Justia U.S. 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Civil Rights
Murphy v. Hughson et al.
Plaintiff was sitting on a bus when police officers boarded the bus, removed him, and arrested him on a misdemeanor bench warrant. Plaintiff, then 67 years old, was a resident of the City of Elmira (the "City"), in Chemung County (the "County"), New York. Plaintiff was taken to the County Jail, where an officer subjected him to a visual body cavity strip search. In addition, although Plaintiff’s girlfriend promptly posted his bail, his release was delayed about two hours. Plaintiff sued the County, the City, and officers in the County Sheriff's Department and City Police Department in the Western District of New York pursuant to 42 U.S.C. Section 1983. The district court dismissed the claims against the City and County at the outset of the case and eventually granted summary judgment dismissing the claims against the individual defendants as well. Plaintiff appealed the dismissal of the claims against the individual defendants. The Second Circuit affirmed in part, vacated in part, and remanded. The court explained that on the record, a reasonable jury could find that, instead of simply following the orders of a superior officer, the corrections officer was a party to harassment and demeaning conduct culminating in the search -- conduct that he, and other reasonable officers, should have known had no legitimate penological purpose and was therefore unconstitutional. The court explained that a jury may find otherwise, but in light of these disputed material facts, the district court erred when it granted summary judgment on Plaintiff’s strip search claim. View "Murphy v. Hughson et al." on Justia Law
Billie R. Banks v. General Motors, LLC
Plaintiff, an African American woman, claims that her employer, defendant-appellee General Motors, LLC ("General Motors"), subjected her to a hostile work environment, race and sex discrimination, and retaliation at her place of employment, the General Motors plant in Lockport, New York. In the district court, Plaintiff presented evidence that, for example: a manager called her a "dumb n****r" in front of other employees; racist and sexist words or material were displayed around the plant; sexist comments were directed at her; the Confederate flag was depicted on employees' vehicles and clothing; and nooses were displayed on three separate occasions near the workstations of Black employees. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of General Motors, dismissing initially Plaintiff’s hostile work environment and disparate treatment claims and eventually her retaliation claim as well. The Second Circuit vacated and remanded. The court concluded that the district court erred because a reasonable jury could find that General Motors's decisions to delay Plaintiff’s return to work and to reassign her upon her return are adverse actions that give rise to an inference of discrimination. The court explained that a reasonable jury could also infer discriminatory intent in General Motors's decision to require that Plaintiff obtain psychiatric approval in contravention of company policy and contrary to the approval process Plaintiff had undergone for her prior disability leaves. The district court erred in determining that Plaintiff did not establish an inference of discrimination" when the proper inquiry was, instead, whether there was sufficient evidence for a reasonable jury to infer a discriminatory motive. View "Billie R. Banks v. General Motors, LLC" on Justia Law
Wheatley v. New York State United Teachers, et al.
A school bus driver filed an action under 42 U.S.C. Section 1983 against two public-sector unions and her employer, the New Hartford Central School District, alleging that their continued deduction of union fees from her paycheck following her resignation from both unions violated her First and Fourteenth Amendment rights under Janus v. Am. Fed’n of State, Cnty., and Mun. Emps., Council 31, 138 S. Ct. 2448 (2018). She appealed the dismissal of her claims, arguing that the district court erred by prematurely dismissing her claims against the unions for, among other things, failing to adequately plead state action. The Second Circuit affirmed. The court concluded that because Appellant voluntarily became a union member and affirmatively agreed to pay union dues through payroll deductions for a set period, the district court properly dismissed her claims. The court explained that New York’s Taylor Law guarantees public employees the right to choose whether to join the union as members, N.Y. Civ. Serv. Law Section 202 and prohibits any union or public employer from “interfering with, restraining or coercing public employees in the exercise of their rights.” Here, it is undisputed that Appellant voluntarily joined the Unions and authorized dues deductions from her wages when she signed the Membership Agreement in 2018. View "Wheatley v. New York State United Teachers, et al." on Justia Law
Heim v. Daniel
Plaintiff, an adjunct professor of economics at SUNY Albany, alleged that his failure to advance within his department to his colleagues’ unfavorable view of the methodology he employs in his scholarship. Plaintiff filed a lawsuit against Defendants, two of Plaintiff’s colleagues who were involved in the hiring decisions at issue. Plaintiff asserted three causes of action: (1) a claim for damages pursuant to 42 U.S.C. Section 1983 ; (2) a claim pursuant to Section 1983 for injunctive relief against SUNY Albany President in the form of a court order to “prevent ongoing discrimination against Keynesian economists” in violation of the First Amendment; and (3) an age discrimination claim under New York State’s Human Rights Law. The district court granted summary judgment to Defendants The Second Circuit affirmed. The court explained that while it disagrees with much of the district court’s reasoning, it nonetheless agrees with its ultimate disposition. The court held that Garcetti v. Ceballos, 547 U.S. 410 (2006), does not apply to speech related to academic scholarship or teaching and that Plaintiff’s speech addressed matters of public concern, but that Plaintiff’s First Amendment claim nonetheless fails because under Pickering v. Bd. of Educ., 391 U.S. 563 (1968), a public university’s interest in deciding for itself what skills, expertise, and academic perspectives it wishes to prioritize in its hiring and staffing decisions outweighs Plaintiff's asserted interest in competing for academic positions unencumbered by university decisionmakers’ assessment of his academic speech. View "Heim v. Daniel" on Justia Law
Rossbach et al. v. Montefiore Medical Center et al.
