Justia Civil Rights Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit
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Plaintiffs brought various claims against Rockland County ("Rockland County Defendants") officials including a violation of the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment, based on orders which excluded children who were not vaccinated against measles from attending school and an emergency declaration which barred unvaccinated children, other than those with medical exemptions, from places of public assembly. The district court granted summary judgment for Rockland County Defendants.The Second Circuit reversed, finding that Plainitffs' claim raises numerous disputes—including whether there is evidence of religious animus, to whom the emergency declaration applied, and what the County’s purpose was in enacting the declaration—that prevent Defendants from prevailing on summary judgment. View "M.A. v. Rockland County Department of Health" on Justia Law

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Defendants appealed from an order denying their motion to dismiss in part and rejecting their qualified immunity defense against the Religious Freedom Restoration Act ("RFRA") claims of Plaintiffs. Plaintiffs are practicing Muslims whose religion requires them to perform daily congregational prayers with as many other Muslims as are available. According to the allegations in their complaint, while Plaintiffs were incarcerated at the Federal Correctional Institution in Danbury, Connecticut, Defendants enforced a policy that restricted group prayer to the prison's chapel, despite that facility's frequent unavailability. As a result, Plaintiffs were forced to forgo their religious exercise of group prayer to avoid disciplinary action.   The Second Circuit affirmed the district court’s order. The court concluded 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. View "Sabir v. Williams" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff appealed the district court’s dismissal of his Title VII discrete act and hostile work environment claims against the Federal Aviation Administration. The Second Circuit affirmed. The court concluded that Plaintiff’s claims were properly dismissed. The court first concluded that Plaintiff’s failure-to-train claim is time-barred by the applicable statute of limitations, which requires that a claimant initiate an administrative review of his employment discrimination claim within 45 days of the allegedly discriminatory conduct. Further Plaintiff failed to point to any particular discrete and actionable unlawful employment practice that occurred in the 45 days before he initiated an administrative review of his claims. The continuing violation doctrine does not allow Plaintiff to pursue alleged incidents of unlawful practices that occurred before the 45-day period, as the doctrine is inapplicable to discrete act claims. Second, as to Plaintiff’s hostile work environment claim, Plaintiff failed to establish a prima facie case that his employer’s alleged failure to train him or the other alleged incidents of hostile behavior in the workplace was motivated by hostility to his race, color, or national origin. View "Tassy v. Buttigieg" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff appealed from the district court’s judgment granting Defendant Sirius XM Radio, Inc. (“Sirius XM”)’s motion to dismiss Plaintiff’s claims with prejudice for violations of his right of publicity under California common and statutory law because his claims were preempted by the Copyright Act, 17 U.S.C. Section 301. The claims arise from Melendez’s performance under the moniker “Stuttering John” on The Howard Stern Show (the “HS Show”) from 1988 until 2004.   On appeal, Plaintiff asserted that Sirius XM’s use of excerpts of him from the archival episodes in its online and on-air advertisements promoting the HS Show violates his right of publicity under California common and statutory law because his name and likeness have been exploited for Sirius XM’s commercial gain without his permission.   The Second Circuit affirmed the district court’s judgment. The court held that Plaintiff failed to plausibly allege any use of his name or likeness that is separate from, or beyond, the rebroadcasting, in whole or in part, of the copyrightable material from the HS Show’s archives and, thus, his right of publicity claims are preempted by the Copyright Act. Moreover, because Plaintiff has failed to articulate any allegations that he could add in a second amended complaint that overcome preemption in this case, the court concluded that the district court correctly determined that any leave to re-plead would be futile and properly dismissed his claims with prejudice. View "Melendez v. Sirius XM Radio, Inc." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff appeals the district court’s judgment granting Defendants’ motion for summary judgment on the ground of qualified immunity. Plaintiff argued that Defendant police officers violated clearly established law by purportedly using a police canine for a purpose for which it was not trained, failing to give Plaintiff a warning before releasing the canine, and allowing the canine to continue biting Plaintiff after he ceased actively resisting, subjecting Plaintiff to a dog bite that may have lasted for two minutes, and otherwise improperly escalating the use of force. Plaintiff further argued that the district court erred by failing to construe disputed facts and draw reasonable inferences in his favor.   The Second Circuit affirmed. The court held that Plaintiff has not shown that Defendant officers violated clearly established law of which a reasonable person would have known and conclude that the defendant officers are entitled to qualified immunity. The court also held that the district court did not commit reversible error in evaluating Defendants’ summary judgment motion. View "McKinney v. City of Middletown" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff alleged that while he was incarcerated at a facility run by the New York Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (“DOCCS”), he was beaten by corrections officers who were attempting to break up a fight. He was transferred first to a mental health observation cell, then to the Central New York Psychiatric Center (“CNYPC”) in the custody of the New York State Office of Mental Health (“OMH”). During his stay at CNYPC, Plaintiff attempted to file a grievance for the alleged beating, but the grievance was refused for being untimely, for not being filed at the DOCCS facility at which he was housed, and because he was not allowed to file grievances with DOCCS while in OMH custody. Plaintiff appealed the district court’s ruling granting Defendants’ motion for summary judgment on his 28 U.S.C. Section 1983 claim for excessive force claim.   The Second Circuit reversed the district court’s ruling. The court held that Plaintiff was excused from his statutory obligation to exhaust his administrative remedies due to his transfer to mental health confinement which rendered the grievance program unavailable to him. The court explained that there is no reason to believe that Plaintiff could have requested an exception after he was transferred to OMH custody just as he would not be permitted to file a grievance against DOCCS once transferred. Second, even if Plaintiff had submitted a request for an exception within the thirteen days he was still in DOCCS custody, he would not have been able to file a grievance once he was transferred to OMH custody pursuant to Section 701.5(a). View "Romano v. Ulrich et al." on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs brought a class action complaint against Cellular Sales of New York, LLC and Cellular Sales of Knoxville, Inc. (“Cellular”) for unfair wage deductions, unpaid compensable work, untimely commissions, unjust enrichment, and failure to pay minimum wage and overtime under the FLSA and New York Labor Law. Essentially, Plaintiffs claim that Defendants misclassified them as independent contractors instead of employees as defined by the FLSA and [New York Labor Law], thus depriving them of employee benefits required by law.   Cellular appealed the district court’s order granting attorney’s fees to Plaintiffs. Cellular argued that (1) the district court abused its discretion in finding that Plaintiffs’ successful minimum wage and overtime claims were sufficiently intertwined with their unsuccessful unfair wage deduction, unpaid compensable work, and untimely commissions claims under the Fair Labor Standards Act and New York Labor Law; and (2) regardless of whether the claims were intertwined, that the district court abused its discretion in reducing the attorney’s fees award by only 40 percent given Plaintiffs’ relative lack of success. 
 The Second Circuit affirmed. The could be explained that Plaintiffs brought wage-and-hour statutory claims that clearly arise from a common nucleus of operative fact regarding their time working for Cellular. Thus, the district court’s finding that the discovery involved in litigating the unpaid overtime wage claims is inseparable from the discovery involved in the unfair wage deductions, unpaid compensable work, or untimely commissions claims is well supported.  Further, the court affirmed the attorney’s fee awards explaining that fee awards are reviewed under a deferential abuse of discretion standard. View "Holick v. Cellular Sales" on Justia Law

