Articles Posted in Constitutional Law

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Miller and Jenkins entered into a civil union in Vermont in 2000. In 2002, Miller gave birth to IMJ. Miller took IMJ to Virginia. Jenkins remained in Vermont. In 2003, a Vermont court dissolved the union and awarded custody to Miller. Miller repeatedly refused to respect Jenkins’ visitation rights. Following several contempt citations, the Vermont court awarded sole custody to Jenkins in 2009. While the litigation was pending, Miller kidnapped IMJ, fleeing to Nicaragua. The government issued subpoenas under the Stored Communications Act 18 U.S.C. 2703(c)(2), rather than a court‐approved warrant, to a cell phone company, seeking billing records spanning 28 months and other information. As confirmed by Zodhiates’ cell phone and email records, which were introduced at trial, Zodhiates drove Miller and IMJ from Virginia to Buffalo, where they crossed into Ontario. Miller remains a fugitive. Zodhiates coordinated delivery of Miller's personal items to Nicaragua. Zodhiates was convicted of conspiring with and aiding and abetting Miller to obstruct the lawful exercise of parental rights, International Parental Kidnapping Crime Act, 18 U.S.C. 371, 1204, and 2. The district court declined to suppress inculpatory location information garnered from his cell phone records. The Second Circuit affirmed, rejecting arguments under the Fourth Amendment and that the charge to the jury, referring to Vermont family law, denied Zodhiates a fair trial. The court noted that in 2011 a warrant was not required for cell records so the government acted in good faith. View "United States v. Zodhiates" on Justia Law

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The Second Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment to defendants in an action alleging that defendants took adverse employment action against plaintiff in violation of the First Amendment in retaliation for her giving advice to a co-worker who was being arrested by campus police. The court declined to apply the law of the case doctrine where the district court initially entered an order denying defendants' motion for summary judgment before changing its mind, because plaintiff did not point to any prejudice she suffered by reason of the change of ruling and the court saw no impropriety in the district court's exercise of its discretion to revisit its earlier denial of summary judgment. On the merits, the court held that defendants were protected from both liability and the obligation to defend the case because of qualified immunity. In this case, there was no clearly established law to the effect that plaintiff's speech was on a matter of public concern. View "Colvin v. Keen" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff appealed the district court's dismissal of his claims under 42 U.S.C. 1983, alleging that his right to due process had been violated when fabricated evidence was used against him in a state criminal proceeding and alleging a claim of malicious prosecution. The claims stemmed from the 2009 Working Families Party primary election in the City of Troy, New York, where several individuals associated with the Democratic and Working Families Parties forged signatures and provided false information on absentee ballot applications and absentee ballots in order to affect the outcome of that primary. Plaintiff approved the forged applications but claimed he did know that they had been falsified. Plaintiff was indicted by a grand jury but subsequently acquitted. The Second Circuit affirmed the judgment of the district court and held that plaintiff's due process claim was time-barred because it was filed beyond the applicable limitations period. The court also held that the prosecutor was entitled to absolute immunity on plaintiff's malicious prosecution claim. View "McDonough v. Smith" on Justia Law

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Vermont's campaign finance law, Vt. Stat. Ann. tit. 17, 2901 et seq., which imposes additional restrictions on candidates who choose to receive public campaign finance grants, did not violate the First Amendment. Former and prospective candidates for public office in Vermont and a political party filed suit challenging provisions that prohibit publicly financed candidates from accepting contributions or making expenditures beyond the amount of the grants and announcing their candidacies or raising or expending substantial funds before a certain date. The Second Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of the candidates' claims for failure to state a claim and held that, because candidates may freely choose either to accept public campaign funds and the limitations thereon or to engage in unlimited private fundraising, those limitations did not violate First Amendment rights. The court also found that the candidates were not entitled to a fee award because they could not be considered prevailing parties. View "Corren v. Donovan" on Justia Law

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The Second Circuit reversed the district court's denial of New York City Police Officers' motion for summary judgment based on qualified immunity in an action alleging violation of protestors' constitutional rights when Officers fully detained them during a protest outside the Sheraton Hotel where President Obama was attending a fundraising dinner. The court held that there were material disputes of fact that did not allow the district court to conclude as a matter of law that the protesters' two‐hour detention was permissible under the special needs exception to the Fourth Amendment's warrant requirement. Nonetheless, the Officers were entitled to qualified immunity where the district court erred in concluding that the Officers' subjective intent in temporarily detaining the protesters was relevant to whether the Officers were entitled to qualified immunity. The court held that reasonable officers could have believed that the approximately two‐hour detention of the protesters in response to concerns for the President's security was justified in light of then established law. Finally, because the Officers could have reasonably believed the temporary detention was lawful, they were also entitled to qualified immunity on the protesters' First Amendment and Fourteenth Amendment claims. View "Berg v. N.Y.C. Police Commissoner" on Justia Law

