Justia U.S. 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Civil Rights
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The Second Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of petitioner's second or successive petition for writ of habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. 2255. The court concluded that the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (AEDPA), as well as United States v. McCoy, 995 F.3d at 32, bars petitioner from raising his claim arguing that his consecutive ten-year sentence is invalid because attempted Hobbs Act robbery is not a crime of violence. Applying the deferential clear standard of review, the court also concluded that the district court did not reversibly err in dismissing the petition and rejected petitioner's contention that his fifteen-year sentence as a career offender under the Armed Career Criminal Act is invalid in light of the Supreme Court's decision in Johnson v. United States, 576 U.S. 591 (2015). View "Savoca v. United States" on Justia Law

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Teachers and school administrators challenge the denial of motions to preliminarily enjoin the enforcement of an order issued by the New York City Commissioner of Health and Mental Hygiene mandating that individuals who work in New York City schools be vaccinated against the COVID-19 virus.The Second Circuit concluded that the Vaccine Mandate does not violate the First Amendment on its face. However, the court concluded that plaintiffs have established their entitlement to preliminary relief on the narrow ground that the procedures employed to assess their religious accommodation claims were likely constitutionally infirm as applied to them. The court explained that the Accommodation Standards as applied here were neither neutral nor generally applicable to plaintiffs, and thus the court applied a strict scrutiny analysis at this stage of the proceeding. The court concluded that these procedures cannot survive strict scrutiny because denying religious accommodations based on the criteria outlined in the Accommodation Standards, such as whether an applicant can produce a letter from a religious official, is not narrowly tailored to serve the government's interest in preventing the spread of COVID-19. Accordingly, the court vacated the district court's orders denying preliminary relief and concurred with and continued the interim relief granted by the motions panel as to these fifteen individual plaintiffs. The court remanded for further proceedings. View "Kane v. De Blasio" on Justia Law

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The Second Circuit affirmed the district court's judgment entered pursuant to a jury verdict and a retrial on damages, awarding $90,000 in compensatory damages and $355,000 in punitive damages to plaintiff on his excessive force claims against police officers. Plaintiff's 42 U.S.C. 1983 action alleged that the officers subjected him to unprovoked, excessive force, and then took substantial coordinated steps to cover up their misconduct. The court concluded that the district court did not abuse its discretion in upholding the jury's $355,000 punitive damages award after retrial and that the damages were reasonable in light of the officers' misconduct. The court also concluded that the district court did not abuse its discretion in remitting the compensatory damages award after the first trial to $115,000. Therefore, the compensatory award of $90,000 after retrial stands. View "Jennings v. Yurkiw" on Justia Law

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Shortly after midnight, Suffolk County police officers went to Torcivia’s home in response to what was described as a violent domestic incident, after Torcivia’s daughter called an emergency child protection hotline. The officers determined that Torcivia, who admittedly had been drinking, needed to be transported to a state-run mental health facility for evaluation. While he was at the facility, the officers seized his firearms from his home pending further investigation. Torcivia argues that in doing so, the officers acted pursuant to an official county policy or custom that violated the Fourth Amendment, making the county subject to “Monell” liability.The Second Circuit affirmed the dismissal of Torcivia’s 42 U.S.C. 1983 claims. Although the evidence permitted a reasonable jury to find that it was a “standard procedure” for county officers to temporarily take action to “safeguard weapons until whatever investigation is done” if “there is a domestic incident and somebody is transported to CPEP,” the county is not liable under Monell. The policy falls within the “special needs” exception to the Fourth Amendment’s warrant requirement; under these circumstances, the county’s policy did not cause a violation of Torcivia’s Fourth Amendment rights. Employees of the state-run mental health facility were entitled to qualified immunity under federal and New York law for claims related to their alleged failure to discharge Torcivia promptly. View "Torcivia v. Suffolk County, New York" on Justia Law

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New York’s “Prevention of COVID-19 transmission” Rule, issued in August 2021, directs hospitals, nursing homes, hospices, adult care facilities, and other healthcare entities to “continuously require” certain employees to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19. It establishes a medical exemption to the requirement, but—consistent with New York’s prior vaccination requirements for healthcare workers—does not include an exemption based on religious belief. The Rule permits, but does not require, employers to make other accommodations for individuals who choose not to be vaccinated based on their sincere religious beliefs.The plaintiffs, primarily healthcare workers, challenged the Rule, claiming that being vaccinated would violate their religious beliefs because the vaccines were developed or produced using cell lines derived from cells obtained from voluntarily aborted fetuses. One district court enjoined the Rule insofar as it prevented healthcare workers from being eligible for a religious exemption; the other denied relief.The Second Circuit rejected the Plaintiffs’ claims. With respect to the Free Exercise claim, they have not established that they are likely to prove that the Rule is not a neutral law of general applicability or that it does not satisfy rational basis review. Nor have they demonstrated a likelihood of success on their Supremacy Clause claim; they have not shown that it would likely be impossible for employers to comply with both the Rule and Title VII. The Plaintiffs are not likely to succeed on their claim that the Rule contravenes the Fourteenth Amendment. View "We The Patriots USA, Inc. v. Hochul" on Justia Law

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The Second Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of plaintiff's 42 U.S.C. 1983 claims against the judges, prosecutors, public defenders, and probation officers who were involved in his criminal case and confinement. On appeal, plaintiff challenges the dismissal of one claim, which relates to the probation officer defendants' public disclosure of sensitive information about his substance abuse treatment.The court held that 42 U.S.C. 290dd-2(a) does not itself confer upon patients who receive substance abuse treatment a personal right to confidentiality enforceable in an action under section 1983. The court explained that the confidentiality provision "encourages voluntary participation in such programs" on the part of drug users and benefits the public, but it does not create a personal right to privacy. Furthermore, while personal rights could in principle be derived from criminal statutes, courts normally infer a private right of action from a criminal statute only if the relevant factors weigh with force in that direction. In this case, they do not. The court considered plaintiff's remaining arguments and concluded that they are without merit. View "Schlosser v. Kwak" on Justia Law

