Since he moved to Manhattan from Brooklyn in the early 1990s, Brian Lewis Bromberg has been an on-and-off car owner.
And the first time he signed up for a monthly spot to park his car in Manhattan, he found out about a little-known perk: Manhattan residents who rent monthly spots in garages in the borough are exempt from an 8 percent parking surtax that everyone else must pay.
“From the get-go, I thought there was something inherently unfair about it,” Mr. Bromberg said. But he added, “If someone gives you a tax break, you’re not going to say, ‘No, I’m not going to take it.’”
But now, perhaps channeling his inner Warren Buffett, Mr. Bromberg is attempting to level the taxpaying playing field between himself and every non-Manhattanite who parks in his home borough. He is one of the lawyers representing five people who have sued in federal court in Manhattan to challenge the constitutionality of the exemption.
“There’s no reason why someone in Queens and Brooklyn, who frequently will be poorer than someone in Manhattan, should have to pay this tax,” Mr. Bromberg said, “but the Manhattanites shouldn’t have to pay it.”
But the lawsuit was dealt a blow last week when a federal appeals court upheld a lower court’s dismissal of the lawsuit on the ground that it was a state tax matter that had no place in federal court.
Now, Mr. Bromberg and his law partner, Harley J. Schnall — who filed the lawsuit on behalf of Charles Joseph, Jeffrey Unger, Stefan Wolkenfeld, Bruce Glickman and Bruce Schwartz — must decide whether to take their case to state court.
They initially decided to file their claim in federal court because they thought it was a better forum to address the issues they raised.
“In federal court they tend to more frequently encounter these constitutional issues,” Mr. Bromberg said.
The federal lawsuit was filed against several city and state officials, including Michael Hyman, the commissioner of the city’s Department of Finance; Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg; and former Governors George E. Pataki, Eliot Spitzer and David A. Paterson.
The suit challenged the exemption, which the Legislature enacted in 1985. The exemption is not applicable to the 18.375 percent tax on fees for short-term parking in Manhattan lots and garages, which everyone must pay.
In a 12-page decision, the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit ruled that the plaintiffs’ case did not meet the burden for a federal court deciding a state tax issue.
“In this case, the rights asserted can hardly be seen as fundamental in the relevant sense,” the opinion said. “The exemption burdens but one mode of travel, and not that drastically.”
Although the court upheld the dismissal, Mr. Bromberg said he was encouraged because it did not say the plaintiffs’ arguments had no merit.
“I think everyone would agree that the parking exemption is unfair,” he said.
But Joshua Wolff, a lawyer for the city, said in a statement, “We are extremely pleased that the Circuit Court affirmed the lower court’s dismissal on comity grounds, holding both that the parking surtax exemption afforded to Manhattan residents does not implicate any fundamental constitutional right and that state court is therefore the proper forum in which to address a case such as this.”
A&L Goodbody, an Irish law firm, announced this week that it was expanding its practice in New York. Goodbody was the first Irish firm to open an office in the United States in the 1970s, according to a press release. The firm provides advice on Irish law, with offices in Dublin, Belfast, London and New York. Cian McCourt, a partner at the firm, will head the expanded New York office.
John Eligon and other court reporters for The New York Times take you inside the city’s halls of law every Friday. Have a tip? Send an e-mail message to [email protected].