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New York Youth Club; Arena F v. Town of Smithtown

March 31, 2012

NEW YORK YOUTH CLUB; ARENA F.; DESIREE P.; SHEILA M.; SHEMIAH M.; RAMEL M.; JOANNE T.; BRIANNA T.;
TRINA M.; OLIVER M.; ANGEL S.;
VINCENT S.; AND VICTOR S., PLAINTIFFS,
v.
TOWN OF SMITHTOWN; PATRICK R. VECHIO, AS SUPERVISOR OF THE TOWN OF SMITHTOWN;
THOMAS J. MCCARTHY,
EDWARD R. WERHEIM, ROBERT J. CREIGHTON, AND
KEVIN J. MALLOY, AS MEMBERS OF THE TOWN COUNCIL OF THE TOWN OF SMITHTOWN;
DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC SAFETY OF THE TOWN OF SMITHTOWN; AND JOHN VALENTINE, AS DIRECTOR OF PUBLIC SAFETY OF THE TOWN OF SMITHTOWN, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hurley, Senior District Judge:

MEMORANDUM & ORDER

Plaintiffs bring this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §1983 seeking a declaration that ordinance 215-3A of the Town of Smithtown, New York is unconstitutional under the First and Fourteenth Amendments. Plaintiffs also seek damages arising from of the threatened enforcement of the Ordinance. Now before the Court is defendants' motion to dismiss the complaint pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6). For the reasons that follow, defendants' motion is granted in part and denied in part.

BACKGROUND

The New York Youth Club ("NYYC") is a not-for-profit corporation located in Smithtown, New York, whose stated purpose is to "provide educational and social opportunities for at-risk youths in socially and economically disadvantaged areas." (Compl. ¶ 19.) The organization targets teenagers living in areas of "gang and drug activity," and endeavors to provide them the opportunity to "engage in constructive activities and learn how to function in the world of business." (Compl. ¶ 20.)

The particular activity of NYYC at issue here involves youth members of the organization who go door-to-door in affluent neighborhoods to "explain [NYYC's] mission and sell[ ] candy and small items to raise money for the activities of NYYC." (Compl. ¶ 22.) These sales allow the organization's members to earn credit towards "field trips conducted by NYYC, or for merchandise." (Compl. ¶ 23.)

On October 15, 2009, the Town of Smithtown amended Article 215 of the Town Code to require the following:*fn1 (1) Soliciting or canvassing may be performed only after obtaining a license, with a waiver granted to charitable, religious, and other not-for-profit organizations that register with the Town Clerk and demonstrate "proof of organizational status."*fn2 (Compl. ¶ 38.) (2) No one under the age of 16 may solicit or canvass within the Town unless accompanied by a parent or legal guardian. (Compl. ¶ 39.) (3) No one may solicit under any circumstances from a "stationary location on a public street" or in a "congested area where [the seller's] operation might impede or inconvenience the public." (Compl. ¶¶ 41-41.) Soliciting or canvassing is defined in the Ordinance in relevant part as going "from place to place, from house to house, from street to street, or from store to store to sell or take orders for goods, wares, merchandise or provisions for future delivery . . . or for the purpose of obtaining contributions of money or of goods, wares or provisions at any place within the Town of Smithtown." (Compl. ¶ 43.)

The amended Ordinance presented an immediate problem for NYYC. Because most parents either work during the hours their children make these solicitations, or do not have their own transportation to bring their children to the appropriate neighborhoods, supervising their child's canvassing efforts is simply not an option -- nor is allowing them to go off and do so on their own. Therefore, most of the parents allowed their children to solicit for NYYC only while under supervision of an adult NYYC "crew manager," which is no longer allowed under the Ordinance. (Compl. ¶ ¶ 26, 29-30.)

The plaintiffs in this action include NYYC, seven members of the organization under the age of 16, and five of their parents and/or guardians. (Compl. ¶¶ 2-8.) They allege that because NYYC members under the age of 16 largely canvass under the supervision of these "responsible adults," or "crew managers," (compl. ¶ 51), rather than with a parent or guardian as required by the Ordinance, the amendments have the practical effect of depriving plaintiffs of the ability to advocate and raise money for the organization within Smithtown -- a town that "comprises a significant portion of Suffolk County, and in which they have sold previously made sales," (compl. ¶ 45; see also id. ¶¶ 66, 69). Plaintiffs claim that the Ordinance violates: (1) NYYC's and the youth plaintiffs' First Amendment rights to free speech and free association, (2) the youth plaintiffs' right to travel (compl. ¶ 55), and to the equal protection of the law (compl. ¶ 57), and (3) the parent/guardian plaintiffs' right to raise their children without undue government interference (compl. ¶ 62).

DISCUSSION

I.STANDARD OF REVIEW

Rule 8(a) provides that a pleading shall contain "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2). The Supreme Court has clarified the pleading standard applicable in evaluating a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6).

First, in Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007), the Court disavowed the well-known statement in Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-46 (1957) that "a complaint should not be dismissed for failure to state a claim unless it appears beyond doubt that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of his claim which would entitle him to relief." 550 U.S. at 562. Instead, to survive a motion to dismiss under Twombly, a plaintiff must allege "only enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Id. at 570.

While a complaint attacked by a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss does not need detailed factual allegations, a plaintiff's obligation to provide the grounds of his entitlement to relief requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do. Factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level, on the assumption that all the allegations in the complaint are true (even if doubtful in fact).

Id. at 555 (citations and internal quotation marks omitted).

More recently, in Ashcroft v. Iqbal, -- U.S. --, 129 S. Ct. 1937 (2009), the Supreme Court provided further guidance, setting a two-pronged approach for courts considering a motion to dismiss. First, a court should "begin by identifying pleadings that, because they are no more than conclusions, are not entitled to the assumption of truth." 129 S. Ct. at 1950. "While legal conclusions can provide the framework of a complaint, they must be supported by factual allegations." Id. Thus, "[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice." Id. at 1949 (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555).

Second, "[w]hen there are well-pleaded factual allegations a court should assume their veracity and then determine whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement to relief." Id. "Determining whether a complaint states a plausible claim for relief [is] . . . a context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense." Id. at 1950. The Court defined plausibility as follows:

A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged. The plausibility standard is not akin to a "probability requirement," but it asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully. Where a complaint pleads facts that are "merely consistent with" a ...


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