Justia Civil Rights Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit
by
The Second Circuit originally resolved the motions that are the subject of this opinion in an order entered November 9, 2020. Except in unusual circumstances, the court resolves such motions by order, not opinion. The court converted the original order and the dissent into opinions per the dissent's request.These appeals challenge Governor Andrew Cuomo's issuance of an executive order directing the New York State Department of Health to identify yellow, orange, and red "zones" based on the severity of COVID-19 outbreaks and imposing correspondingly severe restrictions on activity within each zone. Appellants, Agudath Israel and the Diocese, each challenged the executive order as a violation of the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment. After the district court denied appellants' motion for a preliminary injunction against enforcement of the order, appellants moved for emergency injunctions pending appeal and to expedite their appeals.Preliminarily, the Second Circuit concluded that Agudath Israel did not move first in the district court for an order granting an injunction while an appeal is pending before filing with this court its present motion for an injunction pending appeal. Rather, Agudath Israel moved for a preliminary injunction pending the district court’s final judgment. Furthermore, Agudath Israel has not explained or otherwise justified its failure to comply with the straightforward requirement of Federal Rule of Appellate Procedure 8(a). Agudath Israel has also failed to demonstrate that moving first in the district court would be impracticable, or even futile, particularly in light of the fact that a full eleven days elapsed after the district court's ruling before Agudath Israel sought relief from this court. Therefore, the court denied Agudath Israel's motion for procedural reasons.The court also denied the Diocese's motion, concluding that appellants cannot clear the high bar necessary to obtain an injunction pending appeal. The court stated that, while it is true that the challenged order burdens appellants' religious practices, the order is not substantially underinclusive given its greater or equal impact on schools, restaurants, and comparable secular public gatherings. To the contrary, the executive order extends well beyond isolated groups of religious adherents to encompass both secular and religious conduct. View "Agudath Israel of America v. Cuomo" on Justia Law

by
Plaintiffs filed suit against the county, the sheriff's department, and Defendant Foti and Santacroce, alleging claims in connection with Foti's alleged sexual harassment and sexual assault of female inmates at the Suffolk County Correctional Facility.Construing the evidence in the light most favorable to plaintiffs, the Second Circuit held that summary judgment on the Monell claim was unwarranted because there was sufficient evidence in the record to create a material issue of disputed fact as to whether supervisory officials at the Riverhead Facility consistently ignored Foti's widespread pattern of sexual assaults and sexual harassment of female inmates, such that it constructively supported the inference that policymakers, at the very least, had a custom or practice of acquiescing to Foti's sexual misconduct. The court vacated the district court's dismissal of Plaintiffs Lucente and Culoso's claims against Suffolk County and the individual defendants. In this case, there is evidence upon which the continuing violation doctrine can apply as to all of the 42 U.S.C. 1983 claims and there is evidence of sexual assault and/or sexual harassment by Foti against Lucente and Culoso within the limitations period. However, the court affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment as to Plaintiff Viola's claims for failure to exhaust administrative remedies under the Prison Litigation Reform Act. The court remanded for further proceedings. View "Lucente v. County of Suffolk" on Justia Law

by
Plaintiff filed suit against several groups of defendants for malicious prosecution, due process violations, the use of excessive force, and municipal liability. In this case, plaintiff was arrested and charged with murder in January 2011, and he was detained at Rikers Island until a jury acquitted him of all charges in June 2014. Three incidents are relevant to the instant appeal: a correction officer's takedown of plaintiff; a strip search of plaintiff for illegal contraband; and plaintiff's involvement in an incident where inmates refused to leave the recreation yard. The district court granted summary judgment for defendants and dismissed the complaint.The Second Circuit concluded that the district court correctly dismissed plaintiff's malicious prosecution claim and one of his excessive force claims, but the district court erred in dismissing his due process claim and two of his excessive force claims. The court also concluded that the district court should address the merits of plaintiff's municipal liability claim in the first instance. Accordingly, the court affirmed in part, reversed in part, and vacated in part, remanding for further proceedings. View "Frost v. New York City Police Department" on Justia Law

