Justia Constitutional Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit
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Plaintiffs submitted a petition to the United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York that contained information related to the September 11, 2001 attacks and requested that the Office present the petition to a grand jury. Over a year later, Plaintiffs filed this lawsuit, requesting (1) disclosure of grand jury records related to the petition and (2) a court order compelling defendants to present their petition to a grand jury if they have not yet done so. The district court dismissed the lawsuit for lack of standing and for failure to state a claim. On appeal, Plaintiffs challenge those findings.The Second Circuit affirmed finding no merit to Plaintiffs’ challenges. The court explained that fail to establish standing to pursue an order compelling Defendants to deliver their Petition to a grand jury under the Federal Mandamus Statute or the APA. Further, the court wrote that the First Amendment does not encompass the right to force a U.S. Attorney to present whatever materials a member of the public chooses to a grand jury. Accordingly, Plaintiffs have failed to show a cognizable injury under the First Amendment to establish standing to pursue Count 2. View "Lawyers' Committee v. Garland" 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

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Plaintiffs are several parents suing on behalf of themselves and their children, whose requests for medical exemptions from the school immunization requirements were largely denied. They brought this action below against Defendants, the New York State Department of Health (the "Health Department"), Health Department officials, local school districts, and local school district officials (collectively, "Defendants"), alleging that the new regulations and the enforcement thereof violated their rights under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, 29 U.S.C. Section 794 (the "Rehabilitation Act"). The district court granted Defendants' motions to dismiss for failure to state a claim.   The Second Circuit affirmed the district court’s judgment. The court first concluded, as a procedural matter, that the district court properly applied the motion to dismiss standards. The court then concluded, as a substantive matter, that neither the new regulations nor the enforcement thereof violated the Due Process Clause or the Rehabilitation Act. The court explained that the new regulations do not implicate a fundamental right and that therefore strict scrutiny does not apply. The court further found that there is a reasonable relationship between the delegation of authority to school districts to review and approve medical exemption requests and protecting communities from serious diseases. Finally, the court concluded that Plaintiffs fail to plausibly allege that they were excluded from school "solely by reason of" their disabilities. View "Goe v. Zucker" on Justia Law

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Defendant, represented by New York’s Attorney General, appealed from a district court judgment holding that New York Penal Law Section 215.50(7), which prohibits certain speech within a 200 feet radius of a courthouse, violates the First Amendment of the United States Constitution and permanently enjoining the enforcement of the statute in all circumstances. The State of New York argued that Plaintiff lacked standing to challenge the statute and that the district court erred in granting an injunction that enjoined enforcement of the statute in all circumstances, beyond its application to Plaintiff’s own conduct in this case.   The Second Circuit concluded that while Plaintiff has standing to challenge the statute, the district court erred in granting such a broad injunction. The court, therefore, vacated the judgment of the district court and remanded with instructions to enjoin the application of NYPL Section 215.50(7) only in the circumstances presented by Plaintiff’s conduct in this case. The court explained that an injunction prohibiting the application of NYPL Section 215.50(7) in the circumstances presented by Plaintiff’s case – in which a single individual advocated for what he contends are the correct principles of the legal system, unconnected to any specific trial and effected through non-intrusive and non-disruptive leafletting rather than more aggressive, disruptive, or targeted forms of communication – would suffice to vindicate Plaintiff’s First Amendment right to advocate his point of view regarding jury nullification and to engage in the conduct in which he has engaged in the past and intends to continue in the future. View "Picard v. Magliano" on Justia Law

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After a three-and-a-half-year delay, a jury convicted Appellant of conspiring to launder the proceeds generated by a network of Brooklyn medical clinics. Appellant appealed his conviction and sentence. He argued that the district court erred when it denied his motions to dismiss based on violations of the Speedy Trial Act, 18 U.S.C. Section 3161 et seq. Specifically, Appellant claimed that the district court improperly excluded time based on the complexity of the case without determining, on the record, why the case was complex or that such exclusions outweighed the best interest of the public and the defendant in a speedy trial. He contended that the excessive pre-trial delay, to which he objected, arose not from the supposed complexity of the prosecution but rather because the Government delayed production of certain documents possessed by state and federal agencies that had participated in the joint investigation and prosecution of Appellant.   The Second Circuit reversed the district court’s judgment of conviction, vacated Appellant’s conviction and sentence, and remanded to the district court. The court held that the district court’s exclusion of time during at least two long periods of delay was insufficient under the Speedy Trial Act.   The court explained that the Speedy Trial Act was designed to enforce the Sixth Amendment’s guarantee that the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy trial. Here, the district court failed in this responsibility. It neither held the Government accountable for its discovery obligations nor appropriately considered the causes and implications of the extraordinary delays introduced by the Government’s dilatory conduct of discovery. View "United States v. Pikus" on Justia Law

