United States District Court, D. Vermont
OPINION AND ORDER DENYING PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR
LEAVE TO AMEND (Doc. 33)
CHRISTINA REISS, DISTRICT JUDGE
Michael Bandler brings this action on behalf of himself and
all other similarly situated persons against the Town of
Woodstock (the "Town"), the Village of Woodstock
(the "Village"),  the State of Vermont (the
"State"), and John Doe Defendants who are "in
privy with the named Defendants" (collectively,
"Defendants"). (Doc. 9 at 2, ¶ 6.) Plaintiff
seeks to assert four claims arising out of a traffic citation
he was issued on June 20, 2015 in the Village: (1) the
Village ordinance authorizing the citation is void for
vagueness; (2) the relevant speed limit sign in the Village
was illegal and violated Plaintiffs due process rights under
the Fourteenth Amendment and the Vermont Constitution; (3)
citations issued pursuant to 23 V.S A. § 1007 are
illegal and violate Plaintiffs and putative class
members' due process rights; and (4) Defendants Town,
Village, and proposed new defendants Philip B. Swanson,
Robbie Blish, and Candace Coburn committed civil rights
violations under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 based on the lack of
sufficient notice they provided to motorists regarding the
legal basis for speeding violations.
March 28, 2019, the court dismissed Plaintiffs Complaint,
concluding Plaintiff lacked standing to pursue his claims.
Pending before the court is Plaintiffs motion for leave to
amend. (Doc. 33.) Defendants oppose the motion, arguing that
Plaintiffs proposed amendments are futile because they do not
cure the defects in Plaintiffs initial Complaint.
is represented by Eric K. Goldwarg, Esq. and P. Scott McGee
III, Esq. The Village and Town are represented by Kaveh S.
Shahi, Esq. Vermont Assistant Attorney General David R.
McLean represents the State.
The Allegations of the Proposed Amended Complaint.
20, 2015, Plaintiff was driving west on U.S. Route 4, a
"state highway" as defined in 19 V.S.A. § 14
and passed through the Town before crossing into the Village
where a sign indicated a posted speed limit of twenty-five
miles per hour. A Town police officer executed a traffic stop
of Plaintiff s vehicle for driving over the posted speed
limit. In the course of the stop, the Town police officer
issued Plaintiff a citation (the "Citation") for
violating 23 V.S.A. § 1007, which, among other things,
authorizes Vermont municipalities to establish "a speed
limit on all or a part of any city, town, or village highway
within [their] jurisdiction[.]" Id. at §
1007(a)(1). Plaintiff was cited with traveling forty
miles per hour in a twenty-five mile per hour zone. The
Citation referenced 23 V.S.A. § 1007 but did not refer
to the applicable subsection of that statute or the
Village's speed limit ordinance, 8 W.V.O. § 8221
challenged the Citation in the Vermont Judicial Bureau. The
hearing officer found Plaintiff guilty of speeding and
entered judgment against him. Plaintiff appealed that
decision to the Vermont Superior Court and demanded a de
novo jury trial. On June 2, 2016, the morning
of the jury trial, the Windsor County Deputy State's
Attorney informed the Vermont Superior Court that the State
was dismissing the Citation because of a defect in the
alleges the Citation's lack of reference to the Ordinance
"prevented him from preparing an adequate defense at the
Vermont Judicial Bureau hearing," where he would have
"likely prevailed." (Doc. 33-1 at 9, ¶ 55.) He
further asserts that his "due process rights were
violated by not receiving a citation to the particular
subsection and the applicable Ordinance he was alleged to
have violated. Because of this violation of [his] due process
rights, [he] incurred $120 in appellate court fees and
countless wasted hours." Id. at 9-10, ¶
time the Citation was issued, Plaintiff alleges that the
Ordinance provided in relevant part that:
(a) No person shall drive a vehicle at any time on any public
roadway in the Village at a speed in excess of twenty-five
miles per hour.
(b) The Chief of Police shall erect and maintain signs . . .
giving notice of the maximum speed limit established under
subsection (a) of this section.
(d) No person shall drive a vehicle at a speed greater than
35 MPH, on Route 4, from the Westerly terminus at the Fire
Station, easterly to the Village boundary.
