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IN RE: the Application of SYSCO METRO NY, LLC, and Parking Survival Experts d/b/a parkingticket.com, on their behalf and on behalf of all others similarly situated, Petitioners, v. CITY OF NEW YORK, New York City Department of Finance Commercial Adjudications Unit a/k/a Adjudication Division, and Jacques Jiha, Individually and as New York City Commissioner of Finance, Respondents.
Petitioners Sysco Metro NY, LLC, which owns and operates a fleet of vehicles in New York City, and Parking Survival Experts (PSE), which appears on Sysco Metro's behalf at hearings on traffic summonses issued to Sysco Metro, bring this hybrid proceeding pursuant to C.P.L.R. Article 78 and class action to vacate parking summonses issued by respondent City of New York. Petitioners seek to vacate over 1,000 parking summonses issued to Sysco Metro alone.
I. UNDISPUTED BACKGROUND FACTS
Respondent City issued 1,019 summonses to Sysco Metro's tractors, alleging violations of the New York Vehicle and Traffic Law (VTL) and regulations under the VTL, that petitioners contend misdescribed the offending tractors' body type. Each of these “body type” summonses listed the body type not as a “tractor,” but as a “truck,” a “DELV,” or another notation. PSE contested the summonses before respondent New York City Department of Finance Commercial Adjudications Unit (CAU) on Sysco Metro's behalf, claiming the summonses misdescribed the tractors' body type in violation of VTL § 238(2). PSE produced evidence showing each vehicle was a tractor and not a “truck” or another delivery vehicle. CAU administrative law judges rejected petitioners' claim, found Sysco Metro guilty, and imposed fines for each summons. Petitioners appealed to the CAU Appeal Board, which affirmed each finding.
Respondent City also issued to Sysco Metro 367 “lift gate” summonses alleging that its tractors violated 34 R.C.NY 4–08(k)(7), which prohibits a commercial vehicle from parking on a street with the vehicle's lift gate down while the vehicle is unattended. Each summons, however, lists the license plate and state of the tractor, which has no lift gate, but which pulls a trailer housing the lift gate. Many of these summonses also do not list the offending tractor's body type as “tractor.” PSE contested these lift gate summonses as well, claiming that they misdescribed the offending vehicle's license plate and state in violation of VTL § 238(2). Petitioners contend that the statute requires the summonses to list the license plate and state of the trailer that houses the offending lift gates, not the tractor pulling the trailer. PSE produced evidence showing each license plate listed was affixed to a tractor and that each tractor did not have a lift gate. CAU administrative law judges rejected petitioners' claim and found Sysco Metro guilty, followed by the CAU Appeal Board's affirmance of the finding for each summons.
This proceeding and class action now seek to vacate the CAU's determinations finding petitioner Sysco Metro guilty of violations on 1,019 “body type” summonses and 387 “lift gate” summonses and to recover all fines Sysco Metro paid for these violations. Petitioners seek a declaratory judgment that respondents' failure to use the body type notation “tractor” on summonses issued to tractors and issuance of summonses for lift gate violations to tractors instead of trailers violate VTL § 238(2). C.P.L.R. § 3001. Petitioners further seek to enjoin respondents (1) from adjudicating guilt of violations on any future summonses issued to tractors that do not describe the “body type” as “tractor” or are for “lift gate” violations, (2) to dismiss all such summonses currently before the CAU, and (3) to vacate all previous adjudications of guilt of violations on such summonses. The parties have stipulated to discontinue the proceeding against respondent Jiha in his individual capacity. C.P.L.R. § 3217(a)(2).
II. PSE'S STANDING
Respondents claim that PSE's appearance on Sysco Metro's behalf at CAU administrative hearings does not give PSE standing to challenge respondents' actions. To challenge respondents' actions, PSE must show that it has suffered an injury in fact and that the injury falls within the zone of interests protected by the laws under which petitioners claim relief. Transactive Corp. v. New York State Dept. of Social Services, 92 N.Y.2d 579, 587, 684 N.Y.S.2d 156, 706 N.E.2d 1180 (1998); Society of Plastics Indus., Inc. v. County of Suffolk, 77 N.Y.2d 761, 772–74, 570 N.Y.S.2d 778, 573 N.E.2d 1034 (1991); Roberts v. Health & Hosps. Corp., 87 A.D.3d 311, 318–19, 928 N.Y.S.2d 236 (1st Dep't 2011); Citizens Emergency Comm. to Preserve Preserv. v. Tierney, 70 A.D.3d 576, 576, 896 N.Y.S.2d 41 (1st Dep't 2010). To show an injury in fact, PSE must delineate how respondents' actions actually harmed it and how the injury suffered is personal and distinct from injury to the general public. Roberts v. Health & Hosps. Corp., 87 A.D.3d at 318, 928 N.Y.S.2d 236.