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Defendants, federal prison officials, appealed a district court’s judgment awarding former prisoner $20,000 for mental and emotional injury requesting damages pursuant to Bivens v. Six Unknown Named Agents of Federal Bureau of Narcotics, 403 U.S. 388 (1971), for his imprisonment in overcrowded conditions that posed a substantial risk of serious damage to his health or safety, to which Defendants were deliberately indifferent, in violation of his rights under the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution.The Second Circuit reversed the judgment and remanded for dismissal of Plaintiff’s complaint. The court held first that the PLRA provision in 42 U.S.C. Section 1997e(e) precludes a prisoner's recovery of compensatory damages for mental or emotional injury resulting from his conditions of confinement absent a showing of physical injury. Next, Section 1997e(e) makes physical injury an element of such a claim for mental or emotional injury and is not an affirmative defense that would be subject to waiver if not presented in Defendant's answer. In light of Section 1997e(e), the jury's finding that Plaintiff failed to prove that the prison conditions of which he complained caused him physical injury precluded an award to him of compensatory damages for such mental or emotional injury as the jury found he suffered based on the conditions it found existed.Moreover, even if the jury's findings of fact warranted a conclusion that Plaintiff’s Eighth Amendment rights were violated by deliberate indifference to cruel and unusual psychological punishment caused by overcrowding, Defendants are entitled to qualified immunity from such an award. View "Walker v. Schult" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff appealed from a district court’s order awarding him attorney’s fees under 42 U.S.C. Section 1988 in an amount substantially less than he sought. After Plaintiff prevailed against the City of New York on the merits of his due process claim under 42 U.S.C. Section 1983, the district court, adopting the report and recommendation of the magistrate judge, lowered the attorney’s claimed hourly rate, excluded time spent on a related concurrent administrative proceeding, struck certain billing entries and imposed a 40% across-the-board reduction to the fee request.   Plaintiff challenged primarily the across-the-board reduction and the exclusion of time-related to the administrative proceeding. The Second Circuit vacated the district court’s order, explaining that while it identified no error in the district court’s decision to exclude all hours related to that proceeding, the court found that the 40% blanket reduction was not justified on the record. The court explained that it agrees with Plaintiff that the 40% overall reduction applied by the district court was not justified: the district court was able to (and in fact did) examine the block-billed entries for reasonableness, and Plaintiff’s counsel obtained a strongly favorable result for him overall, prevailing on claims that rested on the same core set of facts as did the claims that the court dismissed. However, the court identified no error in the district court’s decision to exclude from the fee calculation the hours that Plaintiff’s counsel devoted to defending him in the OATH proceeding because Plaintiff has not shown that this work was necessary to the result achieved in the federal court. View "Raja v. Burns" on Justia Law

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Defendant was indicted for knowingly producing child pornography in violation of federal law. He moved to suppress evidence gathered from his electronic devices, arguing that the government’s search warrants lacked probable cause and therefore violated his Fourth Amendment rights. The district court denied the motion. Defendant then pleaded guilty but reserved the right to appeal the district court’s decision on his motion to suppress.   The Second Circuit affirmed the district court’s judgment explained that it disagrees with the district court that Defendant’s prior guilty plea to an earlier charge in Tennessee state court precludes him from challenging the search warrants in this case. But the court agreed that even assuming arguendo that the warrants are defective, the good-faith exception to the exclusionary rule applies.   The court explained that there was at least arguable probable cause for the Tennessee Warrants, therefore, the Detective acted based on an “‘objectively reasonable good-faith belief’ that [his] conduct [was] lawful.” The court further wrote that the affidavits at issue here are not so devoid of factual support because they detail allegations from State Victim 1’s mother that support the common-sense inference that her daughter told her that Defendant took nude photographs of her. View "United States v. Jones" on Justia Law