncorrected and subject to revision before publication in the Official Reports.

SUPREME COURT, APPELLATE DIVISION First Judicial Department

Richard T. Andrias,J.P. David B. Saxe Rolando T. Acosta Helen E. Freedman Rosalyn H. Richter, JJ. Index 106840/11

RICHTER, J.

In this appeal, we are asked to decide whether the sale on public sidewalks of admission tickets to New York Skyride, a simulated helicopter trip around New York City, requires a general vendor license under § 20-452 and § 20-453 of the Administrative Code of the City of New York. We hold that because neither the Skyride experience nor the admission tickets constitutes goods or services, a general vendor license is not required.

Petitioner New York Skyline, Inc. (Skyline) is an entertainment company that created and manages the New York Skyride, a simulated helicopter experience. The Skyride experience, which takes place on the second floor of the Empire State Building, includes a brief lecture about the Empire State Building followed by a 15-minute film narrated by actor Kevin Bacon. The film, which features music and special effects, takes visitors on a virtual helicopter ride over New York City and its landmarks.

Skyline has been operating Skyride since 1994, and currently employs 110 people, including 40 ticket agents; the company also independently contracts with another 27 ticket agents. Since 2003, these agents have marketed and sold tickets to Skyride on public sidewalks near the Empire State Building. The agents process the sales using small handheld devices that charge the customers' credit cards and print the tickets. Approximately 60% of Skyline's ticket sales comes from selling tickets on the sidewalks.

In April 2011, respondent New York City Police Department (NYPD) started issuing summonses to Skyline's agents for selling tickets on the public sidewalks without a general vendor license, purportedly in violation of § 20-453 of the Administrative Code. General vendor licenses are administered by the New York City Department of Consumer Affairs (DCA). According to the DCA website, the maximum number of licenses issued to non-veterans is limited to 853, and the waiting list is currently closed.*fn1 Thus, if the statute is enforced against the ticket agents, Skyline would be unable to obtain a vending license. Skyline maintains that if it is required to permanently suspend street sales, it will be forced out of business.

At first, NYPD issued summonses that were returnable at the offices of respondent New York City Environmental Control Board (ECB), the agency that adjudicates violations of the general vending laws. In June 2011, NYPD escalated its enforcement strategy, and began arresting alleged violators, requiring them to appear in criminal court. Skyline alleges that 14 notices of violations or summonses have been issued and six ticket agents, including petitioner Calaif Parks, have been arrested for selling tickets without a general vendor license.

Petitioners commenced an article 78 proceeding against respondents City of New York, NYPD, ECB and various City officials seeking to enjoin them from enforcing the general vending statutes against Skyline's ticket agents. Petitioners asserted causes of action alleging that: (1) Administrative Code § 20-452 and § 20-453, which require a "general vendor" to be licensed, do not apply to Skyline's ticket agents because they are not selling "goods or services"; (2) the enforcement of the general vending statutes against the ticket agents constitutes an impermissible limitation on protected expressive activity and thus violates the free speech protections of the State and Federal Constitutions; and (3) the City's and NYPD's enforcement activity is the result of improper influence by Skyline's landlord, and thus constitutes an abuse of discretion.*fn2 The petition seeks, inter alia, a judgment declaring that: (1) the ticket agents' sales of ...


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