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

Articles Posted in Constitutional Law
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The Second Circuit held that California's Anti-Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (anti-SLAPP) statute is inapplicable in federal court because it conflicts with Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12 and 56. In this case, plaintiff's claims arose from an incident where she spoke at a city council meeting to oppose California's sanctuary-state law. A social media activist posted a photo showing plaintiff with open mouth in front of a minority teenager and the photo's caption stated that persons (unnamed) had yelled specific racist remarks at the young man in the photo. Defendant subsequently reposted the photograph and attributed specific racist remarks to plaintiff. The court vacated the district court's dismissal of plaintiff's defamation claim under Rule 12(b)(6). In regard to one of the statements at issue, the court held that the district court erroneously deemed plaintiff to be a limited purpose public figure (and accordingly dismissed for failure to plead actual malice); as to the other, the district court mischaracterized it as nonactionable opinion. Finally, the court affirmed the district court's conclusion that defendant does not qualify for immunity under section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. View "La Liberte v. Reid" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs, current and former inmates of the DOC incarcerated within Garner Correctional Institution, filed a putative class action alleging that they were exposed involuntarily to indoor radon gas, a recognized human carcinogen, far in excess of any published safe level while incarcerated at Garner. The Second Circuit affirmed the district court's judgment to the extent that it determined that defendants violated clearly established law as of the date of the Supreme Court's decision in Helling v. McKinney, 509 U.S. 25, 29 (1993). In Helling, the Supreme Court held that an inmate can state a claim under the Eighth Amendment by alleging that prison officials have, with deliberate indifference, exposed him to levels of environmental tobacco smoke that pose an unreasonable risk of serious damage to his future health. Therefore, as of the date of the Supreme Court's decision in Helling, the court held that reasonable officials would recognize that a failure to take any reasonable steps to abate the risk of excessive radon exposure, of which risk they were actually aware, would constitute deliberate indifference to a serious medical need that violated inmates' clearly established Eighth Amendment rights. The court affirmed in part to the extent that the judgment denied defendants' motions to dismiss plaintiffs' federal claims for injunctive and declaratory relief; reversed in part to the extent that the judgment denied defendants' motion to dismiss plaintiffs' state-law claims for prospective relief against the official-capacity defendants; and remanded for further proceedings. View "Vega v. Semple" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed two actions arising from defendants' provision of mental health services to him, alleging violations of his First and Ninth Amendment rights and the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). The district court dismissed the suits. The Second Circuit dismissed plaintiff's appeals because they lack an arguable basis either in law or in fact and denied his motions to proceed in forma pauperis for the appointment of counsel and for a writ of certiorari. In this case, plaintiff failed to plausibly allege that defendants engaged in state action by violating his constitutional rights under 42 U.S.C. 1983. Furthermore, there is no private cause of action, express or implied, under HIPAA. View "Meadows v. United Services, Inc." on Justia Law

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The Second Circuit reversed the district court's grant of defendant's motion for judgment as a matter of law on qualified immunity grounds in an action brought by plaintiff, alleging that defendant, a police officer, used excessive force against plaintiff when he deployed two taser cycles against plaintiff. The court held that, at the time of the incident, the law was clearly established that a police officer cannot use significant force against an individual who is no longer resisting arrest and poses no safety threat. In this case, the evidence allowed the jury to reasonably conclude that plaintiff was no longer resisting arrest and was not a safety threat to the officers or others at the time of defendant's second use of the taser against him. View "Jones v. Treubig" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs appealed the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of defendants in an action claiming that Connecticut's Public Act 17-2, as amended by Public Act 18-81, which transfers money from the state's legislatively created energy funds to the general purpose fund, violates the Contract and Equal Protection Clauses of the United States Constitution. The Second Circuit affirmed the district court's determination that plaintiffs had no contractual right to prevent the transfer of money to the general purpose fund and that the Act is an allocation of state revenue, not a tax, so that the taxpayer standing doctrine bars plaintiffs' claim. In this case, plaintiffs do not have a contractual right to control transfers from the Energy Fund and thus plaintiffs have failed to plead a violation of the Contract Clause. The court also held that because the transfer of previously collected revenue from the Energy Funds to the General Fund is not a transfer of plaintiffs' property to the state, it cannot constitute a tax. The court explained that, at its core, plaintiffs' argument is that funds previously collected for green energy and conservation initiatives will now be expended for another use, but taxpayers do not have standing to challenge such expenditures. Therefore, the court held that plaintiffs have no standing to proceed with their Equal Protection claim. View "Colon de Mejias v. Lamont" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff pro se, a New York State prisoner, appealed the district court's dismissal of his 42 U.S.C. 1983 suit against correctional facility officials for failure to clear snow and ice from outdoor exercise yards for an entire winter, thereby allegedly violating plaintiff's rights under the Eighth Amendment by denying him physical exercise for four months, and causing him to be injured in a slip-and-fall accident. The Second Circuit held that the district court erred in dismissing the Eighth Amendment claims under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), because the complaint states cognizable Eighth Amendment claims for damages with regard to the denial of physical exercise. The court noted that the district court properly dismissed as moot plaintiff's requests for injunctive or declaratory relief against officials at Green Haven. The court declined to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over plaintiff's state law claims. The court upheld the district court's dismissal of the slip and fall claims where the complaint did not make any claims of exceptional circumstances that would elevate the Green Haven yard conditions beyond the typical level of danger presented by a slippery sidewalk or a wet floor. Finally, the contention that defendants failed to comply with a consent decree is not pleaded in the complaint and was not raised in the district court. Therefore, the court declined to address this argument. Accordingly, the court affirmed in part, vacated in part, and remanded in part. View "McCray v. Lee" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit on behalf of herself and her son under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), alleging that the Board denied her son a free appropriate public education (FAPE) and violated the stay-put provision of the Act by refusing to pay for services mandated by the child's individualized education plan (IEP). After the district court's judgment on remand, the Second Circuit held that the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying reimbursement for several of the expenses plaintiff requested. However, the district court did err in determining that the funds administrator could unilaterally reduce these services covered by the fund and that plaintiff must pay for half of the compensatory fund's fees. Accordingly, the court affirmed in part, vacated in part, and remanded. View "Doe v. East Lyme Board of Education" on Justia Law

