Battle v. City of New York (Challenging NYPD practice of searching innocent livery cab passengers)

S.D.N.Y., Index No. 11 CV 3599 (direct)

This lawsuit challenges the NYPD’s unlawful practice of detaining, questioning and searching innocent New Yorkers – particularly blacks, Latinos and other non-whites – while they are passengers in livery cabs.

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, maintains that the NYPD uses its Taxi/Livery Inspection Program (TRIP) to expand the reach of its unconstitutional stop-and-frisk practices. The lawsuit does not challenge safety stops of livery cars but seeks to halt the NYPD’s practice of using these stops to detain, question and search passengers who are not suspected of any wrongdoing.

The plaintiffs in the case were riding in livery cabs and were detained, questioned and searched even though the livery drivers told officers there was no problem and even though the officers did not suspect the plaintiffs of any wrongdoing. The lawsuit asks the court to declare that the NYPD’s actions violate constitutional protections against unreasonable searches. It seeks an injunction to end abuses of the TRIP program and to require new training and close supervision of the program. The City of New York, NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly and individual police officers are named as defendants.

Plaintiff Terrance Battle, a 38-year-old radio executive, stand-up comic, and father of two children, frequently takes livery cars. Late at night on Oct. 30, 2010, Battle was taking a livery car to his home in Bedford-Stuyvesant following a performance in Manhattan when three police officers pulled over the car on Battle’s street. After talking to the driver and being told everything was fine, the officers ordered Battle out of the car. Though frightened, Battle complied with the order. At the officers’ request, he provided them his ID. The officers frisked him and searched his pockets and bag. When he asked why he was being searched, one of the officers pointed to a TRIP decal on the car and explained that the search was standard practice under TRIP.

Plaintiff Munir Pujara, a 37-year-old lawyer and Harlem resident of South Asian descent, routinely takes livery cars between his Bronx law office and his home. At about 11:30 p.m. on Sept. 3, 2010, Pujara hailed a livery car to return home from work. Shortly into the journey, police pulled over the car. An officer asked the driver about his safety, and the driver said everything was fine. An officer then ordered Pujara to get out the car. When Pujara questioned their right to do this, they threatened him with arrest.

Pujara then got out of the car and was told to turn around and place his hands on the roof and to spread his legs to be searched. He told the officers they had no right to search him, but they insisted they did, pointing to the TRIP decal on the car.

On Jan. 13, 2012, U.S. District Judge Richard M. Berman denied the city's motion to dimiss the case. The judge also denied a motion by the New York State Federation of Taxi Drivers to intervene in the case as a defendant.

The case was settled on May 14, 2012. Under the settlement, the NYPD instructed all officers about the lawful treatment of passengers, directing them that they are not to question, frisk, search or demand identification from passengers simply because they are riding in cars participating in the TRIP program. Instead, officers are to take no action against passengers unless the officers have independent suspicion that the passenger has committed a crime. The NYPD agreed to repeat these instructions in six months and again in a year from the date of the settlement.

In addition, the NYPD issued an operations order to commanding officers throughout the Department directing them to assure that passengers are not mistreated under the TRIP program. Finally, the NYPD agreed to add a training memorandum on TRIP to the NYPD Police Student’s Guide, which is used in the training of cadets at the NYPD Police Academy.

Under the settlement, the city will pay both plaintiffs $10,000 in damages, as well as attorneys’ fees.

NYU Law School Civil Rights Clinic students Lisa Braff and Evan Parzych worked with NYCLU Associate Legal Director Christopher Dunn to prepare the lawsuit.