News-Gatherer not Nightcrawler: District Court Denies NYPD’s Motion to Dismiss Photojournalist’s First Amendment Complaint

The U.S.  District Court in Manhattan recently allowed a photojournalist’s complaint against the New York Police Department (NYPD) and City of New York to go forward.  In Jason B. Nicholas v. The City of New York, 15-CV-9592, the photojournalist-plaintiff alleged that the NYPD’s and City’s revocation of his press credentials violated his First Amendment and Fourteenth Amendment rights.

Nicholas recounted a series of encounters with the NYPD that led to the revocation, including an altercation with a retired NYPD detective while on assignment for the New York Daily News.  On multiple occasions, Nicholas refused to stay in an NYPD-imposed “press pen,” resulting in his press credentials being seized.  In the most recent incident, while photographing a rescued worker being loaded into an ambulance on-scene at a building collapse in Manhattan, Nicholas’s credentials were seized and revoked by the NYPD for allegedly not being in the press pen near the scene, although he alleges that other photographers were outside of the press pen and operating unimpeded.  The credentials were not returned until nearly eight months later.

Refusing to dismiss Nicholas’s complaint, the Court held that he had stated a viable claim for violation of his First Amendment rights.  The Court reiterated that “under the First Amendment, press organizations have a . . . right of access to newsworthy events in their capacity as representatives of the public and on their own behalf as members of the press.” The Court observed that “[e]qual press access is critical” to news-gatherers, citing case law extending protections against content-based or arbitrary exclusions.

The Court also allowed Nicholas’s due process claim, finding he had sufficiently alleged facts to show he had a protected interest in his press credentials; he was deprived process for revocation of his protected interest by the NYPD’s establishment of a “frozen zone” post-exigency; he was injured as a result of an official policy, custom, or practice of the municipality; and he was in danger of future harm, as evidenced by the pattern of multiple revocations of his press credentials by the NYPD.

Commentators and scholars have pointed to this recent decision, as well as decisions dating back decades upholding First Amendment claims by journalists excluded from covering public officials, including a case from the District of Columbia Circuit that found it impermissible to exclude White House press passes in a content-based or arbitrary fashion.

For more information, please contact Kathleen Barnett Einhorn, Esq., Chair of the Firm’s Complex Commercial Litigation Group, at keinhorn@genovaburns.com or Jennifer Borek, Esq., Partner in the Complex Commercial Litigation Group, at jborek@genovaburns.com.

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Supreme Court to Review Whether “Offensive” Names Can Be Trademarked

The U.S. Supreme Court agreed today to review the Federal Circuit’s decision to strike down the Lanham Act’s ban on “disparaging” trademarks.  The case, Lee v. Tam, No. 15-1293, involved an Asian American dance-rock band’s attempt to trademark their name THE SLANTS. The U.S Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) refused, citing the Lanham Act’s prohibition on “disparaging” trademarks. The Federal Circuit held that this prohibition violated trademark applicants’ First Amendment Rights. (See Litigation Law Blog’s previous post about the Federal Circuit’s decision from December 23, 2015.)

The Supreme Court’s decision could impact the more famous battle over an attempt to cancel the trademark registration for the NFL’s Washington Redskins as disparaging to Native Americans.

In the Washington Redskins case, a federal district court had ruled that the football team’s trademark disparaged Native Americans.  The team had appealed the case to the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, which was scheduled to hold oral argument in December.  On October 18, 2016, the Fourth Circuit agreed to stay consideration of the appeal until the Supreme Court decides Lee v. Tam.

For more information on the Lanham Act or the Supreme Court’s grant of certiorari in Lee v. Tam, please contact Kathleen Barnett Einhorn, Esq., Chair of the Firm’s Complex Commercial Litigation Group, at keinhorn@genovaburns.com or Jennifer Borek, Esq., Partner in the Complex Commercial Litigation Group, at jborek@genovaburns.com.

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Recent Supreme Court Decision Expands Freedom of Speech Rights for Those in Common-Interest-Communities

The New Jersey Supreme Court’s December 3, 2014 decision in Dublirer v. 2000 Linwood Avenue Owners, Inc., et al., extended the free speech rights of those living within private common-interest communities relating to political speech and the right to distribute political materials therein.