Plaintiff sued her employer, Defendant Montefiore Medical Center, and two of its employees, asserting claims of sexual harassment during and retaliatory discharge from her employment. Following the district court’s grant of partial summary judgment in their favor, Defendants moved to dismiss Plaintiff’s remaining claims and sought sanctions against Plaintiff and her counsel, Appellant Daniel Altaras and his firm, Appellant Derek Smith Law Group, PLLC (“DSLG”), contending that Plaintiff’s text message evidence was a forgery. The district court found by clear and convincing evidence that Plaintiff had fabricated the text messages, falsely testified about their production, and spoliated evidence in an attempt to conceal her wrongdoing. The district court also found that Altaras had facilitated Plaintiff’s misconduct. The district court dismissed Plaintiff’s remaining claims with prejudice and imposed a monetary sanction of attorneys’ fees, costs, and expenses incurred by Defendants. On appeal, Appellants challenged various aspects of the district court’s conduct. The court vacated the portion of the district court’s judgment imposing a sanction on Altaras and DSLG and remanded for further proceedings consistent. The court affirmed the judgment of the district court in all other respects. The court held that the district court erred by failing to expressly make the finding of bad faith required to support the sanction it imposed against Altaras and DSLG. The court directed that on remand, the district court may assess in its discretion whether Altaras’s misconduct—including his insistence on defending a complaint founded on obviously fabricated evidence or other actions—amounted to bad faith. View "Rossbach et al. v. Montefiore Medical Center et al." on Justia Law
Perry v. City of New York
In this collective action, a group of 2,519 EMTs and paramedics allege that their employer, the City of New York, willfully violated the Fair Labor Standards Act by requiring them to perform work before and after their shifts without paying them for that work unless the plaintiffs specifically requested overtime compensation from the City. The district entered a $17.78 million judgment against the City. The City appealed, raising four arguments: (1) the jury’s liability verdict cannot stand because plaintiffs failed to request overtime pay for the work at issue; (2) the jury’s willfulness finding was not supported by the evidence; (3) due to an erroneous instruction, the jury failed to make a necessary factual finding regarding the calculation of damages; and (4) the district court incorrectly forbade the jury from considering whether one component of the plaintiffs’ post-shift work was de minimis and therefore noncompensable. The City accordingly asked that the court reverse the jury’s verdict or remand for a new trial on damages. The Second Circuit affirmed. The court explained that here, each factor weighs against deeming plaintiffs’ post-shift work de minimis. First, post-shift work was very easy to record: CityTime already does, recording to the minute each post-shift sliver an EMT or paramedic spends at the station. Second, the court explained that the size of the claim favors plaintiffs. The City focuses exclusively on how much time the claimed work takes per day, but the proper inquiry is the amount of time claimed “in the aggregate.” Finally, plaintiffs’ post-shift work occurred regularly—the tasks had to be performed every day. View "Perry v. City of New York" on Justia Law
Horn v. Medical Marijuana, Inc.