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The First Amendment protects a prisoner's right to express non-threatening sexual desire in communications with a third party outside the prison. Plaintiff, a prisoner at FCI Ray Brook, filed suit under Bivens v. Six Unknown Named Agents of Federal Bureau of Narcotics, 403 2 U.S. 388 (1971), asserting First Amendment retaliation and procedural due process claims against two correctional officers. Plaintiff alleged that after he wrote a letter to his sister from prison stating that he "wanted" a woman -- whom officials understood to refer to a particular correctional officer -- he was retaliated against by being placed in the prison's Special Housing Unit (SHU), and spent 89 days in isolated confinement for an "improper purpose." The Second Circuit held that the officers violated plaintiff's constitutional rights by disciplining him for speech that, in the medium used (correspondence to a third party outside the prison), was not threatening and did not implicate security concerns. However, the court held that the officers were entitled to qualified immunity because it was not clearly established at the time plaintiff sent the letter that prison officials could not punish him for his statements in that correspondence. View "Bacon v. Phelps" on Justia Law

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The Second Circuit affirmed the district court's order of a preliminary injunction entered in favor of Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang and candidates for delegate seats who, if elected, would be pledged to Yang and fellow Democratic candidate, Senator Bernie Sanders. Yang, his delegates, and the Sanders delegates challenged the New York State Board of Elections' decision to remove all qualified candidates from the ballot, with the exception of former Vice President Joseph Biden, and cancel the Democratic presidential primary. The Board cancelled the Democratic presidential primary based on the coronavirus pandemic, claiming that doing so would further the State's interests in minimizing social contacts to reduce the spread of the virus and in focusing its limited resources on the management of other contested primary elections. At issue in this appeal was whether Yang, his delegates, and the Sanders delegates have demonstrated an entitlement to preliminary injunctive relief that reverses the effects of the Board's decision by requiring Yang and Sanders to be reinstated to the ballot, and the Democratic presidential primary to be conducted along with the other primary elections set for June 23, 2020. The court held that plaintiffs and the Sanders delegates have adequately established their entitlement to preliminary injunctive relief on the basis that the Board's decision unduly burdened their rights of free speech and association. The court held that plaintiffs and the Sanders delegates have made a strong showing of irreparable harm absent injunctive relief; demonstrated a clear or substantial likelihood of success on the merits of their claims under the First and Fourteenth Amendments; and demonstrated that the balance of the equities tips in their favor and that the public interest would be served adequately by the district court's preliminary injunction. The court held that the district court did not err or abuse its discretion in granting the application for a preliminary injunction, which was carefully tailored to secure the constitutional rights at stake and to afford the Board sufficient time and guidance to carry out its obligations to the electorate and to the general public. View "Yang v. Kosinski" on Justia Law

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The Estate of Kenneth Chamberlain, Sr. filed suit against officers of the White Plains Police Department and the City of White Plains under 42 U.S.C. 1983, alleging claims for unlawful entry and excessive force resulting in Chamberlain's death. Chamberlain, a 68 year old African American Marine veteran with mental illness, had accidentally activated his emergency medical-alert system. When the officers arrived at Chamberlain's apartment, he denied the officers entry, fearing that he would be shot by the armed officers. After an hour-long struggle to gain entry into the apartment, the officers removed the hinges to the apartment's door, crossed the threshold into the apartment, and, when lesser measures apparently failed to subdue Chamberlain, they fatally shot him. The Second Circuit principally held that the complaint and related materials properly considered by the district court upon the motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim do state a plausible claim for unlawful entry and that it was also error to determine on such a motion to dismiss that officers were entitled to qualified immunity. Accordingly, the court vacated that portion of the district court's judgment and remanded for further proceedings. The court also vacated and remanded for further consideration portions of the judgment determining, on summary judgment, that an officer was not liable for use of excessive force and that certain officers did not have supervisory liability. The court affirmed in all other respects. View "Chamberlain v. City of White Plains" on Justia Law