Federal Court Upholds NYC Taxi and Limousine Commission Policy of Suspending Arrested Taxi Drivers Before Hearing

The New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission (TLC) has a policy of suspending a taxi driver upon notification of the driver’s arrest, without providing either a pre-deprivation hearing or a post-deprivation hearing that does more than confirm the fact of the driver’s arrest “ that is no attempt is made to verify the propriety of the arrest or the guilt of the driver. Four (4) individual taxi drivers whose taxicab or for-hire vehicle licenses were suspended following an arrest on charges that were later dropped, and by the New York Taxi Workers Alliance (NYTWA), a not-for-profit corporation that seeks to improve the working conditions of taxi drivers, safeguard their rights, and promote reform of the industry, unsuccessfully challenged the TLC’s policy in Nnebe v. Daus, Slip Copy, 2009 WL 3151809 (S.D.N.Y. 2009), decided by Southern District Judge Richard Sullivan. Plaintiff Jonathan Nnebe was suspended after he was arrested for and charged with Assault with Intent to Cause Physical Injury, 3rd Degree, a misdemeanor. Plaintiff Alexander Karmansky was suspended after he was arrested for and charged with Criminal Contempt, 1 st Degree, a felony, and Criminal Trespass, 2nd Degree, a misdemeanor. Plaintiff Eduardo Aenaut was suspended after he was arrested for and charged with Assault with Intent to Cause Physical Injury, 3rd Degree. Plaintiff Khairul Amin was suspended after he was arrested for and charged with Menacing in the 2nd Degree, with a Weapon, and Assault with Intent to Cause Physical Injury, 3rd Degree. The TLC is able to be notified of the arrest of a licensee by the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services (DCJS) through fingerprinting required as part of the license-application process. The DCJS arrest notification contains, in addition to the licensee’s identifying information, the date and location of the arrest, the arrest charges, and the penal code section pursuant to which the licensee was arrested. It does not, however, contain any of the alleged factual basis for the arrest. The TLC maintains a list of offenses for which it will summarily suspend a driver upon arrest continued licensure during the pendency of the criminal charges would pose a risk to public health or safety. The driving force behind the Court’s decision was its concern for the public health and safety, which it found outweighed a taxi driver’s protected property interest in his license: Among the most critical functions performed by the TLC are ensuring the safety of the taxi-riding public and maintaining the public’s trust in the safety of taxis. A taxi passenger is in a uniquely vulnerable position, in a confined space with a stranger who may lock the doors, block egress, and limit the passenger’s ability to summon police assistance. Passengers consent to what would otherwise be a perilous situation because a TLC license reflects the TLC’s opinion that a licensee meets the standard of fitness for licensure set forth in the TLC Rules. Accordingly, the TLC has a strong interest in ensuring both that passengers are not placed in a vulnerable position with possibly dangerous drivers and in ensuring that the public perceives the taxi industry to be safe. The Court noted that although the majority of the individual plaintiffs were suspended following misdemeanor arrests, the offenses at issue were uniformly serious and generally involved an element of violence. The Court was unpersuaded by the plaintiffs’ contention that the TLC’s policy should not apply to off-the-job incidents because such incidents do not involve imminent danger sufficient to warrant a summary suspension. To only consider arrests for on-the-job conduct would significantly compromise the TLC’s interest, forcing the public to bear the risk that a driver’s unlawful behavior might not stop at the taxicab door. The Court sees no reason why this risk should be placed upon the taxi-riding public. The Court was unconcerned that the TLC’s procedures permitted summary suspension of a license without a finding that the arrest was justified. The very existence of a criminal proceeding is a reason to suspend a driver, as pending criminal allegations-even if later dismissed-implicate the TLC’s interest as licensor. The Court noted that it would be difficult, if not impossible, for the TLC to prove that a driver had actually engaged in the charged criminal conduct without interfering with the criminal investigation. The plaintiffs unsuccessfully argued that the Court was bound to find the TLC’s policy unconstitutional based on Second Circuit precedent (1) finding unconstitutional New York City’s retention of seized vehicles from initial seizure following an arrest for drunk driving through judgment in a civil forfeiture proceeding (Krimstock I and II); (2) voiding the TLC’s practice of summarily suspending taxi drivers’ licenses upon charges of unjustified racially-motivated service refusals; and (3) finding that the procedural due process rights of a gun shop owner was violated by the delay between the suspension and a post-suspension hearing when his license was suspended for 58 days after the New York City Police Department observed several violations of required security restrictions (Spinelli v. City of New York, No. 07 Civ. 1237, 2009 WL 2413929 (2d Cir. Aug. 7, 2009). The Court distinguished Krimstock on the grounds including that the TLC’s policy involved a government interest. – public knowledge that an individual formally accused of job-related crimes is still on duty would undoubtedly erode public confidence in the agency, whereas in Krimstock only private ownership of automobiles was at stake. Also, unlike Krimstock, the TLC is not motivated by financial concerns but has a valid public-safety interest and suspending a taxi driver’s license is a reasonably effective way of limiting the driver’s potentially dangerous interactions with the public. The Court further noted that regarding the civil forfeiture of a motor vehicle the risk of erroneous deprivation was elevated by the risk posed to innocent owners of vehicles merely driven by the arrestee, who would have no opportunity to press the defense of innocent ownership under the forfeiture statute until the initiation of civil forfeiture proceedings. There is no risk of a similar problem with the TLC policy in as much as licenses are only suspended after the particular licensee is arrested. With respect to unjustified racially-motivated service refusals, the Court held that the health and safety exception to the pre-suspension hearing requirement were more closely related to the safety of the taxi-riding public when a driver is arrested than when ride is refused. The government interest weighs considerably more heavily in the former rather than the latter situation. The Court distinguished the gun shop owner’s license suspension in Spinelli on the ground that therein the suspending authority and the investigating authority were the same: the New York City Police Department, as opposed to the two agencies “the TLC and the District Attorney’s office. There would be less difficulty in requiring the suspending authority to participate in a hearing, and less concern that the hearing could jeopardize the criminal proceeding. The Court also noted the differences in the prompt notice requirements between the two situations. Judge Sullivan rejected the plaintiffs’ allegations that the defendants violated their Fifth Amendment rights by failing to advise plaintiffs at their hearings of their right to remain silent. The record is devoid of evidence that any statements made by plaintiffs at their suspension hearings were later used against them in a criminal proceeding. It is noteworthy that the Court preliminarily held that the TLC is not a suable entity because, as an agency of the City of New York, it is not a suable entity., and the NYTWA does not have standing to bring the federal constitutional claims asserted here on behalf of its members these claim because the Second Circuit has held that Section 1983 creates only a personal cause of action, and the NYTWA further failed to demonstrate that it has suffered meaningful injury in its own capacity. In conclusion, the Court granted Defendants’ motion for summary judgment as to Plaintiffs’ motion for summary judgment as to Plaintiffs’ federal claims, declined to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over Plaintiffs’ state law claims, and because there are no claims remaining before the Court, denied Plaintiffs’ motion for class certification as moot. The lawyers at Levine & Slavit have decades of experience handling personal injury claims including those involving auto accidents. For over 50 years spanning 3 generations, we have obtained results for satisfied clients. We have offices in Manhattan and Long Island, handling cases in New York City, the Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens and surrounding areas. If you or someone close to you has been injured in a motor vehicle accident, contact the personal injury lawyers at Levine & Slavit for their help. To learn more, watch our videos.

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