Because PSE has not shown that it suffered any injury from respondents' administrative actions, PSE lacks standing to challenge them. PSE's appearance on Sysco Metro's behalf at the administrative hearings and PSE's representation of other parties in similar administrative hearings shows an interest in respondents' adjudication of the summonses issued to Sysco Metro, but not an actual injury, and therefore does not confer standing. Citizens Emergency Comm. to Preserve Preserv. v. Tierney, 70 A.D.3d at 576, 896 N.Y.S.2d 41. See Transactive Corp. v. New York State Dept. of Soc. Servs., 92 N.Y.2d at 587, 684 N.Y.S.2d 156, 706 N.E.2d 1180; Society of Plastics Indus., Inc. v. County of Suffolk, 77 N.Y.2d at 778, 570 N.Y.S.2d 778, 573 N.E.2d 1034; Roberts v. Health & Hosps. Corp., 87 A.D.3d at 319, 928 N.Y.S.2d 236.
Nor does PSE show any injury within the zone of interests protected by the statutes and regulations under which respondents acted, as respondents' issuance of summonses for parking infractions affects only PSE's representation of its clients, without any direct effect on PSE itself. Roberts v. Health & Hosps. Corp., 87 A.D.3d at 319, 928 N.Y.S.2d 236. Therefore the court dismisses PSE's claims against respondents.
III. SYSCO METRO'S CLAIMS
A. Applicable Standards
VTL §§ 235–37 and New York City Administrative Code §§ 19–201 and 19–203 create a “parking violations bureau,” now known as the CAU, to accept pleas to parking violations and to hear and determine guilt of charges of parking violations. The CAU is part of the Department of Finance and includes administrative law judges appointed by Commissioner Jiha who hold these hearings. N.Y.C. Admin. Code § 19–202.
The court may overturn the CAU's determinations only if they were arbitrary, lacked a rational basis in the administrative record, or lacked a basis in law. C.P.L.R. § 7803(3); Rossi v. New York City Dept. of Parks & Recreation, 127 A.D.3d 463, 473, 8 N.Y.S.3d 25 (1st Dep't 2015); Nestle Waters N. Am., Inc. v. City of New York, 121 A.D.3d 124, 127, 990 N.Y.S.2d 512 (1st Dep't 2014); 20 Fifth Ave., LLC v. New York State Div. of Hous. & Community Renewal, 109 A.D.3d 159, 163, 970 N.Y.S.2d 25 (1st Dep't 2013); Langham Mansions, LLC v. New York State Div. of Hous. & Community Renewal, 76 A.D.3d 855, 857, 908 N.Y.S.2d 10 (1st Dep't 2010). See London Terrace Gardens L.P. v. New York State Div. of Hous. & Community Renewal, 149 A.D.3d 521, 521, 52 N.Y.S.3d 319 (1st Dep't 2017). The CAU's interpretation of the regulations and statutes governing parking, stopping, and standing of motor vehicles that the CAU is charged with enforcing, N.Y.C. Admin. Code § 19–201, is entitled to deference as long as that interpretation is rational and consistent with governing law. Barenboim v. Starbucks Corp., 21 N.Y.3d 460, 470–71, 972 N.Y.S.2d 191, 995 N.E.2d 153 (2013); Chesterfield Assoc. v. New York State Dept. of Labor, 4 N.Y.3d 597, 604, 797 N.Y.S.2d 389, 830 N.E.2d 287 (2005); Nestle Waters N. Am., Inc. v. City of New York, 121 A.D.3d at 127, 990 N.Y.S.2d 512. See Murphy v. New York State Div. of Hous. & Community Renewal, 21 N.Y.3d 649, 654–55, 977 N.Y.S.2d 161, 999 N.E.2d 524 (2013); Lighthouse Pointe Prop. Assoc., LLC v. New York State Dept. of Envtl. Conservation, 14 N.Y.3d 161, 176–77, 897 N.Y.S.2d 693, 924 N.E.2d 801 (2010); Roberts v. Tishman Speyer Props., L.P., 13 N.Y.3d 270, 285–86, 890 N.Y.S.2d 388, 918 N.E.2d 900 (2009). Although the court need not defer to the CAU's expertise or interpretation when discerning the plain meaning of a statute or regulation, Roberts v. Tishman Speyer Props., L.P., 13 N.Y.3d at 285–86, 890 N.Y.S.2d 388, 918 N.E.2d 900; ATM One v. Landaverde, 2 N.Y.3d 472, 476–77, 779 N.Y.S.2d 808, 812 N.E.2d 298 (2004); Associated Mut. Ins. Coop. v. 198, LLC, 78 A.D.3d 597, 598, 914 N.Y.S.2d 7 (1st Dep't 2010); Smith v. Donovan, 61 A.D.3d 505, 508–509, 878 N.Y.S.2d 675 (1st Dep't 2009), when the terms of the statute or regulation are ambiguous and susceptible to conflicting interpretations, the court will accord deference to the CAU's interpretation and uphold it as long as it is reasonable. Golf v. New York State Dept. of Soc. Servs., 91 N.Y.2d 656, 667, 674 N.Y.S.2d 600, 697 N.E.2d 555 (1998); Chin v. New York City Bd. of Stds. & Appeals, 97 A.D.3d 485, 487, 948 N.Y.S.2d 300 (1st Dep't 2012); Espada 2001 v. New York City Campaign Fin. Bd., 59 A.D.3d 57, 64, 870 N.Y.S.2d 293 (1st Dep't 2008).