In Dublirer, the Court addressed an action filed by a resident in a high-rise private cooperative apartment building (the “Co-op”) against the Co-op’s board of directors (the “Board”) who prevented the resident from distributing leaflets under his neighbors’ doors criticizing the Co-op’s governance and promoting his own candidacy for the Board. The Board’s rule banned the distribution of all written materials “anywhere upon the premises without written authorization of the Board of Directors.”

The Court noted that an essential element of living within a co-op community is the residents’ agreement to be bound by the co-op’s by-laws and rules. However, while the Board’s stated purpose for barring the distribution of such written materials was “to preserve the residents’ quiet enjoyment of their apartment and to cut down on litter pollution,” the Court found that the residents’ rights in speaking out about the governance of their community outweighed the “minimal intrusion [of] when a leaflet is placed under a neighbor’s apartment door.” The residents of the Co-op were not outsiders, and thus had both property and free speech rights within the Co-op. The Court developed a test for such restrictions, holding that courts “should focus on the purpose of the expressional activity undertaken in relation to the property’s use, and should also consider the general balancing of expressional rights and private property rights.”

The Dublirer Court found that the resident’s leaflets were akin to political speech, thus affording it the highest Constitutional protection. The Court took into account the potentially intrusive nature of the resident’s leaflets, noting that here, the resident “did not seek approval to use a bullhorn or a loudspeaker, or to erect a large sign in the lobby,” and that “residents could simply ignore or throw away any literature placed under their doors.” In considering the reasonableness of the Board’s restriction, the Court found no “convenient, feasible, and alternative means” for engaging in the same speech, finding that the resident had sought “the most direct and least expensive way possible,” and that there were not substantially similar alternatives for communicating the same message to his neighbors.

The Court held that “[s]peech about matters of public interest, and about the qualifications of people who hold positions of trust, lies at the heart of our societal values,” and thus is entitled to protection whether or not that speech involves those who hold positions of trust within private common-interest communities.

Similar common-interest communities, such as condominium associations, should be aware of the Dublirer holding and potential claims by residents against their boards. The Court’s characterization of certain types of resident speech as protected political speech requires particular focus, as the Court stated that such should be afforded the greatest protection. However, the Court did not find that a board of directors in common-interest communities could never impose any speech restrictions, noting that the Board could have adopted “reasonable time, place, and manner restrictions to serve the community’s interest.” Such restrictions, however, must be designed to promote the quiet enjoyment of the residents of the community, “without unreasonably interfering with free speech rights.” Thus, in designing by-laws and house rules related to speech, boards must take into account the practical effect of any such proposed limitations on speech and the effect it would have on the residents, paying particular attention to the availability for substantially similar (and cost effective) mechanisms for the residents to accomplish a similar result.

For more information regarding the firm’s Complex Business Litigation Program, please contact Kathleen Barnett Einhorn, Director of the Complex Commercial Litigation Practice Group, at keinhorn@genovaburns.com.

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New Jersey Supreme Court Approves Complex Business Litigation Program

The State Judiciary has recently announced the commencement of a Complex Business Litigation Program, which will begin accepting cases January 1, 2015. The new program will further the Judiciary’s goals of streamlining complex business, commercial, and construction cases and expediting resolution of those matters.

The program will provide for the assignment of a judge in each vicinage with experience in complex civil litigation to manage the resolution of qualifying commercial litigation cases. Each judge will receive training in especially relevant areas of the law and case administration, and will be expected to issue at least two written opinions each year, which will be posted on njcourts.com. The judges will be encouraged to post decisions online of particular interest to the business community in order to provide an educational legal resource to the public. In order to further resolution of commercial disputes, mediation will be encouraged whenever appropriate, but will not be required under the Judiciary’s mandatory civil mediation and arbitration program.

Eligibility for the new Complex Business Litigation Program will be evaluated when each case applying for the program is filed. The program has a threshold damages amount of $200,000, although a party may make a motion to have their dispute included in the program in cases that do not meet that amount when good reasons are demonstrated. Conversely, a party may move for removal from the program if the party believes the case does not meet the program’s requirements.

The program is good news for businesses, who will certainly benefit from the streamlined judicial process for complex commercial litigation cases.

For more information regarding the firm’s Complex Business Litigation Program, please contact Kathleen Barnett Einhorn, Director of the Complex Commercial Litigation Practice Group, at KEinhorn@genovaburns.com.

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