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

Articles Posted in Civil Rights
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After a three-and-a-half-year delay, a jury convicted Appellant of conspiring to launder the proceeds generated by a network of Brooklyn medical clinics. Appellant appealed his conviction and sentence. He argued that the district court erred when it denied his motions to dismiss based on violations of the Speedy Trial Act, 18 U.S.C. Section 3161 et seq. Specifically, Appellant claimed that the district court improperly excluded time based on the complexity of the case without determining, on the record, why the case was complex or that such exclusions outweighed the best interest of the public and the defendant in a speedy trial. He contended that the excessive pre-trial delay, to which he objected, arose not from the supposed complexity of the prosecution but rather because the Government delayed production of certain documents possessed by state and federal agencies that had participated in the joint investigation and prosecution of Appellant.   The Second Circuit reversed the district court’s judgment of conviction, vacated Appellant’s conviction and sentence, and remanded to the district court. The court held that the district court’s exclusion of time during at least two long periods of delay was insufficient under the Speedy Trial Act.   The court explained that the Speedy Trial Act was designed to enforce the Sixth Amendment’s guarantee that the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy trial. Here, the district court failed in this responsibility. It neither held the Government accountable for its discovery obligations nor appropriately considered the causes and implications of the extraordinary delays introduced by the Government’s dilatory conduct of discovery. View "United States v. Pikus" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs are practicing Muslims who believe that they are required under the precepts of their religion to perform five daily congregational prayers with as many other Muslims as are available and wish to participate. Plaintiffs alleged that while they were incarcerated at the Federal Correctional Institution in Danbury, Connecticut ("FCI Danbury"), wardens enforced a policy that restricted prayer in groups of more than two to the prison's chapel.   Plaintiffs filed suit against defendant prison officials seeking injunctive relief and damages on the grounds that FCI Danbury's communal prayer policy violated the Religious Freedom Restoration Act ("RFRA") and the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.   The district court granted Defendants' motion to dismiss Plaintiffs' Second Amended Complaint (“SAC”) in large part, but declined to dismiss Plaintiffs' RFRA claims for damages against Defendants in their individual capacities, holding that qualified immunity was not available to the wardens at the motion-to-dismiss stage.   The Second Circuit affirmed the district court’s ruling, concluding that the wardens are not entitled to qualified immunity at this stage of the proceedings because the pleadings do not establish that their enforcement of the policy against Plaintiffs was in service of a compelling interest, and it was clearly established at the time of the violation that substantially burdening an inmate's religious exercise without justification violates RFRA. The court explained that a reasonable officer should have known, based on clearly established law, that denying a Muslim inmate the ability to engage in group prayer without any justification or compelling interest, as alleged in the SAC, violates RFRA. View "Sabir v. Williams" on Justia Law