VTL § 238(2) requires that:
A notice of violation shall be served personally upon the operator of a motor vehicle who is present at the time of service, and his name, together with the plate designation and the plate type as shown by the registration plates of said vehicle and the expiration date; the make or model, and body type of said vehicle ․ shall be inserted therein.
VTL § 238(2) (emphases added). VTL § 238(2–a)(b) provides that:
If any information which is required to be inserted on a notice of violation is omitted from the notice of violation, misdescribed, or illegible, the violation shall be dismissed upon application of the person charged with the violation.
The parties agree that their use of the term “summonses” refers to notices of violations as used in VTL § 238. Section 238 requires strict compliance with the statutory mandate that any misdescription or omission of any prescribed identification element in a notice of violation will lead to dismissal of that violation. Wheels, Inc. v. Parking Violations Bur. of Dept. of Transp. of City of NY, 80 N.Y.2d 1014, 1016, 592 N.Y.S.2d 659, 607 N.E.2d 806 (1992); Ryder Truck Rental, Inc. v. Parking Violations Bur. of Dept. of Transp. of City of NY, 62 N.Y.2d 667, 669–70, 476 N.Y.S.2d 285, 464 N.E.2d 983 (1984); Nestle Waters N. Am., Inc. v. City of New York, 121 A.D.3d at 129, 990 N.Y.S.2d 512.
VTL § 125 defines “Motor Vehicle” as: “every vehicle operated or driven on a public highway that is propelled by any power other than muscular power.” VTL § 158 defines “Truck” as: “Every motor vehicle designed, used, or maintained primarily for the transportation of property.” VTL § 151–a defines “Tractor ” as:
A motor vehicle designed and used as the power unit in combination with a semitrailer or trailer, or two such trailers in tandem. Any such motor vehicle shall not carry cargo except that a tractor and semitrailer engaged in the transportation of automobiles may transport motor vehicles on part of the power unit.
VTL § 156 defines “Trailer” as:
Any vehicle not propelled by its own power drawn on the public highways by a motor vehicle as defined in section one hundred twenty-five․
B. The “Lift Gate” Summonses
The CAU's determinations affirming the 367 “lift gate” summonses were not arbitrary or contrary to law. VTL § 238(2) requires a notice of a violation to be served on the operator of a “motor vehicle” and to include license plate information, body type, make, and model of “said vehicle.” “Said vehicle” refers back to the statute's previous use of the term “motor vehicle,” thus requiring the notice to include license plate, body type, make, and model information of the operator's “motor vehicle.” The VTL distinctly defines a “tractor” as a motor vehicle and a “trailer” as only a “vehicle.” VTL §§ 151–a, 156. VTL 156's omission of “motor” to modify “vehicle” evinces the Legislature's intent that a “trailer” is not a “motor vehicle” under the VTL, so that treating a trailer as a motor vehicle under the VTL ignores § 156's plain text and impermissibly renders superfluous § 238(2)'s use of the modifier “motor” where it is intended to apply. See Kimmel v. State of New York, 29 N.Y.3d 386, 392, 57 N.Y.S.3d 678, 80 N.E.3d 370 (2017); Manouel v. Board of Assessors, 25 N.Y.3d 46, 50, 6 N.Y.S.3d 534, 29 N.E.3d 881 (2015); Gammons v. City of New York, 24 N.Y.3d 562, 570, 2 N.Y.S.3d 45, 25 N.E.3d 958 (2014); Commonwealth of the N. Mariana Is. v. Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce, 21 N.Y.3d 55, 60, 967 N.Y.S.2d 876, 990 N.E.2d 114 (2013).
