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Court: Prisoners Can't Be Forced to Snitch

In a twist on the right to remain silent, a federal appeals court said prison guards could not compel an inmate to snitch.

Mark Burns sued New York prison officials for allegedly punishing him after he refused to tell them who hit him. He said the guards made him an offer he couldn't refuse: turn informant or solitary confinement.

You can't do that, explained the U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals in Burns v. Martuscello. Prisoners, of all people, should have a right to keep to themselves.

Court Revives Muslim-Americans' Lawsuit Against FBI Agents

Muhammad Tanvir, a Muslim-American, tried to fly from the United States to visit his mother in Pakistan for five years.

Every time he went to the airport, however, federal agents stopped him. The FBI had placed him on the "No Fly List," a watchlist for suspected terrorists.

Tanvir sued in Tanvir v. Tanzin, claiming he wasn't a terrorist and that the agents had violated his civil rights. A trial judge threw out the case, but the U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals reversed.

While media coverage of the recent settlement in Hassan v. NYPD report that the settlement was for a paltry $75K split between 11 plaintiffs, many sources failed to include the $950K in legal fees the plaintiffs racked up that the department and city agreed to cover.

The case revolves around the NYPD's post 9/11 policies that included surveilling mosques, schools, and other groups, solely for their Muslim affiliation, without probable cause, reasonable suspicion, or any reason other than religious affiliation (and xenophobia). As part of the settlement, the city and department have agreed to revise their policies, and provide better training, both of which were also terms of prior settlements alleging similar misconduct. While neither defendant admitted liability, it doesn't take a legal scholar to understand what a million dollar settlement means in terms of who violated the law.

'Ministerial Exception' Protects Hospital From Racial Discrimination Claims

The First Amendment comes before the Fourteenth Amendment, and sometimes trumps it.

At least that's what happened in Penn v. New York Methodist Hospital. A black chaplain sued the Methodist hospital for racial discrimination, but a federal court rejected his case.

The U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals said there is a "ministerial exception" against discrimination claims. In other words, religions can discriminate.

Further driving a divide in a circuit split, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals joined the Seventh Circuit in finding that Title VII does in fact protect employees on the basis of sexual orientation.

Sadly, the case involves a deceased skydiving instructor who was fired after a customer complained that the instructor was gay. The estate of the deceased kept the case alive even after the plaintiff died in a subsequent skydiving accident. Interestingly, the appellate court initially did not find in favor of the plaintiff, but after a rehearing en banc, the court changed their minds on the issue of whether sexual orientation discrimination was discrimination "because of sex."

The Second Circuit Court of Appeals reached a conclusion as surprising as the name of the food truck at the center of one of the more curious recent federal First Amendment appeals: Wandering Dago v. the State of New York.

The appellate court actually ruled in favor of the food truck with questionable (arguably offensive) branding, finding that the state's reason for excluding the food truck from a lunch program violated the First Amendment, despite the business's use of ethnic slurs in its branding and menu. The truck itself is a rolling ethnic slur, and uses other stereotypical pejorative terms for Italians for various menu items. However, the truck is seeking to reclaim these pejorative terms and believes using the words with a positive connotation is empowering rather than offensive.

Inmate Needs Stuffed Animals to Meditate; 2nd Cir. Allows Religious Claims

It's not nice to make fun of people's religions, and sometimes it's illegal.

Like Christopher Grief, who believes that stuffed animals are necessary to practicing his religion. He wanted some inside his jail cell and sued so he could worship.

A federal judge thought it was nonsense, but an appeals court disagreed. After all, hasn't everybody at least adored a stuffed animal once in their life?

The qui tam action brought against Wells Fargo in 2011 has been brought back to life by the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, thanks to a recent ruling of the Supreme Court.

The case alleges, under the False Claims Act, that Wells Fargo, Wachovia, and World Savings banks all falsely certified compliance with banking laws in order to qualify for loans from the Federal Reserve System. The plaintiffs, or realtors, in the action, had their claims dismissed and that dismissal affirmed; however, on appeal again, as the appellate court noted, the standard has now changed, which resulted in a remand to the district court.

A former cadet at West Point Academy, the nation's premiere military academy, had her case, Doe v. USA, dismissed by the Second Circuit Court of Appeals. The appellate court explained that a Bivens claim is unavailable for military cadets alleging a violation of their rights connected to their service.

Significantly, the court found that cadets are not just students at their military academy, like West Point. Instead, the student/cadets are service-members in training, and thus, any claims arising from their training and education are deemed to be part of their military service.

Aldo Vera Jr. filed a lawsuit against the nation of Cuba due to the alleged assassination of his father in the late 1970s in Puerto Rico. After receiving a default judgment on his claims in 2008 in a Florida state court, which were presumed to be permissible under the Foreign Sovereign Immunity Act's terrorism exception, the court awarded him $45 million in damages.

Unfortunately for Mr. Vera, in attempting to enforce the judgment, the Second Circuit Court of Appeal has reversed the district court's decision holding Cuba liable at all. The Second Circuit found that the state court decision that the federal district court based its decision and order on was erroneous, thereby rendering the district court's decision erroneous as well.