Constitutional Rights | Statutes of Limitations | First Amendment

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Prison Inmate Had No Right to Starve

Village Law Encroached Upon First Amendment Right To Report A Crime

In Matter of Martuscello v. Jua TT, the Superintendent of a State correctional facility brought an application to authorize involuntary medical treatment and feeding of an inmate who had gone on a hunger strike. The State Supreme Court granted the application, and the inmate appealed. The Third Department of the Appellate Division affirmed the decision, ruling that the involuntary medical treatment and feeding of the inmate was warranted for the duration of his incarceration.

In May 2013, the inmate, who is serving a sentence of 25 years to life, began his first hunger strike. In June 2013, in a prior application, the Supreme Court granted the correctional facility’s application to force-feed the inmate, when necessary, by medical means such as a nasogastric tube. The order was only in effect for one year, but during that year he had to be frequently force-fed.

In June 2014, the correctional facility commenced this proceeding seeking authorization to force-feed the inmate throughout his entire incarceration. The inmate objected, arguing that it would violate his constitutional rights to refuse medical treatment and to privacy, liberty and free speech and that correctional facility failed to show any sufficient “State interest” that is compelling enough to overcome his constitutional rights. The right to refuse medical treatment is rooted in the common-law right to informed consent and to be in control of one’s own person, in the liberty interest under the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, and in the State constitution and State laws governing the care and treatment of incompetent adults. Courts have relied on these sources of authority in defining a patient’s right to refuse treatment.

Notwithstanding, the Supreme Court granted the petition authorizing the correctional facility to force feed the inmate throughout his incarceration. In affirming that decision, the Appellate Division reasoned that “when an inmate commences a hunger strike, which, if continued, would create a substantial risk of imminent death or serious permanent injury, a force-feeding order is warranted if the State’s intervention, even if contrary to the inmate’s constitutional rights, is reasonably related to its legitimate penological interests, including those in preserving the inmate’s life and maintaining safety and discipline within the facility.” The record showed that the inmate “had repeatedly engaged in hunger strikes since May 2013 with the stated purpose of obtaining a transfer to a maximum A security facility,” and that “he would continue his hunger strike until he died or was transferred.” The correctional facility’s medical director showed that the inmate’s hunger strike, if continued, “would result in his death or irreversible organ damage” and that inmate “was aware of such risks,” and that “it might be necessary to force feed respondent throughout his incarceration to prevent his death and serious injuries.” This evidence was un-refuted.

The Appellate Court therefor concluded: “The record supports a finding that respondent intended to pursue his hunger strike until he was transferred to another facility based on a reclassification of his status or until he died from malnutrition.” The State’s “interest in preserving respondent’s life outweighs any claimed infringement of respondent’s constitutional rights. On the record before us, Supreme Court properly issued a force-feeding order for the duration of respondent’s incarceration.”

A Time to Sue Could Vary

A Time to Sue Could Vary

In Sixth Lenox Terrace Assoc. v. Stokke, a landlord brought an action against a former tenant who vacated the leased premises eight months before the expiration of the lease term on July 31, 2009. The action for rent wasn’t commenced until April 9 2015. According to the decision, the former tenant was current on the rent through November 2008, when it vacated early and then stopped paying the rent as of December 1, 2008. The former tenant moved to dismiss the complaint based upon the Statute of Limitations, arguing that he had breached the lease in November 2008, more than six years before the action was commenced. The Court agreed, in part.

Statutes of limitations are laws passed by a legislative body to fix the maximum time after an event when legal proceedings may be commenced. They exist for both civil and criminal causes of action, and begin to run from the date of the injury, or the date it was discovered, or the date on which it should have been discovered with reasonable efforts. When the period of time specified in a statute of limitations passes, a claim can no longer be filed. The period of time varies depending on the jurisdiction and the type of claim. The statute of limitations for a breach of contract is six years.

