Articles Posted in Constitutional Law

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The State’s contribution to health insurance benefits for State employees, including members of the State judiciary, is not judicial compensation protected from direct diminution by the Judicial Compensation Clause of the State Constitution, and the reductions in contributions do not have the effect of singling out the judiciary for disadvantageous treatment. Plaintiffs, Supreme Court Justices and others, filed suit against the State seeking a declaratory judgment that newly amended N.Y. Civ. Serv. Law 167(8), which authorizes reduction in contributions towards health insurance premiums, violates the Compensation Clause of the State Constitution. Supreme Court denied the State’s motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim. The Appellate Division affirmed, concluding that compensation includes health insurance benefits and that the decree in the State’s contribution level discriminated against judges. The Court of Appeals reversed, holding that a contribution to health care premiums is not compensation within the context of the Compensation Clause, and the change in State contributions does not jeopardize the independence of the judiciary. View "Bransten v. State" on Justia Law

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The Court of Appeals answered two certified questions by holding (1) under the capacity rule, public benefit corporations have no greater stature to challenge the constitutionality of state statutes than do municipal corporations or other local government entities; and (2) a claim-revival statute will satisfy the Due Process Clause of the state Constitution if it was enacted as a reasonable response in order to remedy an injustice. Plaintiffs, workers who participated in cleanup operations following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, brought claims against BatteryPark City Authority (BPCA), a public benefit corporation, alleging that they developed illness as a result of their exposure to harmful toxins at BPCA-owned properties in the course of their cleanup duties. The district court dismissed the claims on the grounds that Plaintiffs did not serve BPCA with timely notices of claim. The legislature responded by enacting Jimmy Nolan’s law, which revived Plaintiffs’ time-barred causes of action for one year after the law’s enactment. Plaintiffs subsequently served new notices of claim on BPCA within the one-year revival period. The district court granted summary judgment for BPCA, concluding that Jimmy Nolan’s Law was unconstitutional as applied. On appeal, the Second Circuit Court of Appeal certified questions to the Court of Appeals. The court answered as set forth above. View "In re World Trade Center Lower Manhattan Disaster Site Litigation" on Justia Law

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A government agency may rely on section 37(2)(e)(iii) of the State’s Freedom of Information Law (Public Officers Law art 7 (FOIL)) - under which an agency may seek to exempt from public inspection those records compiled for law enforcement purposes and which, if disclosed, would identify a confidential source or disclose confidential information relating to a criminal investigation - only if the agency establishes that (1) an express promise of confidentiality was made to the source, or (2) the circumstances of the particular case are such that the confidentiality of the source or information can be reasonably inferred. In this case, the Second Department ruled that the District Attorney of Nassau County properly denied Petitioner’s FOIL request for records relating to his conviction. Petitioner subsequently commenced this proceeding pursuant to N.Y. C.P.L.R. 78 against the Nassau County District Attorney seeking disclosure of his case file. Supreme Court granted the petition. The Appellate Division reversed, concluding that the case file was appropriately withheld under section 87(2)(e)(iii). The Court of Appeals reversed and remitted the matter to Supreme Court, holding that the Second Department applied the wrong standard in making its ruling. View "Friedman v. Rice" on Justia Law

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Assuming that the legislature’s 2013 amendment to N.Y. Workers’ Comp. Law 25-a has a retroactive impact by imposing unfunded costs upon Plaintiffs for policies finalized before the amendment’s effective date, that retroactive impact is constitutionally permissible. Plaintiffs - approximately twenty insurance companies that wrote workers’ compensation insurance policies in New York - commenced this declaratory judgment action in 2013, alleging that the legislature’s amendment to section 25-a operated retroactively to the extent that it imposed unfunded liability upon Plaintiffs and that this retroactive impact was unconstitutional. Supreme Court granted Defendant’s motion to dismiss, concluding that the amendment operated prospectively. The Appellate Division reversed and entered a judgment declaring section 25-a(1-a) unconstitutional as retroactively applied to policies issued before October 1, 2013. The Court of Appeals reversed, holding that, even assuming that the amendment has retroactive impact, this impact is constitutional. View "American Economy Insurance Co. v. State" on Justia Law

