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Bandler v. Town of Woodstock

United States District Court, D. Vermont

October 31, 2019

MICHAEL BANDLER, Plaintiff,
v.
TOWN OF WOODSTOCK, VILLAGE OF WOODSTOCK, STATE OF VERMONT, and JOHN DOES 1-300, Defendants.

          OPINION AND ORDER DENYING PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR LEAVE TO AMEND (Doc. 33)

          CHRISTINA REISS, DISTRICT JUDGE

         Plaintiff 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"), [1] 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.

         On 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.

         Plaintiff 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.

         I. The Allegations of the Proposed Amended Complaint.

         On June 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).[2] 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 (the "Ordinance").

         Plaintiff 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 Ordinance.

         Plaintiff 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, ¶ 55.

         At the 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.

         Plaintiff 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.

         Plaintiff 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 Fed.R.Civ.P. 23.

         Plaintiff 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, ¶ 61.

         In his 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.

         II. Conclusions of Law and Analysis.

         A. Standard of Review.

         Fed. R. 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).[3] "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 marks omitted).

         "A 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 ...


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