Justia Civil Rights Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit
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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

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Plaintiff appealed the district court's grant of summary judgment to defendants in a 42 U.S.C. 1983 action, alleging that plaintiff's Eighth Amendment rights were violated when he was violently assaulted by a fellow inmate while imprisoned, and that defendants acted with deliberate indifference to his safety. The Second Circuit held that plaintiff adduced sufficient evidence to raise a question of material fact -- as to whether a substantial risk of inmate attacks was longstanding, pervasive well-documented, or expressly noted by prison officials in the past -- against the Captain and the Warden. In this case, the Inmate Request Forms the Captain and the Warden received were detailed and explicit regarding the threat plaintiff believed another inmate posed. Furthermore, plaintiff orally conveyed his concerns regarding the threat to both the Captain and the Warden. Accordingly, the court vacated the district court's grant of summary judgment to the Captain and the Warden. The court affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment as to all other defendants, remanding for further proceedings. View "Morgan v. Dzurenda" on Justia Law

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The Second Circuit vacated the district court's dismissal of a petition for writ of habeas corpus. The district court dismissed the petition based on the grounds that it became moot when petitioner was conditionally released from confinement in a state psychiatric institution as a person with a "dangerous mental disorder." The court held that the conditional release did not render the petition moot, because petitioner remains subject to an "order of conditions" that leaves him vulnerable to recommitment, and the imposition of this order was a mandatory consequence of the confinement orders that his petition challenges. View "Janakievski v. Executive Director, Rochester Psychiatric Center" on Justia Law

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The Second Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of petitioner's 28 U.S.C. 2255 motion as untimely. The district court held that petitioner could not show that his motion was timely under section 2255(f)(3) because the Supreme Court's decision in Johnson v. United States, 135 S.Ct. 2551 (2015), did not recognize a retroactive right not to be sentenced based upon the residual clause in the Career Offender Guideline of the pre-Booker Sentencing Guidelines. The court held that Johnson did not itself render the residual clause of the pre-Booker Career Offender Guideline unconstitutionally vague and thus did not recognize the right petitioner asserted. Therefore, the district court properly denied the petition. View "Nunez v. United States" on Justia Law

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The Second Circuit vacated the district court's dismissal of plaintiff's complaint against the BOP and Warden Quay in an action alleging that defendants' curtailment of inmate-attorney visits at the MDC in early 2019 violated the Administrative Procedure Act, and the constitutional right to counsel under the Sixth Amendment. The court held that the district court erred in dismissing plaintiff's APA claim by failing to consider applicable BOP regulations in its zone-of-interests analysis. Furthermore, the district court misconstrued plaintiff's Sixth Amendment claim. Plaintiff brought this claim under the federal courts' inherent equitable powers, but the district court treated the claim as purporting to arise directly under the Sixth Amendment. The court thought it was prudent to defer ruling on the merits of the Sixth Amendment claim because plaintiff raised novel questions of constitutional law. Accordingly, the court remanded for further proceedings and directed the district court to consider appointing a master to mediate the parties' differences at the earliest possible time to ensure that plaintiff has meaningful, continuous access to clients. View "Federal Defenders of New York, Inc. v. Federal Bureau of Prisons" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff appealed the district court's dismissal of claims brought under 42 U.S.C. 1983 principally for false arrest, malicious prosecution, abuse of process, violation of his rights to free speech and equal protection, and use of excessive force. Plaintiff's claims arose from his arrest during a demonstration organized by an affiliate of the Black Lives Matter movement. The Second Circuit held that plaintiff adequately stated claims against the defendant who signed the summonses against him and the city, agreeing with plaintiff that the district court erred by failing to accept the factual allegations of the amended complaint as true and failing to draw all reasonable inferences therefrom in his favor. However, the court held that the complaint was insufficient to state claims against all other defendants. Accordingly, the court vacated in part, affirmed in part, and remanded. View "Lynch v. City of New York" on Justia Law