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The Second Circuit vacated the district court's grant of summary judgment to the DOC in an action alleging that the DOC's policy of not accommodating the dietary restrictions imposed by plaintiff's Nazarite Jewish faith violated the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 (RLUIPA). The court held that, in the wake of the Supreme Court's decision in Holt v. Hobbs, 135 S. Ct. 853 (2015), the district court failed to appreciate the substantial showing that the government must make to justify burdening an individual plaintiff's practice of a sincerely held religious belief. In this case, fact questions remain as to whether the DOC's interest was compelling and its means were the least restrictive in light of plaintiff's suggested alternatives. Accordingly, the court remanded for further proceedings and denied the DOC's motion to vacate the judgment and remand as moot. View "Williams v. Annucci" on Justia Law

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The district court rejected Plaintiffs’ claim that New York’s ban on gravity knives was void for vagueness under the Due Process Clause as applied to “[k]nives that are designed to resist opening from their folded and closed position,” or common folding knives. New York law defines a gravity knife as a knife that can be opened to a locked position with a one‐handed flick of the wrist; Plaintiffs argued that the wrist‐flick test is so indeterminate that ordinary people cannot reliably identify legal knives. The Second Circuit affirmed. Because plaintiffs’ claim would, if successful, effectively preclude all enforcement of the statute, and because plaintiffs sought to prove their claim chiefly with hypothetical examples of unfair prosecutions that are divorced from their individual facts and circumstances, the court deemed it a facial challenge. Plaintiffs were required to show that the gravity knife law is invalid in all applications, including as it was enforced against them in three prior proceedings. They did not meet their burden under this strict standard. View "Copeland v. Vance" on Justia Law

Posted in: Constitutional Law

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New York law provides that a court may order that a person who has information material to a criminal proceeding be detained to secure her attendance at the proceeding, N.Y. Crim. Proc. Law 620.10–50. In 2008, McKinnies, a New York Police Officer, was under investigation for potential insurance fraud. McKinnies’ car, which she had reported stolen, had turned up in a “chop shop” covertly run by the NYPD. McKinnies stated her friend “Alexandra Griffin” was the last person to drive her car. But “Alexandra Griffin” stated that she had never been given the vehicle, did not have a driver’s license, and that her surname was Simon. Her real name is Dormoy, she is Simon's daughter. Simon was twice taken to the precinct and held for a total of 18 hours over two days. Simon sued under 42 U.S.C. 1983, claiming false arrest and imprisonment. Simon alleged that the warrant, on its face, directed officers to bring Simon to court at a fixed date and time for a hearing to determine whether she should be detained as a material witness. Simon was never presented to the court. The district court held that the defendants are entitled to qualified immunity and granted summary judgment in their favor. The Second Circuit vacated and remanded. With the facts taken in the light most favorable to Simon, the defendants violated Simon’s clearly established Fourth Amendment rights and are not entitled to qualified immunity. View "Simon v. City of New York" on Justia Law

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The Second Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of defendants' motion to dismiss based on qualified immunity in a 42 U.S.C. 1983 action alleging that defendants, police officers, used excessive force when they used a long-range acoustic device (LRAD or sound gun) to disperse non-violent protesters. This appeal arose out of the NYPD's response to a December 2014 protest in Manhattan. The court held that purposefully using a LRAD in a manner capable of causing serious injury to move non‐violent protesters to the sidewalks violated the Fourteenth Amendment under clearly established law. The court noted that, when viewing the evidence from the perspective of a reasonable officer, defendants may yet be entitled to qualified immunity. View "Edrei v. Bratton" on Justia Law

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The Second Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of plaintiff's motion for a new trial in a 42 U.S.C. 1983 action alleging that a police officer used excessive force by slamming plaintiff's head into the bars and wall of his holding cell. The court held that the district court did not abuse its discretion when it denied plaintiff's Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 59(a) motion for a new trial when it determined that the jury's verdict could be harmonized and thus plaintiff was not entitled to compensatory damages as a matter of law. The court also held that, when attempting to harmonize a seemingly inconsistent verdict, the court was not limited to the specific theories of the case presented by the parties, but may adopt any reasonable view of the case that was consistent with the facts and the testimony adduced at trial. In this case, the jury's causation finding was ambiguous and might have referred only to the de minimus injuries that plaintiff suffered while being forced into the holding cell. View "Ali v. Kipp" on Justia Law