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The Second Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of plaintiff's First Amendment retaliation claim, procedural due process claim, and equal protection claim against the DOE and UFT for failure to state a claim under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6).In regard to the fair representation claim, the court affirmed the district court's dismissal with prejudice but clarified that the claim should have been dismissed for failure to state a claim rather than for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. The court explained that Congress has not limited the subject matter jurisdiction of the federal courts. It has defined the requirements of a cause of action under the National Labor Relations Act to extend only to circumstances in which the employer is not a state or a political subdivision of a state. In this case, because plaintiff cannot allege that he worked for an "employer" under the Act, he fails to state a claim against UFT for violating its duty of fair representation, and his complaint is properly dismissed under Rule 12(b)(6).In regard to plaintiff's 42 U.S.C. 1983 claims against the DOE, the court concluded that the district court correctly determined plaintiff failed to allege sufficient facts to support the inference that the alleged racial discrimination and First Amendment retaliation resulted from an official custom or policy. The court rejected plaintiff's contention that the DOE deviated from New York Education Law 3020-a procedures and this amounted to a constitutional due process violation. Furthermore, plaintiff's argument that the arbitrator was biased fails because due process does not require that pre-termination hearings occur before a neutral adjudicator. The court also concluded that the district court properly dismissed plaintiff's claim of discrimination against public school teachers in New York City based on different procedures for selecting disciplinary hearing arbitrators. Finally, to the extent that plaintiff asserts a new equal protection claim on appeal due to treatment of public school employees represented by a different union, that claim is not properly before the court. View "Green v. Department of Education of the City of New York" on Justia Law

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In May 2020, at the height of the pandemic, New York City amended its Residential and Non-Residential Harassment Laws, to prohibit “threatening” tenants based on their “status as a person or business impacted by COVID-19, or . . . receipt of a rent concession or forbearance for any rent owed during the COVID-19 period,” and added the “Guaranty Law,” which renders permanently unenforceable personal liability guarantees of commercial lease obligations for businesses that were required to cease or limit operations pursuant to a government order. For rent arrears arising during March 7, 2020-June 30, 2021, the Guaranty Law extinguishes a landlord’s ability to enforce a personal guaranty.In a suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983, the plaintiffs alleged that the Harassment Amendments violated the Free Speech and Due Process Clauses of the U.S. and New York Constitutions by impermissibly restricting commercial speech in the ordinary collection of rents and by failing to provide fair notice of what constitutes threatening conduct. Plaintiffs further alleged that the Guaranty Law violated the Contracts Clause, which prohibits “State . . . Law[s] impairing the Obligation of Contracts.” The district court dismissed the suit.The Second Circuit affirmed in part, agreeing that the plaintiffs failed to allege plausible free speech and due process claims. The court reinstated the challenge to the Guaranty Law. The Guaranty Law significantly impairs personal guaranty agreements; there are at least five serious concerns about that law being a reasonable and appropriate means to pursue the professed public purpose. View "Melendez v. City of New York" on Justia Law

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The Second Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of plaintiffs' motion for a preliminary injunction directing defendant officials of the DOCCS to rescind changes in the scheduling of certain regularly-held Quaker religious gatherings at Green Haven Correctional Facility. The court agreed with the district court that a preliminary injunction is not warranted because plaintiffs are unable to demonstrate a likelihood of success on the merits of their claims.After determining that it has jurisdiction to address the merits of the appeal, the court concluded that, at least insofar as they challenge substantive restrictions on their ability to conduct religious services and meetings in accordance with their beliefs, plaintiffs have established that any violation of their religious liberties would satisfy the irreparable injury standard. However, the court concluded that the claims of Green Haven Meeting, as well as those of the Incarcerated Plaintiffs suing in their own names, must be dismissed for failure to exhaust administrative remedies. In regard to the Non-Incarcerated Plaintiffs, the court concluded that the changes in the times of the Quarterly Meetings, and the eventual cancellation of those meetings, did not infringe their rights under the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment. The court found persuasive defendants' contention that plaintiffs failed to clearly establish that defendants' actions concerning Quarterly Meetings substantially burden plaintiffs' exercise of religion since defendants rescheduled the meetings for Friday evenings and did not terminate them. Furthermore, the record reinforces the district court's conclusion that defendants' rescheduling decision was supported by legitimate concerns. Finally, the court concluded that the balance of equities and the public interest do not tip in favor of granting a preliminary injunction. View "Green Haven Prison Preparative Meeting v. New York State Dept. of Corrections" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs, Falun Gong practitioners, filed suit claiming that defendants harassed them in violation of the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act of 1994 (FACEA). On interlocutory appeal, the Second Circuit concluded that "a place of religious worship" means anywhere that religious adherents collectively recognize or religious leadership designates as a space primarily to gather for or hold religious worship activities. In this case, the sidewalk tables plaintiffs used for their protests do not qualify because the undisputed record shows that plaintiffs and their fellow practitioners treated the tables primarily as a base for protesting the Chinese Communist Party's alleged abuses against Falun Gong, rather than for religious worship. Furthermore, because plaintiff's 18 U.S.C. 248(a)(2) claim fails on this statutory ground, the court did not reach the constitutional issues. The court reversed the district court's partial grant of summary judgment to plaintiffs and its denial of summary judgment to defendants, remanding for further proceedings. View "Zhang Jingrong v. Chinese Anti-Cult World Alliance Inc." on Justia Law