Bicyclists who continued to challenge a New York City regulation requiring groups of more than 50 riders to obtain a permit "even though they had no real hope of success" will have to pay $16,000 in litigation costs, a federal judge has ruled. The ruling is the latest setback for Critical Mass, a leaderless group of riders who gather on the last Friday of every month in Manhattan and other locations around the globe.
In February, Southern District of New York Judge Lewis A. Kaplan tossed out a civil rights suit brought by the Five Borough Bicycle Club and several individual Critical Mass riders who challenged a 2007 amendment to New York City's parade regulations, which makes it illegal for a "recognizable group" of 50 or more individuals to participate in a procession or race without first obtaining a written permit from the city. Prior to dismissing the action, Kaplan had declined to enjoin the city from enforcing the regulation.
On Monday, the judge acknowledged that the case raised constitutional issues but faulted the plaintiffs, who were represented pro bono by Debevoise & Plimpton, for their "unwarranted persistence" in the case, which they litigated at "considerable cost to all concerned." While pro bono efforts "generally are to be applauded," Kaplan said that "they should be undertaken with special attention to the need for ensuring that matters are not pursued without regard to a lack of realistic prospects for success ... as well as the very real economic costs to adversaries."
A spokesperson from Debevoise declined to comment.
Kaplan ordered the plaintiffs to pay a total $16,000, or roughly one-half of the city's taxable litigation costs, which amounted to $32,000. Of that amount, he ordered the Five Borough Bicycle Club to pay $4,000 and each of six individual plaintiffs to pay $2,000.
"[T]he fact that the City of New York has a budget commensurate with its enormous size and the needs of its people does not justify disregarding that its budget comes from its citizens, that its citizens have a valid interest in having the City recoup such litigation costs as routinely are recovered by other successful litigants, and that suing the City should not be an entirely risk-free enterprise," the judge wrote.
The ruling in the case is Five Borough Bicycle Club v. City of New York, 07 Civ. 2448.