Thursday, July 25, 2019

NYC's driver suspension procedure violates due process

The City of New York has an elaborate process that kicks in when taxicab drivers are arrested. When that happens, their licenses are suspended. The drivers can then request a hearing to have the suspensions lifted. The taxi drivers sued the City under the Due Process Clause, claiming these hearings are a sham. The City loses the case, which provides a good tutorial on how federal due process cases are decided.

The case is Nnebe v. Daus, issued on July 19. These post-suspension hearings are impossible to win (though, in the end, most are able to resume driving their taxi's through a favorable disposition of their criminal cases). The Court (Katzmann, Lynch and Hall) notes that almost no one wins these hearings. Only three drivers out of hundreds of hearings have actually won their hearings, and all three cases were decided by the same ALJ, who was "promptly reprimanded" and "took care not to make another such recommendation for fear that the would be transferred to a less desirable work location." So those three wins were quirks. I guess they were supposed to lose.

The question is whether the post-suspension hearings provide an opportunity for a taxi driver to assert that, even if the criminal charges are true, continued licensure does not pose any safety concerns. Since the drivers do not have that opportunity, the hearings violate due process, in part because no one ever wins them.

The Court first finds that the hearings implicate an important private interest in the taxi drivers earning a living. So they win that prong of the three-part due process analysis under Matthews v. Eldridge (1976), which remains the Supreme Court's seminal procedural due process case. The Cost next examines the risk of erroneous deprivation from the hearings. That's part two of the Matthews test. The Court notes, that once the process exhausts itself, as many as 90 percent of the drivers are back on the road, driving like maniacs again. Since that high number includes drivers whose licenses were initially suspended, the system in place does pose a risk of erroneous deprivations. So the plaintiffs win that prong also, and that makes them two-for-two in the Matthews equation.

The Court turns to the third Matthews prong, which weighs the governmental interest in immediately suspending the licenses upon a driver arrest. "While we take seriously the Government interest implicated [ensuring the safety of the tax-riding public and maintaining the pubic trust in taxi's], we hold that, given the potential of conducting far more meaningful hearings at little or no additional financial or administrative cost to the [Taxi and Limousine Commission], that interest is outweighed by the private interest at stake and the unacceptably high risk of erroneous deprivation."

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