Monday, August 6, 2012

Due process extravaganza for City taxi drivers

In this complex procedural due process case, the Court of Appeals finds that the City of New York may have violated the rights of taxi cab drivers in many, many ways. The Court vacates summary judgment in one of the longest and detailed summary orders I have ever seen.

The case is Rothenberg v Daus, decided on June 4. The Second Circuit usually issues brief summary orders when they affirm summary judgment. The orders are a few pages long and do not break new legal ground. This case is eight single-spaced pages with a ton of different holdings. Could've been a published opinion.

Anyway, the City heavily regulates taxi drivers, for good reason. If you think the legal taxi drivers are crazy, imagine the ones who actually lose their taxi licenses. This case concerns due process for suspending and revoking taxicab drivers licenses when, for example, the drivers fail a drug test. If you are a due process junkie, then this case is for you. There are six or seven holdings which vacate summary judgment because the plaintiffs could win at trial.

If you're not a due process junkie, here are some highlights: the drivers did not have fair warning that they could lose their jobs if they fail a drug test. The rules say that drivers licenses "may" be revoked after a hearing if they fail the test. This looks permissive, not mandatory. The district court should consider whether this violates the due process right to fair notice of the consequence of failing the drug test. It is also possible, the Court of Appeals says, that specific rules governing drugs suggest that a failed drug test will not be grounds for revocation without a finding of addiction or on-duty use.

Another flaw in the taxi rules is that a driver can lose his taxi license if he is found to lack "good moral character." This is a vague standard. It all depends on what the driver did wrong. An unpublished city policy says that some convictions automatically cost the driver his taxi license. For example, illegal use of alcohol while driving is a per se terminable offense, and someone testified that "TLC had a zero tolerance policy for convictions" even though state law requires employers to take a variety of factors into account. The Second Circuit says, "The question is thus whether a taxi driver familiar with the rules would reasonably have expected a per se determination that certain convictions rendered him unfit rather than a case-by case
inquiry interpreting good moral character in light of the detailed regulations. We therefore vacate and remand for full consideration of this question in light of the evidence."

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