NYC Owes Cabbies a Fair Hearing on License Suspensions

MANHATTAN (CN) – Reviving a suit by taxi drivers who endured license suspensions after criminal arrests, the Second Circuit ruled Friday that New York City did not give the drivers a fair hearing, as is due with their very livelihoods on the line.

Taxicabs speed down Broadway near the intersection of Seventh Avenue and 42nd street in New York’s Times Square on May 5, 2005. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Led by Jonathan Nnebe, one of the cases reversed today has been winding through the clogged-up thoroughfares of New York’s Southern District for more than a decade.

Nnebe and his co-plaintiffs each lost their licenses for several months after getting arrested on third-degree assault charges that never held up. Anthony Stallworth, seeking to lead a class of drivers who were arrested for leaving the scene of an accident and ultimately pleaded guilty to reduced charges, did not bring his suit until after Nnebe’s case already went to trial.

They claimed that, although New York City’s Taxi and Limousine Commission gives arrested drivers a post-suspension hearing, no driver has ever had his license reinstated following such a hearing, making the process a farce.

U.S. District Judge Richard Sullivan nevertheless sided with the TLC at trial, finding that the hearing it provides are fair.

The Second Circuit disagreed in a unanimous 3-0 ruling today.

“We first determine that evidence of a driver’s ongoing danger to health and public safety is relevant under the statutory and regulatory scheme,” U.S. Circuit Judge Gerard Lynch wrote for the court. “We then conclude that, in light of the significant private interest at stake, the unacceptably high risk of erroneous deprivation, and the fact that additional safeguards can be provided with minimal burden on governmental resources, the TLC’s refusal to consider such evidence violates due process.”

The cabbies’ attorney Daniel Ackman applauded the finding.

“This decision is a longtime coming and extremely welcome news,” Ackman wrote in a statement. “The idea that the TLC and the city could summarily suspend a taxi driver with a spotless record and then extend that suspension based on an entirely bogus hearing has always seemed unconstitutional to us.”

Friday’s ruling said Sullivan did get part of it: Drivers are not entitled to pre-suspension hearings because “the government’s interest in protecting the public is greater than the driver’s interest in an immediate hearing.”

It is only after a suspension, the panel said, that due-process protections kick into gear.

Chief U.S. Circuit Robert Katzmann and his colleague Peter Hall rounded out the panel.

The New York City Law Department declined to comment.

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