Proskauer recently prevailed at the Second Circuit on behalf of our incarcerated pro bono client, James Thomas, in an appeal that determined that Mr. Thomas was not provided adequate notice before the district court entered summary judgment against him. Proceeding pro se, Mr. Thomas brought claims for civil rights violations under the Fourth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments against prison officials related to multiple searches. Defendants moved for summary judgment and provided Mr. Thomas with a short and plain statement providing an overview of summary judgment procedure. Under the district court’s local rules, however, represented parties moving for summary judgment against pro se litigants must also provide the full text of the applicable rules governing summary judgment procedure to ensure adequate understanding of the complicated nature and serious consequences of the motion. Despite this requirement, the district court excused defendants’ failure to provide documentation of the rules because, in its view, the plain statement they provided sufficiently advised Mr. Thomas of his obligation to submit evidence in opposition to summary judgment. The district court then entered summary judgment against Mr. Thomas, in part because he failed to adduce evidence specifically controverting defendants’ factual assertions, as the rules require.

As part of its mission to raise awareness about the impact and importance of The Legal Aid Society, Proskauer’s Associates’ Campaign for Legal Aid organized a special event on wrongful convictions featuring Elizabeth Felber from Legal Aid’s Wrongful Conviction Unit, Jason Flom, a renowned criminal justice reform advocate, and Jimmy Dennis, an exoneree who served 25 years on death row for a crime he did not commit.   

Proskauer and co-counsel Disability Rights Advocates (“DRA”), a nationwide nonprofit disability rights legal center, triumphed in a Chicago court this month, obtaining a ruling that will lead to historic accessibility improvements for the more than 65,000 people with vision difficulties who live in Chicago. The Court granted summary judgment on claims that the City of Chicago discriminated against blind and low vision pedestrians under federal disability rights laws by failing to install accessible pedestrian signals (APS) at signalized intersections.  American Council of the Blind of Metropolitan Chicago, et al. v. City of Chicago, No. 1:19-cv-06322 (N.D. Ill.). 

A team of pro bono attorneys at Proskauer recently celebrated a significant step forward in their fight for safe and healthy housing for the more than 400,000 New Yorkers who live in apartments operated by the New York City Housing Authority (“NYCHA”), the largest public housing authority in the country.  Federal Judge William Pauley in the Southern District of New York entered an order requiring NYCHA to implement enhanced procedures to ensure the effective and timely remediation of mold and excessive moisture.  The order also creates independent oversight to ensure NYCHA’s compliance with these obligations.

The Court’s decision provides relief for a class of public housing tenants who suffer from asthma exacerbated by mold and water leaks.  As NYCHA has reported, 150,000 NYCHA residents, including 35,000 children under the age of 15, live in developments located in “asthma hotspots” that generate the highest rates of asthma-related emergency room visits in New York City.

Earlier this month, Proskauer filed an amicus brief on behalf of the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence in support of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts’ ban on assault weapons, such as the AK-47 or the AR-15, and large-capacity magazines.  We filed the brief with the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit in Worman v. Healey, a case challenging the ban on Second Amendment grounds.  Partner Kimberly Mottley and I led the team, with Lindsey Olson Collins and Steven A. Sutro co-authoring the brief.

Since 1998, Massachusetts has banned the sale and possession within the state of military-style assault weapons and large capacity magazines.  These same weapons were used in some of America’s deadliest mass shootings:  Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut;  the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida;  the Route 91 Harvest Festival in Las Vegas, Nevada;  Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida; and most recently,  the Temple of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The popularity of such assault weapons among perpetrators led the New York Times to dub them the “rifles of choice for mass shootings.”

Recent events have created an urgent need for an independent Immigration Court separate from the Department of Justice.  On October 17, Proskauer hosted a panel discussion in its New York office co-sponsored by Sanctuary for Families, the New York Immigration Coalition, and the Federal Bar Association’s Immigration Law Section entitled, “Lives in the Balance: Eviscerating Asylum Protection for Victims of Gender Violence.”  The speakers included The Hon. Carolyn Maloney, U.S. Representative from New York’s 12th Congressional District, the Hon. Amiena Khan, Executive Vice President, National Association of Immigration Judges, Lori Adams, Director, Immigration Intervention Project at Sanctuary for Families, and Lisa Koenig, a Partner at Fragomen.

The immigration lawyers on the panel provided different perspectives on Matter of A-B, a consequential decision from last summer where the Attorney General purported to overrule Immigration Court precedent, and thereby limit the availability of domestic violence as a basis for asylum.  Aside from placing the law on asylum in flux, the AG’s action raises the important question of how a cabinet-level, executive branch official could claim the authority to reverse a court’s decision.    

Yesterday, 23 law professors represented by Proskauer were granted permission to participate as amici curiae in a class action lawsuit contesting a recent U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) policy change affecting minors in New York who seek Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS).  This policy change has resulted in SIJS denials for immigrant children who would otherwise qualify for SIJS based on well-established state and federal law.

SIJS is a form of immigration relief that provides unmarried children under age 21 with a path to citizenship if they can provide a determination from a state juvenile court that they are dependent on the court or are committed by the court to the custody of a State entity or an individual; that reunification with one or both parents is not viable due to abuse, neglect, abandonment, or a similar basis under state law; and that it is not in their “best interest” to return to their country of origin.

It was unlike any courtroom I had seen before. The Immigration Judge appeared on a video screen a little blurry but larger than life. My client, an eight-year-old girl, sat next to me at a long table. This proceeding in Dilley, Texas was not open to the public but was held behind two locked doors in a trailer secured within a sprawling “family residential center” that despite its friendly name, had all the indicia of a jail.

This was an expedited removal proceeding, and I was appealing an asylum officer’s negative credible fear determination for my young client. Her mother’s appeal already had been denied so this was our last chance to prevent the two from being deported. Especially considering my client’s age, I wanted to marshal the evidence and explain why the legal standard had been met in this case. “May I be heard Your Honor?” I asked. “No, you may not,” he responded. The Judge asked my client a few questions with little follow-up and denied the appeal, wishing my client, “good luck in your home country.”