Category: Civil Rights

Second Circuit Denies En Banc Review of Decision Upholding Private Damages Remedy under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act

Case Name: Tanvir v. Tanzin

Date of Opinion: February 14, 2019

Opinion by: En banc. Judge Pooler and Chief Judge Katzmann Concur in Denial of Rehearing En Banc; Judges Jacobs, Cabranes, and Sullivan Dissent


In the underlying case, plaintiffs sued federal law enforcement officials and officers alleging that they were put on a national “No Fly” list, despite not posing an aviation threat, in retaliation for their declining to serve as FBI informants reporting on fellow Muslims. Plaintiffs alleged defendants’ actions constituted a substantial burden on their exercise of religion in violation of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (“RFRA”).  The United States District Court for the Southern District of New York dismissed the complaint, in relevant part, on the ground that the RFRA does not permit private parties to recover monetary damages against federal officers sued in their individual capacities. Plaintiffs appealed and, on June 25, 2018, a Second Circuit panel consisting of Chief Judge Katzmann and Circuit Judges Pooler and Lynch reversed, holding that the RFRA does permit private recovery of money damages against federal officers sued in their individual capacities.

Following the June 2018 decision, an active judge of the Second Circuit requested a poll on whether to rehear the case en banc. A majority of the Second Circuit declined the en banc review, and Judge Pooler issued a written concurrence, joined by Chief Judge Katzmann, in support of the panel’s original ruling that the RFRA permits a private action for monetary damages.  Judges Jacobs and Cabranes each issued a written dissent to the denial of the en banc review and joined the other, and Judge Sullivan joined both dissents.

The concurring judges contend that, contrary to the position taken in the dissenting opinions, the holding that a private action for monetary damages exists in this case is grounded in the express provisions for relief set out in the RFRA, and is not a judicially implied right of action that represents an extension of the Supreme Courts’ 1971 decision in Bivens v. Six Unknown Named Agents of the Federal Bureau of NarcoticsContinue reading

Second Circuit Holds That Wrongfully-Convicted Man’s Case Against NYPD Officers and NYC Can Go Forward

Case Name: Bellamy v. City of New York, et al.

Date of Opinion: January 29, 2019

Opinion by: Judge Walker (majority); Judge Jacobs (dissent)


In May 1994, Kareem Bellamy was arrested and charged with the murder of James Abbott, a man who was fatally stabbed near a phone booth outside of a C-Town Supermarket in Far Rockaway, Queens, New York. A grand jury indicted him, and Bellamy was ultimately convicted of murder in the second degree under N.Y. Penal Law § 125.25(2) (depraved indifference murder) and criminal possession of a weapon in the fourth degree under N.Y. Penal Law § 265.01(2) following a full trial in November 1995. He was sentenced to 25 years-to-life in prison. The state appellate court affirmed Bellamy’s conviction, and he was denied leave to appeal to the New York Court of Appeals.

In 2007, Bellamy filed a motion to vacate the final judgment on the grounds that new evidence had been discovered which proved his innocence. The new evidence cited by Bellamy included the confession of another individual to the murder and the recanting of a key witness who claimed to have been pressured to testify by Detective John Gillen of the New York City Police Department (“NYPD”). After lengthy post-conviction hearings pertaining to the validity of the evidence and credibility of key witnesses, the court ordered vacatur of Bellamy’s judgment and his release from prison. The Second Department affirmed, leave to appeal to the Court of Appeals was denied, and Bellamy was released from prison. By the time he was released, Bellamy had spent over 14 years in New York state prison.

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