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Following a disturbance at a hospital, two New York City police officers arrested Plaintiff and transported her to another hospital for a psychiatric evaluation. Plaintiff asserted false arrest claims, alleging that the police officers lacked probable cause to arrest her for a mental health examination. The district court granted Defendants’ motion for summary judgment, holding that because the police officers had probable cause to arrest Plaintiff for a misdemeanor trespass, her false arrest claim was precluded. The district court did not reach the issue of the existence of probable cause for a mental health arrest. The district court also held, in the alternative, that the officers were protected by qualified immunity because they had arguable probable cause to make a mental health arrest.   The Second Circuit affirmed, concluding that while the district court erred in its probable cause analysis, the officers were protected by qualified immunity. The court explained that even where actual probable cause does not exist, police officers may be entitled to qualified immunity from a Section 1983 false arrest claim if their actions did not violate "clearly established" rights or if "arguable probable cause" existed at the time of the arrest.   Here, the parties disagree as to whether the officers had probable cause to arrest her for an emergency mental health evaluation. The court held that the existence of probable cause to arrest an individual for a criminal violation does not preclude a false arrest claim based on a wrongful arrest for a mental health evaluation. However, nonetheless, the officers here are protected by qualified immunity. View "Guan v. City of New York" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff worked as a flight attendant for Delta Air Lines. She alleged that, while working on an airplane, she heard a passenger refer to her using a racist remark and reported the passenger’s remark to the pilot. The pilot responded by demanding that Plaintiff “step out on the jet bridge with the passenger,” and when she refused the pilot had her removed from the plane. Plaintiff reported the pilot’s conduct to her supervisor, and within two months of these events Plaintiff alleged she was subjected to random drug testing, wrongfully suspended, and ultimately fired. She filed a complaint in state court, alleging retaliation and vicarious liability under the New York City Human Rights Law. (“NYCHRL”) Delta removed the case to federal district court and moved to dismiss for failure to state a claim. The district court granted the motion, holding that Leroy failed adequately to allege that Delta had discriminated against her and that she therefore failed to allege retaliation for a protected activity under the NYCHRL.   The Second Circuit affirmed the district court’s ruling dismissing Plaintiff’s claims finding that her complaint did not allege facts adequate to support a good-faith, reasonable belief that Delta engaged in discrimination against her. The court explained that the NYCHRL prohibits retaliation for “opposing [the] employer’s discrimination.” To succeed on a retaliation claim, the plaintiff must at least have a good-faith, reasonable belief that she was opposing an unlawful employment practice. On the facts as alleged, Plaintiff could not have reasonably and in good faith believed that the passenger’s comment or the pilot’s conduct was an unlawful employment practice. View "Leroy v. Delta Air Lines, Inc." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff appealed from the district court’s ruling granting summary judgment on all claims to Defendants-Appellees Chautauqua County (“the County”) and Correction Officers (“the Officers”) in this civil rights suit concerning the County’s policy of handcuffing inmates in an allegedly painful manner and the Officers’ use of force in extracting Plaintiff from his cell at the Chautauqua County Jail (“the Jail”).   The Second Circuit held that the district court did not err in granting summary judgment on exhaustion grounds with regard to Plaintiff’s claims against the Officers, but that it did err in doing so with regard to his claim against the County. The court explained that that the district court was correct that Plaintiff failed to present sufficient evidence to create a genuine dispute of material fact as to whether he had submitted a timely grievance related to his claims against the Officers. The district court erred, however, in holding that the Chautauqua County Jail’s grievance policy applied to his separate claim against the County. By its plain terms, the grievance procedures did not apply to matters outside the jail captain’s control, such as the County handcuffing policy that Plaintiff challenges, and thus there were no administrative remedies for Plaintiff to exhaust with respect to that claim. View "Saeli v. Chautauqua County" on Justia Law