Plaintiff-Appellant appealed from a district court order granting summary judgment to Defendants-Appellees on his claim under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (“RICO”). On appeal, Appellant argued that the district court erroneously held that he lacks RICO standing to sue for his lost earnings because those losses flowed from, or were derivative of, an antecedent personal injury. The Second Circuit vacated and remanded. The court explained that RICO’s civil-action provision, 18 U.S.C. Section 1964(c), authorizes a plaintiff to sue for injuries to “business or property.” While that language implies that a plaintiff cannot sue for personal injuries, that negative implication does not bar a plaintiff from suing for injuries to business or property simply because a personal injury was antecedent to those injuries. The court explained that it is simply wrong to suggest that the antecedent-personal-injury bar is necessary to ensure “genuine limitations” in Section 1964(c), or to give restrictive significance to Congress’s implicit intent to exclude some class of injuries by the phrase “business or property”’ when it enacted RICO. View "Horn v. Medical Marijuana, Inc." on Justia Law
Tafolla v. Heilig
Plaintiff appealed the district court’s judgment granting summary judgment in favor of Defendants County of Suffolk, Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office Division Chief Edward Heilig, and Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office Special Investigations Bureau Chief Joseph Carroll. Plaintiff was a Clerk Typist in the District Attorney’s Office from 2008 until her employment in the Special Investigations Bureau was terminated in 2015. She alleged that defendants discriminated against her based on her disability and retaliated against her for seeking an accommodation for that disability, in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, the New York State Human Rights Law, N.Y. Exec. Law Section 296, and 42 U.S.C. Section 1983. On appeal, Plaintiff argued that the district court erred in granting summary judgment on her reasonable accommodation and retaliation claims. The Second Circuit affirmed the district court’s judgment as to Plaintiff’s Section 1983 claim and vacated the district court’s judgment with respect to the reasonable accommodation and retaliation claims. The court agreed with Plaintiff that the district court erred in granting summary judgment on her reasonable accommodation and retaliation claims. The court explained that construing the evidence most favorably to Plaintiff, a rational jury could find that archiving was not an essential function of Plaintiff’s position and that defendants failed to provide a reasonable workplace accommodation for her disability. The court similarly concluded that disputed issues of material fact preclude summary judgment on Plaintiff’s retaliation claim. View "Tafolla v. Heilig" on Justia Law
Kerson v. Vermont Law School, Inc.
Plaintiff painted two large murals directly onto the walls inside a building on the campus of Defendant-Appellee Vermont Law School, Inc. The work stirred controversy, which eventually prompted the law school to erect a wall of acoustic panels around the murals to permanently conceal them from public view. Kerson brought suit against the law school, alleging that obscuring his work behind a permanent barrier violated his rights under the Visual Artists Rights Act of 1990 (“VARA”), which creates a cause of action for artists to prevent the modification and, in certain instances, destruction of works of visual art. The Second Circuit affirmed. The court held that merely ensconcing a work of art behind a barrier neither modifies nor destroys the work, as contemplated by VARA, and thus does not implicate VARA’s protections. The court explained that this case presents weighty concerns that pin an artist’s moral right to maintain the integrity of an artwork against a private entity’s control over the art in its possession. On the facts presented here, the court resolved this tension by hewing to the statutory text, which reflects Congress’s conscientious balancing of the competing interests at stake. Because mere concealment of the Murals neither “modifies” nor “destroys” them, the Law School has not violated any of VARA’s prohibitions. As such, VARA does not entitle Plaintiff to an order directing the Law School to take the barrier down and continue to display the Murals. View "Kerson v. Vermont Law School, Inc." on Justia Law
Stafford v. Int’l Bus. Machs. Corp.
Petitioner is a former employee of International Business Machines Corporation (“IBM”) who signed a separation agreement requiring confidential arbitration of any claims arising from her termination. Petitioner arbitrated an age-discrimination claim against IBM and won. She then filed a petition in federal court under the Federal Arbitration Act (“FAA”) to confirm the award, attaching it to the petition under seal but simultaneously moving to unseal it. Shortly after she filed the petition, IBM paid the award in full. The district court granted Petitioner’s petition to confirm the award and her motion to unseal. On appeal, IBM argued that (1) the petition to confirm became moot once IBM paid the award, and (2) the district court erred in unsealing the confidential award. The Second Circuit vacated the district court’s confirmation of the award and remanded with instructions to dismiss the petition as moot. The court reversed the district court’s grant of the motion to unseal. The court explained that Petitioner’s petition to confirm her purely monetary award became moot when IBM paid the award in full because there remained no “concrete” interest in enforcement of the award to maintain a case or controversy under Article III. Second, any presumption of public access to judicial documents is outweighed by the importance of confidentiality under the FAA and the impropriety of Petitioner’s effort to evade the confidentiality provision in her arbitration agreement. View "Stafford v. Int'l Bus. Machs. Corp." on Justia Law