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

Articles Posted in Constitutional Law
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After expungement of his disciplinary record of theft, plaintiff filed suit against prison officials under 42 U.S.C. 1983, claiming violations of the Eighth Amendment and the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The district court dismissed the Eighth Amendment claim with prejudice at the pleading stage and then awarded summary judgment to defendants on the due process claims.The Second Circuit held that plaintiff received adequate notice in regard to the charges against him. However, the court held that plaintiff's disciplinary conviction was not sufficiently supported by the evidence and the proceedings were tainted by procedural lapses that violated plaintiff's' due process rights. In this case, the defendant prison officers failed to consult readily available prison records to identify the officers with relevant information, limiting defendant's ability to defend against the charges. The court also held that the district court exceeded the permissible bounds of its discretion in dismissing plaintiff's Eighth Amendment claim without providing him a meaningful opportunity to seek leave to amend his complaint. Accordingly, the court affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded in part. View "Elder v. McCarthy" on Justia Law

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New Hope Family Services, a voluntary and privately funded Christian ministry devoted to providing adoption services, filed suit alleging that OCFS violated its First and Fourteenth Amendment rights by advising New Hope that it either had to change its policy of not recommending adoptions by unmarried or same-sex couples or close its operation. The district court dismissed the complaint for failure to state a claim and denied New Hope's motion for a preliminary injunction as moot.The court held that the pleadings, viewed in the light most favorable to New Hope, state plausible claims under the Free Exercise and Free Speech Clauses of the Constitution because they (a) raise a plausible suspicion that OCFS acted with hostility towards New Hope because of the latter's religious beliefs, (b) plausibly allege that New Hope would be compelled to speak or associate in violation of those beliefs if the regulation in question were enforced, and (c) do not permit a court to conclude as a matter of law that New Hope's speech equates to government speech merely because New York State has authorized New Hope to provide adoption services.The court also held that this case is not analogous to Fulton v. City of Philadelphia, 922 F.3d 140 (3d Cir. 2019), cert. granted, 140 S. Ct. 1104 (2020), now pending before the Supreme Court. Furthermore, because New Hope's Free Exercise and Free Speech claims should not have been dismissed, the court held that its motion for a preliminary injunction was not moot and should not have been denied on that ground. Therefore, the court reversed the district court's judgment insofar as it dismissed New Hope's Free Exercise and Free Speech claims, and vacated the judgment insofar as it denied New Hope's motion for a preliminary injunction. The court remanded for further proceedings. View "New Hope Family Services, Inc. v. Poole" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff, a state prisoner, filed suit against various corrections officials alleging that (1) New York DOCCS Rule 105.13 banning gang insignia or materials is unconstitutionally vague as applied to his photographs depicting family and friends wearing blue and making hand signs and (2) his placement in a special housing unit for six months following a prison disciplinary hearing determination that he had violated Rule 105.13 by possessing those photographs violated his due process rights.The Second Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment to defendants, holding that Rule 105.13 provides adequate standards for prison guards to determine whether pictures of people wearing blue and intentionally making "C" hand signs are prohibited. In this case, no reasonable prison guard could have doubted that plaintiff's possession of photographs of people wearing blue and making "C" hand signs violated Rule 105.13 and, therefore, there was no danger that the Rule's enforcement would be arbitrary with regard to plaintiff's photographs. The court also held that plaintiff received a hearing that provided the minimal requirements of procedural due process. The court considered plaintiff's remaining arguments and found them to be without merit. View "Williams v. Korines" on Justia Law

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Healthcare insurers filed suit challenging an emergency regulation promulgated in 2017 by New York's Superintendent of the Department of Financial Services that would have significantly reduced the amount of risk adjustment funding to which plaintiffs were entitled in 2017 under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) and subsequent years using HHS's federal methodology.The Second Circuit held that New York's emergency regulation was preempted by the ACA and HHS's regulations. The court held that New York's regulation interferes with, indeed reverses, some of the central "criteria and methods" that HHS, acting within its statutory authority, established for implementing a risk adjustment program and methodology. Accordingly, the court reversed the portion of the district court's judgment that dismissed plaintiffs' preemption claim and remanded with instructions to grant summary judgment in plaintiffs' favor on that claim. The court also vacated the district court's dismissal of plaintiffs' takings and exaction claims, remanding for further proceedings. View "UnitedHealthcare of New York, Inc. v. Lacewell" on Justia 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