Consequently, the CAU's interpretation of VTL § 238(2) to allow a notice of violation to describe the characteristics of the tractor and not the trailer housing the lift gate is rational, with a sound basis in the law, as a tractor is a “motor vehicle” under the VTL, while a trailer is not. Even if VTL § 238(2) were susceptible of another interpretation, such as the one petitioners advocate, the two conflicting interpretations regarding whether the provision applies to trailers would require the court to give the CAU's interpretation deference and uphold its reasonable interpretation. Golf v. New York State Dept. of Soc. Servs., 91 N.Y.2d at 667, 674 N.Y.S.2d 600, 697 N.E.2d 555; Chin v. New York City Bd. of Stds. & Appeals, 97 A.D.3d at 487, 948 N.Y.S.2d 300; Espada 2001 v. New York City Campaign Fin. Bd., 59 A.D.3d at 64, 870 N.Y.S.2d 293.
C. The “Body Type” Summonses
The CAU's determinations that the 1,019 “body type” summonses did not misdescribe the subject tractors' body types in violation of V.T.L. § 238(b) are inconsistent with the VTL and thus arbitrary. Neither of the VTL's separate definitions of “truck” and “trailer” allows a “trailer” to fall under the definition of a “truck.” VTL §§ 151–a, 158. Multiple provisions of the VTL treat “truck” and “trailer” as distinct vehicles, including VTL § 401(7)(B), which sets one registration fee for trucks and “light” delivery vehicles and another for tractors, and VTL § 501(2)(a)(iv), which expressly excludes tractors from license classes permitting operation of trucks, as well as VTL §§ 603(1), 605, 1683(a)(7), and 1800. The CAU's determination that a “tractor” may be accurately described as a “truck” and its use of the terms interchangeably, when the VTL repeatedly distinguishes the two terms, is thus unsupported by and contrary to the VTL and arbitrary.
The CAU's deviation from strict compliance with VTL § 238(2) extends beyond the deviation overturned in Nestle Waters North America, Inc. v. City of New York, 121 A.D.3d at 129, 990 N.Y.S.2d 512. There the court dismissed respondent City of New York's parking summonses because the notices of violation described trucks' license plates as “IRP” when the plates actually were labeled “apportioned.” Id. at 125, 990 N.Y.S.2d 512. The court recognized that the New York City Parking Violations Bureau used “IRP” and “APPORTIONED” interchangeably, but the use of “IRP” in place of “APPORTIONED” was still a misdescription that violated VTL § 238(2)'s requirements, id. at 129, 990 N.Y.S.2d 512, because the statute mandates strict compliance and does not allow for “administrative expedience.” Id. at 130, 990 N.Y.S.2d 512.
Here, petitioners presented evidence to the CAU that respondent City issued summonses to tractors that list the body type as “TRAC,” short for “tractor,” V. Pet. Ex. E–1, at 6, and thus that respondents' own internal systems separate trucks and delivery vehicles from tractors, yet respondent City's agents arbitrarily used “truck,” “DELV,” and “TRAC” interchangeably. Strict compliance with VTL § 238 required the City's agents to describe Sysco Metro tractors' body type accurately as “TRAC.” Respondents' acquiescence in the use of “truck” and “DELV” on summonses issued to tractors thus allowed a misdescription that mandates dismissal of the summonses. VTL § 238(b); Wheels, Inc. v. Parking Violations Bur. of Dept. of Transp. of City of NY, 80 N.Y.2d at 1016, 592 N.Y.S.2d 659, 607 N.E.2d 806; Ryder Truck Rental, Inc. v. Parking Violations Bur. of Dept. of Transp. of City of NY, 62 N.Y.2d at 669–70, 476 N.Y.S.2d 285, 464 N.E.2d 983; Nestle Waters N. Am., Inc. v. City of New York, 121 A.D.3d at 130, 990 N.Y.S.2d 512. Therefore the CAU's affirmances of Sysco Metro's guilt of the violations on these summonses are arbitrary, are contrary to the VTL, and must be vacated.
For the reasons explained above, the court grants the petition to the following extent. C.P.L.R. §§ 409(b), 7803(3), 7806. The court vacates the CAU's determinations finding petitioner Sysco Metro guilty of the violations on the 1,019 summonses that misdescribe the offending tractors' body type as anything other than “TRAC” or “tractor” and dismisses all those summonses. Respondents shall remit all fines petitioner Sysco Metro paid for these 1,019 violations and are enjoined from finding Sysco Metro guilty of the violations on any future summonses issued to tractors that misdescribe the tractor's body type as anything other than “TRAC” or “tractor.” The court otherwise denies the petition and dismisses its other claims for relief, including petitioner Parking Survival Experts' claims and all claims against respondent Jiha individually. C.P.L.R. §§ 409(b), 3217(a)(2), 7803(3), 7806.
Lucy Billings, J.
Response sent, thank you
Docket No: 101637/2015
Decided: September 20, 2017
Court: Supreme Court, New York County, New York.
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