Id. at 4-5, ¶ 21.
asserts that the Ordinance was "defective" because
subsection (a) established a speed limit of twenty-five miles
per hour throughout the entire Village, whereas subsection
(d) imposed a speed limit of thirty-five miles per hour on
the portion of Route 4 in the Village where Plaintiff was
stopped. Id. at 5, ¶ 23. He alleges that at the
time he was stopped, he was "traveling at or below 35
mph, which is below the 35 mph speed limit set forth in
subsection (d) of the [O]rdinance," id. at 5,
¶ 26, and that after the Citation was dismissed, the
Village struck subsection (d) from the Ordinance.
further alleges that "[u]pon information and belief, in
2017 alone, 765 traffic tickets were issued in the Town[,
]" id. at 6, ¶ 32, and that "tens of
thousands" of speeding tickets "were illegally and
unconstitutionally issued" by the Town and Village since
the Ordinance was enacted in 1993. (Doc. 33-1 at 6, ¶
35.) On behalf of all motorists who received citations based
on the Ordinance, Plaintiff seeks refunds of their fines, as
well as recovery for the collateral consequences they
suffered as a result of the purportedly illegal citations. He
contends that many of the traffics stops may have created
probable cause for investigating police officers to expand
the stops into searches, and that all of the criminal charges
grounded on the illegal traffic stops must be vacated.
Plaintiff seeks certification of a class of those individuals
who were the subject of allegedly illegal stops under
alleges that the Village is liable because it passed the
defective Ordinance, and that the Town is liable because it
is part of the Village and its police officers
"likely" issued most of the putative class
members' tickets. Id. at 7, ¶ 41. He
contends that the State is equally liable "because of
its revenue-sharing arrangement with local municipalities
that issue uniform civil violation complaints."
Id. at 7, ¶ 42. In addition, Plaintiff asserts
that an unnamed group of "John Doe Defendants" are
liable to him and the proposed class members for
"continu[ing] to issue traffic tickets that cite to 23
V.S.A. § 1007 but do not reference the particular
subsection ... or to the local ordinance that the motorist is
alleged to have violated." Id. at 11, ¶
proposed Amended Complaint, Plaintiff seeks to add four new
defendants: (1) Defendant Philip B. Swanson ("Defendant
Swanson"), the Town and Village's Municipal Manager,
whom Plaintiff alleges is liable as a result of his duty to
ensure the validity of the Town and Village ordinances; (2)
Defendant Robbie Blish ("Defendant Blish"), the
Town and Village's Chief of Police, who is allegedly
liable due to his duty to properly train his officers to
enforce valid Town and Village ordinances and properly cite
individuals for violations thereunder; (3) Defendant Candance
Coburn ("Defendant Coburn"), the Town and
Village's Treasurer, whose alleged liability stems from
her responsibility to accept revenues for the Town and
Village; and (4) Defendant Beth Pearce ("Defendant
Pearce"), the State Treasurer, who is allegedly liable
because she, like Defendant Coburn, "had the
responsibility to accept revenues for . . . the State of
Vermont. . . from legal sources, including, but not limited
to, revenues from legally issued speeding citations."
Id. at 8, ¶ 45.
Conclusions of Law and Analysis.
Standard of Review.
Civ. P. 15(a)(2) provides that "a party may amend its
pleading only with the opposing party's written consent
or the court's leave. The court should freely give leave
when justice so requires." Fed.R.Civ.P.
15(a)(2). "The rule in this Circuit has been to
allow a party to amend its pleadings in the absence of a
showing by the nonmovant of prejudice or bad faith."
Pasternackv. Shrader, 863 F.3d 162, 174 (2d Cir.
2017) (citation and internal quotation marks omitted);
see also Foman v. Davis, 371 U.S. 178, 182 (1962)
("If the underlying facts or circumstances relied upon
by a plaintiff may be a proper subject of relief, he ought to
be afforded an opportunity to test his claim on the
merits."). "Generally, a district court has
discretion to deny leave for good reason, including futility,
bad faith, undue delay, or undue prejudice to the opposing
party." Holmes v. Grubman, 568 F.3d 329, 334
(2d Cir. 2009) (alteration, citation, and internal quotation
proposed amendment to a complaint is futile when it
'could not withstand a motion to dismiss.'"
Balintulo v. Ford Motor Co.,796 F.3d 160, 164-65
(2d Cir. 2015) (quoting Lucente v. Int'lBus. Machs.
Corp.,310 F.3d 243, 258 (2d Cir. 2002)). For this
reason, leave to amend will be denied if the proposed
pleading fails to set forth "sufficient factual matter,
accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is
plausible on its face." Ashcroftv. Iqbal, 556
U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (citation and internal quotation marks
omitted). The sufficiency of a plaintiff s complaint is
evaluated using a "two-pronged approach[.]"
Hayden v. Paterson,594 F.3d 150, 161 (2d Cir. 2010)
(quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679). First, the court
discounts legal conclusions or "[t]hreadbare recitals of
the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere
conclusory statements[.]" Iqbal, 556 U.S. at
678. Second, the court considers whether the factual
allegations, taken as true, "plausibly give rise to an
entitlement to relief." Id. at 679. This second
step is fact-bound and context-specific, requiring the trial
court "to draw on its judicial experience and common
sense." Id. The court does not "weigh the
evidence" or "evaluate the likelihood" that a
plaintiff will prevail on his or her claims. Christiansen