by
These appeals challenge Governor Andrew Cuomo's issuance of an executive order directing the New York State Department of Health to identify yellow, orange, and red "zones" based on the severity of COVID-19 outbreaks and imposing correspondingly severe restrictions on activity within each zone. Appellants, Agudath Israel and the Diocese, each challenged the executive order as a violation of the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment. After the district court denied appellants' motion for a preliminary injunction against enforcement of the order, appellants moved for emergency injunctions pending appeal and to expedite their appeals.Preliminarily, the Second Circuit concluded that Agudath Israel did not move first in the district court for an order granting an injunction while an appeal is pending before filing with this court its present motion for an injunction pending appeal. Rather, Agudath Israel moved for a preliminary injunction pending the district court’s final judgment. Furthermore, Agudath Israel has not explained or otherwise justified its failure to comply with the straightforward requirement of Federal Rule of Appellate Procedure 8(a). Agudath Israel has also failed to demonstrate that moving first in the district court would be impracticable, or even futile, particularly in light of the fact that a full eleven days elapsed after the district court's ruling before Agudath Israel sought relief from this court. Therefore, the court denied Agudath Israel's motion for procedural reasons.The court also denied the Diocese's motion, concluding that appellants cannot clear the high bar necessary to obtain an injunction pending appeal. The court stated that, while it is true that the challenged order burdens appellants' religious practices, the order is not substantially underinclusive given its greater or equal impact on schools, restaurants, and comparable secular public gatherings. To the contrary, the executive order extends well beyond isolated groups of religious adherents to encompass both secular and religious conduct. View "Agudath Israel of America v. Cuomo" on Justia Law

by
Four female employees, including plaintiff, filed suit alleging hostile work environment claims. The jury awarded plaintiff a total of $400,000 on her claims against defendants under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and 42 U.S.C. 1983. The County then filed motions for judgment as a matter of law or, alternatively, for a new trial, under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 50(b) and 59(b). The district court then sua sponte denied the motions based on the restrictions established by Rule 6(b)(2) on extending time for filing such motions. The Second Circuit vacated the denial order and remanded. On remand, the district court found that plaintiff "constructively waived" her objection to the timeliness of the County's motions and entered orders reducing plaintiff's Title VII award to $75,000 and overturning the jury verdict in her favor on her section 1983 claim for want of evidence of an unlawful municipal custom or practice under Monell v. Department of Social Services, 436 U.S. 658 (1978). Both plaintiff and the County appealed.The Second Circuit held that plaintiff forfeited her right to object to the untimeliness of the County's post-trial motions by failing to raise the issue contemporaneously with the district court's grant of the extension. The court further rejected the County's position that plaintiff's acceptance of remittitur on her Title VII claims forecloses her appeal of the judgment insofar as it relates to her section 1983 claim. On the merits, the court affirmed the judgment in plaintiff's favor on her Title VII claim and rejected the County's cross-appeal seeking judgment in its favor on that claim as a matter of law. In regard to the section 1983 claim, the court concluded that the district court erred in entering judgment as a matter of law for the County, because the jury had a reasonable basis for its finding of sufficient municipal involvement to support its award to plaintiff. Accordingly, the court affirmed in part, vacated in part, and remanded. View "Legg v. Ulster County" on Justia Law

by
Plaintiff filed suit against his instructor at Charter Oak State College, alleging that the instructor violated his First Amendment rights by removing an online blog post that he made in response to a class assignment. Plaintiff also alleged that the instructor and others violated his due process rights under the Fourteenth Amendment in connection with disciplining him for the blog post.The Second Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of the suit under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). The court held that the district court did not err by analyzing plaintiff's First Amendment claim under the Hazelwood standard because plaintiff's speech bears the hallmark of school sponsorship. The court also held that, under the Hazelwood standard, the district court did not err in determining that the instructor's deletion of plaintiff's post was reasonably related to legitimate pedagogical concerns. Furthermore, plaintiff failed plausibly to allege that the instructor's actions constituted viewpoint discrimination. Rather, the instructor's deletion of plaintiff's post reflected a content-based restriction that the Supreme Court has instructed the court to tolerate in the school setting. In this context of an online message board for completing course assignments, the court concluded that plaintiff was not subjected to viewpoint discrimination when his post criticizing rather than performing the assignment was deleted. Finally, the court rejected plaintiff's Fourteenth Amendment due process claim and held that plaintiff was afforded a full opportunity to be heard and received sufficient process, and any discernible substantive due process claim fails alongside his more particularized First Amendment censorship claim. View "Collins v. Putt" on Justia Law