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The Court of Appeals in this care reaffirmed its longstanding rule that a warrantless arrest of a suspect in the threshold of a residence is permissible under the Fourth Amendment, provided that the suspect has voluntarily answered the door and the police have not crossed the threshold. Defendant was arrested without a warrant inside the doorway of his home. Defendant was later convicted of four counts of third-degree robbery and one count of attempted third-degree robbery. Defendant appealed the denial of his motion to suppress, arguing that the police violated Payton v. New York, 455 U.S. 573 (1980), by entering his home without consent or a warrant. The Appellate Division affirmed. The Court of Appeals affirmed, holding (1) the police never entered Defendant’s home, and therefore, the intrusion prohibited by Payton did not occur; (2) despite the urging of Defendant and two dissenting colleagues, this court refuses to adopt a new rule that warrantless “threshold/doorway arrests” violate Payton when the only reason the arrestee is in the doorway is that he or she was summoned there by police; and (3) there is no compelling justification to overrule prior precedent to recognize a new category of Payton violations based on subjective police intent. View "People v. Garvin" on Justia Law

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The Court of Appeals rejected Plaintiffs’ argument that an individual has a fundamental constitutional right to aid-in-dying as defined by Plaintiffs and also rejected Plaintiffs’ assertion that the State’s prohibition on assisted suicide is not rationally related to legitimate state interests. Plaintiffs filed this action requesting declaratory and injunctive relief to permit “aid-in-dying,” which would allow a mentally competent, terminally ill patient to obtain a prescription from a physician to cause death. The Attorney General filed a motion to dismiss on the grounds that Plaintiffs failed to state a cause of action and did not present a justiciable controversy. Supreme Court granted the motion. The Appellate Division affirmed as modified, declaring that the assisted suicide statutes provide a valid statutory basis to prosecute physicians who provide aid-in-dying and that the statutes do not violate the New York Constitution. The Court of Appeals affirmed, holding (1) the State Constitution’s Due Process Clause does not encompass a fundamental right to physician-assisted suicide; and (2) the State’s prohibition is rationally related to a number of legitimate state interests, and heightened scrutiny is unwarranted. View "Myers v. Schneiderman" on Justia Law

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The Court of Appeals upheld the constitutionality of New York’s discretionary persistent felony offender sentencing scheme, holding that, in light of Alleyne v. United States, 570 U.S. __ (2013), this sentencing scheme does not violate Apprendi v. New Jersey, 530 U.S. 466 (2000), nor does it violate Defendant’s due process and Sixth Amendment rights. Defendant argued New York’s persistent felony offender statute, N.Y. Penal Law 70.10(1)(a), increased the sentencing floor for persistent felony offenders. The Court of Appeals held that even if Defendant was correct in his characterization, the increase to the sentencing floor would not be the result of impermissible judicial fact-finding. The court further held that the statute falls squarely within the exception afforded by Almendarez-Torres v. United States, 523 U.S. 224 (1998), because it exposes defendants to an enhanced sentencing range based only on the existence of two prior felony convictions. View "People v. Prindle" on Justia Law

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Under the circumstances of this case, where a sworn juror repeatedly and unambiguously stated that she was unable to render an impartial verdict based solely on the evidence and the law, the trial court erred in failing to discharge the juror as “grossly unqualified to serve” pursuant to N.Y. Crim. Proc. Law 270.35(1). After a jury trial, Defendant was acquitted of murder in the second degree and convicted of manslaughter in the first degree. The Appellate Division affirmed. The Court of Appeals reversed and ordered that Defendant receive a new trial, holding that the sworn juror at issue in this case, a juror who purportedly stated that she could not “do what the law require[d] [her] to do,” was incapable of rendering an impartial verdict as required by her oath as a sworn juror. Therefore, section 270.35(1) mandated her discharge. View "People v. Spencer" on Justia Law

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After a jury trial, Defendant was found guilty of first-degree course of sexual conduct against a child. The Appellate Division affirmed. Defendant appealed, arguing that he was denied the effective assistance of counsel due to counsel’s failure to object to the admission of evidence that the victim disclosed the abuse three years after it ceased and then again four years after her initial disclosure. The Court of Appeals affirmed, holding that Defendant failed to demonstrate the absence of strategic or legitimate explanations for counsel’s failure to object to the evidence at issue. View "People v. Honghirun" on Justia Law

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At issue in this case was New York City’s 2001 zoning amendments that affected the City’s adult entertainment industry. Plaintiffs, an adult video store and an establishment that showed adult films, brought this case seeking a declaration that the 2001 amendments were facially unconstitutional as a violation of free speech. After years of litigation, the Court of Appeals ruled that judgment be granted in favor of the City, holding that the City met its burden of demonstrating that the establishments affected by the City’s 2001 zoning amendments retained a continued focus on sexually explicit materials or activities. Therefore, under a 2005 decision of the Court of Appeals in this case, the amendments did not violate Plaintiffs’ First Amendment rights. View "For the People Theatres of N.Y. Inc. v. City of New York" on Justia Law