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

Articles Posted in Constitutional Law
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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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Police received reports of a gunshot fired from the roof of a building. Officers responded to the scene within two minutes, at which point they observed Defendants exiting a building. While officers were not sure which building the shots were fired from, the building Defendants were exiting was in the immediate area. Officers noticed one of the Defendants bladed his body away from them, and both Defendants had their hands in their pockets. When asked to remove their hands from their pockets, Defendants complied. However, at this point, officers noticed a bulge in one of the Defendant's pockets. A passerby informed officers that he had seen Defendants coming down from the building's rooftop. Officers frisked one of the Defendants, recovering a firearm.Defendants entered guilty pleas each to a single count of being a felon in possession of a firearm in violation of 18 U.S.C. Sections 922(g)(1) and 2, preserving their right to appeal the court's adverse decision on their motion to suppress.The Second Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of Defendants' motion to suppress, finding that the police had reasonable suspicion to initiate a pedestrian stop as well as to conduct a pat-frisk of the Defendant who had a bulge in his pocket. View "United States v. Hawkins" on Justia Law

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Defendant was convicted of six counts of criminal contempt for repeatedly defying court orders, for which he was sentenced to six months’ imprisonment. He challenges the conviction, arguing that the district court’s appointment of special prosecutors under Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 42(a)(2) violated the Appointments Clause of the United States Constitution because (1) the special prosecutors are inferior officers who were not supervised by a principal officer, and (2) Rule 42 does not satisfy the Appointments Clause requirement that “Congress . . . by Law” vest the appointment of inferior officers in the courts.   The Second Circuit affirmed Defendant’s convictions. The court first concluded that special prosecutors are officers under the Appointments Clause. Next, the court held that Defendant’s Appointments Clause arguments lack merit. First, the special prosecutors are subject to supervision by the Attorney General, who has broad statutory authority to “conduct” and to “supervise” all litigation involving the United States. This authority includes supervising—and if necessary, removing—the special prosecutors. Second, Plaintiff failed to raise his challenge to Rule 42 below, thus the court concluded conclude that the district court did not commit plain error by appointing the special prosecutors in light of directly applicable Supreme Court precedent Finally, the court concluded that the district court did not abuse its discretion by initiating prosecution against Defendant for repeatedly defying court orders for years. View "United States v. Donziger" on Justia Law

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Defendant was convicted of possessing marijuana with intent to distribute, and of conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute, 100 kilograms or more of marijuana following a jury trial.   On appeal, Defendant argued that (1) the district court erred in denying his motion to suppress marijuana that was obtained during a warrantless search of a private single-engine airplane; (2) the government improperly bolstered the testimony of its cooperating witnesses at trial; and (3) he received ineffective assistance of counsel at sentencing.   The Second Circuit affirmed the denial of the motion to suppress, the judgment of conviction, and the sentence. The court held that the vehicle exception to the Fourth Amendment’s warrant requirement applies to the search of the private aircraft used to transport Defendant’s marijuana and that there was probable cause to search the plane. Further, the court wrote there is no merit to Defendant’s remaining challenges.   The court explained unlike a traffic stop, law enforcement agents may conduct a ramp check absent an antecedent violation or even reasonable suspicion of one. Here, the ramp check by itself was therefore a proper exercise of regulatory authority. Further, the mobility of an airplane in flight is so obvious that it needs no elaboration. And even when a plane is on the ground, it is no less capable of being moved than, say, a non-residential unhitched tractor-trailer. The fact that the search here occurred while the plane was sitting on the tarmac and the pilot was not in the pilot’s seat does not alter the calculus. View "United States v. Capelli" 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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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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The appeal involved involves five lawsuits in which visually impaired Plaintiffs sued Defendant stores under the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) for failing to carry braille gift cards. The complaints alleged that Plaintiffs live near Defendants’ stores, have been customers in the past, and intend to purchase gift cards when they become available in the future. The district court dismissed Plaintiffs’ ADA claims for lack of standing.   The Second Circuit affirmed the dismissal and held that Plaintiffs’ conclusory, boilerplate allegations fail to establish standing. The court explained that missing from Plaintiffs’ allegations is any explanation of how Plaintiffs were injured by the unavailability of braille gift cards or any specificity about Plaintiffs’ prior visits to Defendants’ stores that would support an inference that Plaintiffs intended to return. In the ADA context a plaintiff seeking injunctive relief has suffered an injury in fact when: “(1) the plaintiff alleged past injury under the ADA; (2) it was reasonable to infer that the discriminatory treatment would continue; and (3) it was reasonable to infer, based on the past frequency of plaintiff’s visits and the proximity of defendants’ [businesses] to plaintiff’s home, that plaintiff intended to return to the subject location.” Here, the court reasoned that Plaintiffs have offered only “naked assertions” of intent to return to Defendants’ stores if they offer braille gift cards. This reliance on a mere “profession of an intent to return to the places” previously visited is “not enough” to establish standing for prospective relief. View "Calcano v. Swarovski N. Am. Ltd." 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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Connecticut State Police Union (“CSPU”) brought suit against the Commissioner of Connecticut’s Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection (the “Commissioner”), alleging that the FOIA-related portions of the state law violated the Contracts Clause and moved for a preliminary injunction. The law at issue is Public Act 20–1: An Act Concerning Police Accountability (“the Act”). Section 8 of the Act took aim at FOIA exemptions under Connecticut law.   The district court denied the motion primarily on the ground that the CSPU was unlikely to succeed on the merits of its claim since the law was reasonable and necessary to promote transparency and accountability for law enforcement. The Second Circuit affirmed concluding that the law served a legitimate public purpose and that the legislature, in passing it, acted not self-servingly but in the public interest.   The court explained that determine whether a law violates the Contracts Clause, it asks (1) whether the contractual impairment is substantial, (2) whether the law serves “a legitimate public purpose such as remedying a general social or economic problem,” and (3) whether the means chosen to accomplish that purpose are reasonable and necessary.  Here, the Act served two legitimate public purposes: ensuring the transparency and accountability of law enforcement and promoting “FOIA’s strong legislative policy in favor of the open conduct of government and free public access to government records.” Moreover, because the district court did not err in concluding that the CSPU could not succeed on the merits of its claim, the court did not need to address the remaining prongs of the preliminary injunction test. View "Conn. State Police Union v. Rovella" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed an action against the International Criminal Police Organization (“Interpol”), charging negligent infliction of emotional distress and violation of his right to due process of law under the New York State Constitution after Interpol refused to delete a so-called “red notice” identifying Plaintiff as a convicted criminal in the United Arab Emirates (“UAE”).   The district court granted Interpol’s motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, holding that Interpol is a protected organization under the International Organizations Immunities Act (“IOIA”), 22 U.S.C. Sections 288-288l, and thus enjoys the same immunity from suit normally enjoyed by foreign sovereigns.   The Second Circuit affirmed concluding that the term “public international organizations” as used in 22 U.S.C. Section 288 includes any international organization that is composed of governments as its members, regardless of whether it has been formed by international treaty. Further, the court found that Interpol qualifies as a “public international organization” for the purposes of 22 U.S.C. Section 288 because its members are official government actors whose involvement is subject to control by participating nations. Next, the Headquarters Agreement between Interpol and the Government of France does not constitute an immunity waiver that would permit the present suit in a United States district court. Finally, the district court did not abuse its discretion by denying Plaintiff’s request for jurisdictional discovery prior to dismissal. View "El Omari v. The International Criminal Police Organization" on Justia Law