by
The Second Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of habeas corpus relief to petitioner, who was detained pursuant to 8 U.S.C. 1226(a), which provides for discretionary detention of noncitizens during the pendency of removal proceedings. The habeas petition challenged the procedures employed in petitioner's bond hearings, which required him to prove, to the satisfaction of an immigration judge, that he is neither a danger to the community nor a flight risk.The court held that the district court correctly granted the petition where petitioner was denied due process because he was incarcerated for fifteen months (with no end in sight) while the Government at no point justified his incarceration. The district court also provided the correct remedy by ordering a new bond hearing in which the Government bore the burden of showing by clear and convincing evidence that petitioner was either a danger or a flight risk. View "Velasco Lopez v. Decker" on Justia Law

by
Plaintiff, a New York inmate, filed a 42 U.S.C. 1983 suit alleging that all employees of the DOCCS violated his constitutional rights under the First and Eighth Amendments when they sexually assaulted him and retaliated against him for filing grievances. The district court granted summary judgment to defendants in part based on its conclusion that plaintiff failed to exhaust administrative remedies as required by the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA).The Second Circuit held that where, as here, an inmate follows the steps prescribed by the DOCCS Inmate Grievance Procedure but prison officials do not respond to the inmate's final appeal within the time allotted under the regulations, he has exhausted administrative remedies under the PLRA. The court held that plaintiff raised a triable issue of fact as to his retaliation claim against Defendant Hoffman but not as to his retaliation claim against Defendant Iarusso. The court also held that the district court erred in granting summary judgment on plaintiff's Eighth Amendment claim against Defendant Dahlke where plaintiff alleged facts sufficient to survive summary judgment as to whether his rights were violated during Dahlke's pat and frisk. The court affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded for further proceedings. View "Hayes v. Dahkle" on Justia Law

by
The Libertarian Party of Connecticut and two of its affiliated candidates filed suit alleging that the State violated their First and Fourteenth Amendment rights by requiring candidates for office to collect signatures from electors before appearing on the general election ballot. The district court denied the motion for a preliminary injunction on the ground that plaintiffs failed to demonstrate a clear or substantial likelihood of success on the merits.Applying the Anderson-Burdick framework, the Second Circuit affirmed the district court's judgment and concluded that Connecticut's laws do not impose a severe burden on plaintiffs' rights and the State's interest in requiring candidates for office to demonstrate some support before appearing on the ballot justified those laws. The district court did not abuse its discretion in concluding that Connecticut's laws impose only a reasonable, nondiscriminatory burden. In this case, the petitioning period ran for 218 days and the evidence demonstrates that petitioning was possible even under the challenging conditions in the State of Connecticut. Furthermore, the Supreme Court has repeatedly held that the State has the undoubted right to require candidates to make a preliminary showing of substantial support in order to qualify for a place on the ballot, and the signature requirements are an appropriate means of vindicating the State's interest. View "Libertarian Party of Connecticut v. Lamont" on Justia Law

by
After plaintiff was shot in the stomach by Officer Miller in the course of Miller's execution of a no-knock search warrant, plaintiff filed suit alleging that he was the victim of negligence on the part of both Miller and other police personnel involved in the planning of the raid.The Second Circuit concluded that there was no error in the district court’s denial of plaintiff’s motion to overturn the jury verdict in favor of Miller; in regard to the City's motion, the district court erred in granting judgment as a matter of law on the basis of New York's bar on claims for "negligent investigation," because that rule does not apply to plaintiff's claim; and plaintiff's evidence was sufficient to support a jury finding that the City, through its employees, violated acceptable police practice, so that discretionary immunity did not apply, and those violations caused his injury.However, the court found conflicting guidance from the New York Court of Appeals as to whether the district court correctly held that plaintiff's claim was barred by New York's "special duty" rule. Therefore, the court certified the following question to the New York Court of Appeals: Does the "special duty" requirement—that, to sustain liability in negligence against a municipality, the plaintiff must show that the duty breached is greater than that owed to the public generally—apply to claims of injury inflicted through municipal negligence, or does it apply only when the municipality's negligence lies in its failure to protect the plaintiff from an injury inflicted other than by a municipal employee? View "Ferreira v. City of Binghamton" on Justia Law