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A former faculty member appealed the district court’s judgment dismissing (A) claims against the university principally for violation of his right to due process, and for gender and national origin discrimination in violation of, respectively, Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 and Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964; and (B) claims that documents issued by the United States Department of Education violated the Administrative Procedure Act and the  Spending Clause of the Constitution. The district court granted the university's motion for judgment on the pleadings finding that Title IX does not authorize a private right of action for discrimination in employment and that the complaint failed to state a claim for national-origin discrimination under Title VI. The court granted the United States Defendants' motion to dismiss the claims.   The Second Circuit vacated the judgment in part finding merit only in Plaintiff’s contention that Title IX allows a private right of action for a university's intentional gender-based discrimination against a faculty member. The court found that the complaint contained sufficient factual assertions to permit a plausible inference that Plaintiff was disciplined following irregular investigative procedures in circumstances permitting a plausible inference of bias on the basis of gender in violation of Title IX. Plaintiff’s Title VI claim, viewed within the same analytical framework as that applicable to his Title IX claim, lacks sufficient factual assertions to permit a plausible inference that Plaintiff was disciplined in whole or in part on the basis of his national origin in violation of Title VI. View "Vengalattore v. Cornell University" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed a federal action against the State of Connecticut, a colonel in his official capacity, and a retired detective in her individual capacity, alleging three constitutional claims under 42 U.S.C. Sec. 1983. Plaintiff alleged that those provisions of Connecticut’s sex offender registration statute that required him to disclose his email address and other internet communication identifiers and periodically to verify his residence violated the First Amendment and the Ex Post Facto Clause. Plaintiff further alleged that the detective engaged in malicious prosecution in violation of the Fourth Amendment by seeking an arrest warrant for Plaintiff’s alleged failure to disclose one of his email addresses. The district court dismissed all of Plaintiff’s claims.The Second Circuit reversed the district court’s dismissal of Plaintiff’s First Amendment claim and affirmed the district court’s dismissal of his Post Facto Clause and malicious prosecution claims. The court concluded that the burden of demonstrating that the disclosure requirement satisfied intermediate scrutiny fell on the government and the government must show that the challenged law advances important governmental interests and is narrowly tailored to those interests. The court found that the government did not make the showing.The court further found that because the residence verification provision has not been applied to Plaintiff retroactively, the Ex Post Facto Clause is not implicated. Finally, although the history between Plaintiff and the Sex Offender Registry Unit suggests a motivation to harass him, an officer cannot be liable for a vexatious motivation as long as she acts with arguable probable cause. View "Cornelio v. Connecticut" on Justia Law

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The Second Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of summary judgment as to absolute and qualified immunity in an action raising Fourth Amendment claims of false arrest and malicious prosecution brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. 1983. The court agreed with the district court that absolute prosecutorial immunity did not apply to appellants' participation in obtaining the arrest warrant for plaintiff. The court explained that long-standing precedent makes clear that swearing to an arrest warrant affidavit and executing an arrest are traditional police functions, and performing such functions at the direction of a prosecutor does not transform them into prosecutorial acts protected by absolute immunity.The court also concluded that the district court correctly determined that summary judgment on the issue of qualified immunity was unwarranted given the factual disputes here. In this case, the district court identified relevant and exculpatory omissions from the arrest warrant affidavit related to plaintiff's intent and credibility that, construing the evidence in a manner most favorable to plaintiff, could have materially impacted a magistrate judge's determination as to whether probable cause existed for plaintiff's arrest, and such factual issues preclude summary judgment for appellants on the ground of qualified immunity at this stage of litigation. The court remanded for further proceedings. View "Washington v. Napolitano" on Justia Law

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The Second Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of plaintiff's complaint, alleging violations of regulations promulgated pursuant to the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA). Plaintiff, who uses a wheelchair and is disabled, did not assert in the complaint that he visited West Point Realty's website with the intention of visiting the hotel run by West Point Realty; rather, he alleged that he frequently visits hotel websites to determine whether those websites comply with ADA regulations. The court agreed with the district court that plaintiff failed to allege a concrete injury in fact and therefore lacked standing to assert a claim under the ADA. The court also concluded that the district court did not abuse its discretion by considering only the allegations in plaintiff's complaint when deciding West Point Realty's motion to dismiss. View "Harty v. West Point Realty, Inc." on Justia Law

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Exxon appealed the dismissal of its complaint against the New York and Massachusetts Attorneys General, alleging that the states' investigations into Exxon's purportedly deceptive speech regarding climate change were motivated by viewpoint discrimination and violated Exxon's constitutional rights. During the pendency of this appeal, the New York Attorney General closed the New York investigation and started an enforcement action, which resolved in Exxon's favor and is not being appealed by the state.The Second Circuit concluded that these events mooted Exxon's claims against the New York Attorney General and thus the court lacked jurisdiction over those claims. In regard to claims against the Massachusetts Attorney General, the court concluded that the claims are barred under the doctrine of res judicata because Exxon could have pursued the relief it now seeks in an earlier Massachusetts state court proceeding arising from the same events that underlie the present suit. Accordingly, the court dismissed in part and affirmed in part. View "Exxon Mobil Corp. v. Healey" on Justia Law