Tuesday, July 22, 2008

No liberty interest in using a public facility

The right to travel is one of the Constitutional rights which does not appear anywhere in the Constitution. But the Supreme Court recognizes that right as fundamental to our political system. You can travel from state to state or within the state without arbitrary restrictions by the government. Does this liberty interest extend to the use of public buildings? The Second Circuit says no.

The case is Williams v. Town of Greenburgh, decided on July 21. I represented the plaintiff on appeal. Williams was using a recreational facility in Westchester County when he was evicted without good cause. His due process claim alleged that the expulsion took place without an opportunity to be heard. Since you need a liberty interest to predicate a due process claim, he argued that the liberty interest was the right to free movement, a by-product of the right to travel. We relied on a Sixth Circuit case, Johnson v. City of Cincinnati, 310 F.3d 484 (6th Cir. 2002), which contains an interesting discussion of the right to free movement and the use of public spaces.

Williams loses in the Second Circuit because the right to free movement may cover inter- and intra-state travel, but not the use of public facilities, like the recreational facility in Town of Greenburgh. The Court reasoned that while its precedents on the right to free movement "stand for the proposition that individuals possess a fundamental right to travel within a state[,] it is clear that the right protects movement between places and has no bearing on access to a particular place. . . . Williams's right to intrastate travel might prevent the Town from burdening Williams's ability to drive, walk, or otherwise proceed from his home to the Center, but it has no bearing whatsoever on whether, upon Williams's arrival, the Town must admit him into the facility."

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