Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Police directive to leave the building in a certain way does not violate Constitution

The police arrested plaintiff's designated driver and told him to leave his friend's apartment and to leave the neighborhood. They even told him to walk a different direction down the street. When he followed the police's directive, plaintiff was attacked by someone with a machete. Somewhere in the mess there has to be a lawsuit, right?

The case is Urbina v. City of New York, a summary order decided on November 29. Urbina has an experienced lawyer who comes up with a few interesting theories about police liability. Plaintiff says he was in "constructive custody" at the time he was attacked because the police told him to leave the apartment and proceed away in another direction. The Supreme Court recognizes that some people are in police custody even if they are not in handcuffs if they are not free to leave a particular location. The Court of Appeals (Cabranes, Parker and Pooler) is not buying it. Plaintiff's lawsuit concedes that after the police told him to leave the apartment, he intended to enter a store to buy some food and then head home (or even return to the apartment). This means, the Court says, that plaintiff was in fact free to leave. There was no seizure under the Fourth Amendment.

Plaintiff also sues the police under the "Right to Travel" theory. The Constitution recognizes such a theory, but it is quite narrow, thanks to Williams v. Town of Greenburgh, 535 F.3d 71 (2d Cir. 2008) (a case I argued), which says the right protects movement between places and has no bearing on access to a particular place. While plaintiff says the police directive that he leave the apartment and to travel east instead of west restricted his movement in violation of the Constitution, that does not cut it, the Court says, because "minor restrictions on travel do not amount to the denial of a fundamental right" under the Constitution.

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