Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Good loving gone bad

The New Haven Fire Department was last in the news a few years ago when white firefighters won their case in the U.S. Supreme Court because the department threw out their test scores. That was the case involving Sonia Sotomayor, forcing her to explain why she ruled against the plaintiffs in what was actually a very complicated case under the civil rights laws. This New Haven firefighters case involves a bad romantic relationship that cost this guy his job.

The case is Crenshaw v. City of New Haven, a summary order decided on June 21. Crenshaw dated a woman named Townsend while he was studying to become a fireman. He was on the certified list for a position. When the relationship ended, Williams said bad stuff 'bout Crenshaw, like he had threatened to kill fire commissioners because he had been previously denied a position with the department. While the City made plaintiff a conditional offer of employment, he failed the background check after Townsend bad-mouthed Crenshaw to the hiring people in order to prevent Crenshaw from getting the job. The City also discovered that plaintiff was not forthcoming about prior drug use and his outstanding debts.

The Court of Appeals (Pooler, Sack and Lynch) says Crenshaw has no case. To the uninitiated, plaintiff got the shaft. His best claim is under the due process clause, but these cases are very difficult to win, as any plaintiffs' civil rights lawyer will tell you. Plaintiff did not have a concrete right to the position, only a unilateral expectation for the position, so there is no property interest. That's been the legal standard since at least 1972. While you can bring a "loss of reputation" claim under the due process claim (these are known as "stigma plus" claims), the federal courts have made it so difficult to win these cases that you probably should not even show up for oral argument. Crenshaw loses the stigma-plus claim because the City made no stigmatizing claims about him in denying him the position, and nothing bad was said about him in public to cause any stigma. While Townsend sent an anonymous letter to the City about Crenshaw, the City did not repeat these false statements or make them public. So while Crenshaw got a raw deal, the Constitution sometimes provides no relief for a raw deal.

This case includes a footnote with a good practice tip. The lawyer's brief said that plaintiff incorporated all the arguments that he made in his district court memorandum of law. This may have been done in an exercise of caution, but the Court of Appeals doesn't like this because any good arguments should be in the appellate brief. The appellate court does not want to be rummaging through the file looking for the lower court brief. Any arguments that were in the district court brief but not in the appellate brief are waived, the Court says.

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