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Police received reports of a gunshot fired from the roof of a building. Officers responded to the scene within two minutes, at which point they observed Defendants exiting a building. While officers were not sure which building the shots were fired from, the building Defendants were exiting was in the immediate area. Officers noticed one of the Defendants bladed his body away from them, and both Defendants had their hands in their pockets. When asked to remove their hands from their pockets, Defendants complied. However, at this point, officers noticed a bulge in one of the Defendant's pockets. A passerby informed officers that he had seen Defendants coming down from the building's rooftop. Officers frisked one of the Defendants, recovering a firearm.Defendants entered guilty pleas each to a single count of being a felon in possession of a firearm in violation of 18 U.S.C. Sections 922(g)(1) and 2, preserving their right to appeal the court's adverse decision on their motion to suppress.The Second Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of Defendants' motion to suppress, finding that the police had reasonable suspicion to initiate a pedestrian stop as well as to conduct a pat-frisk of the Defendant who had a bulge in his pocket. View "United States v. Hawkins" on Justia Law

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Defendant was convicted of six counts of criminal contempt for repeatedly defying court orders, for which he was sentenced to six months’ imprisonment. He challenges the conviction, arguing that the district court’s appointment of special prosecutors under Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 42(a)(2) violated the Appointments Clause of the United States Constitution because (1) the special prosecutors are inferior officers who were not supervised by a principal officer, and (2) Rule 42 does not satisfy the Appointments Clause requirement that “Congress . . . by Law” vest the appointment of inferior officers in the courts.   The Second Circuit affirmed Defendant’s convictions. The court first concluded that special prosecutors are officers under the Appointments Clause. Next, the court held that Defendant’s Appointments Clause arguments lack merit. First, the special prosecutors are subject to supervision by the Attorney General, who has broad statutory authority to “conduct” and to “supervise” all litigation involving the United States. This authority includes supervising—and if necessary, removing—the special prosecutors. Second, Plaintiff failed to raise his challenge to Rule 42 below, thus the court concluded conclude that the district court did not commit plain error by appointing the special prosecutors in light of directly applicable Supreme Court precedent Finally, the court concluded that the district court did not abuse its discretion by initiating prosecution against Defendant for repeatedly defying court orders for years. View "United States v. Donziger" on Justia Law

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Defendant was convicted of possessing marijuana with intent to distribute, and of conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute, 100 kilograms or more of marijuana following a jury trial.   On appeal, Defendant argued that (1) the district court erred in denying his motion to suppress marijuana that was obtained during a warrantless search of a private single-engine airplane; (2) the government improperly bolstered the testimony of its cooperating witnesses at trial; and (3) he received ineffective assistance of counsel at sentencing.   The Second Circuit affirmed the denial of the motion to suppress, the judgment of conviction, and the sentence. The court held that the vehicle exception to the Fourth Amendment’s warrant requirement applies to the search of the private aircraft used to transport Defendant’s marijuana and that there was probable cause to search the plane. Further, the court wrote there is no merit to Defendant’s remaining challenges.   The court explained unlike a traffic stop, law enforcement agents may conduct a ramp check absent an antecedent violation or even reasonable suspicion of one. Here, the ramp check by itself was therefore a proper exercise of regulatory authority. Further, the mobility of an airplane in flight is so obvious that it needs no elaboration. And even when a plane is on the ground, it is no less capable of being moved than, say, a non-residential unhitched tractor-trailer. The fact that the search here occurred while the plane was sitting on the tarmac and the pilot was not in the pilot’s seat does not alter the calculus. View "United States v. Capelli" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs are practicing Muslims who believe that they are required under the precepts of their religion to perform five daily congregational prayers with as many other Muslims as are available and wish to participate. Plaintiffs alleged that while they were incarcerated at the Federal Correctional Institution in Danbury, Connecticut ("FCI Danbury"), wardens enforced a policy that restricted prayer in groups of more than two to the prison's chapel.   Plaintiffs filed suit against defendant prison officials seeking injunctive relief and damages on the grounds that FCI Danbury's communal prayer policy violated the Religious Freedom Restoration Act ("RFRA") and the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.   The district court granted Defendants' motion to dismiss Plaintiffs' Second Amended Complaint (“SAC”) in large part, but declined to dismiss Plaintiffs' RFRA claims for damages against Defendants in their individual capacities, holding that qualified immunity was not available to the wardens at the motion-to-dismiss stage.   The Second Circuit affirmed the district court’s ruling, concluding 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. The court explained that a reasonable officer should have known, based on clearly established law, that denying a Muslim inmate the ability to engage in group prayer without any justification or compelling interest, as alleged in the SAC, violates RFRA. View "Sabir v. Williams" on Justia Law