In addressing the motion, the Court reasoned that “when the claim is for payment of a sum of money allegedly owed pursuant to a contract, the cause of action accrues when the plaintiff ‘possesses a legal right to demand payment.’ The Statute of Limitations is ‘triggered when the party that was owed money had the right to demand payment, not when it actually made the demand.’ When the contract calls for payments at different times, there are separate causes of action for each installment accrued, and the Statute of Limitations begins to run on the date each payment becomes due and is defaulted upon. The Statute of Limitations bars a party from seeking to recover payments on a promissory note, but only for those missed payments that occurred more than six years prior to commencement of the action. Periodic monthly payments under a lease are akin to contractual installment payments under a promissory note.”

The lease required the tenant to pay a sum of money to the landlord on the first day of each month starting in August 2008, when the lease commenced, and continuing through July 2009. The Court held that the landlord “did not possess the right to demand payment until each of those dates occurred and the Statute of Limitations did not trigger for each payment until such date. The last payment made was for November 2008 and the first failure to pay was on December 1, 2008. Prior to the commencement of this suit, more than six years had passed since plaintiff was entitled to demand payment of the rent for December 2008 and January through April 2009. Therefore, the breach of contract claim for those months is dismissed. However, as this action was commenced on April 9, 2015, six years had not passed since plaintiff could demand payment for the months of May 2009 through July 2009, and those months fall within the Statute of Limitations.”

Thus, the motion was granted in part and denied in part.

No Constitutional Violations In Barring Former Coach From School Grounds

No Constitutional Violations In Barring Former Coach From School Grounds

In Jones v. Bay Shore Union Free School District, Charles Jones appealed to the Second Circuit Court of Appeals from judgments of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York dismissing his due process and equal protection claims on a motion to dismiss and granting summary judgment for defendants on his First Amendment retaliation claim.

As described by the Second Circuit, Jones coached the girls’ junior varsity softball team at Bay Shore High School in the early 1980s. In 1985, the Bay Shore Union Free School District found evidence “strongly suggesting that Jones had repeatedly sexually assaulted four minor students on his softball team.” The school district charged Jones with sexual misconduct and he resigned while denying any wrongdoing.

In 1998, Jones attempted to “reengage with the school district as an NA ACP representative.”When the school district superintendent learned of the prior sexual misconduct allegations, she asked the NAACP to appoint a new representative and had the school district’s attorney write Jones a letter explaining that he was barred from school district property.

In 2008, the school district modified the prohibition because Jones’s daughter was attending school in the district. It said that Jones could enter the school if he needed to participate in his daughter’s education, but he needed to request advance permission before doing so.

When a new superintendent was appointed in 2011, he was unaware of Jones’s history. Shortly after he assumed office, Jones met with the new superintendent regarding Jones’s daughter, and the two discussed establishing a minority parents’ organization. The meeting was cancelled when the new superintendent learned of the sexual misconduct allegations.

When Jones expressed interest in attending a December 2011 school board meeting the new superintendent informed him that he was still barred from school district property, but could submit his comments to the school board in writing. Within two months, however, the school district modified its position, and allowed Jones to attend future school board meetings, with advance notice.

Jones sued the school district alleging that he was barred because the school district was retaliating against him for exercising his First Amendment right to advocate on behalf of minority students, not because it believed he had sexually assaulted students. The District Court dismissed this claim at summary judgment because Jones did not have any evidence that the defendants were motivated by his speech. On appeal, the Second Circuit agreed, holding that “no rational jury could conclude” that the district was motivated by “retaliatory animus rather than by legitimate concerns about student safety.” The new superintendent’s “initial enthusiasm about the idea of a minority parents’ association ended only after he learned about the allegations of sexual misconduct, and the directive barring Jones from school district property dated back to 1998.”

As for Jones’s equal protection claim, he alleged that the ban from school district property “was an instance of selective enforcement by the school district.” The Court reasoned that for his selective enforcement claim, “Jones must plead: 1) that he was treated differently than other ‘similarly situated’ individuals; and 2) ‘that such differential treatment was based on impermissible considerations such as race, religion, intent to inhibit or punish the exercise of constitutional rights, or malicious or bad faith intent to injure a person.’ ” The Court then found that Jones properly alleged that the selective enforcement was impermissibly motivated by retaliation, but he failed to allege why other individuals were similarly situated to him. “His bare allegation that others were similarly situated is insufficient to survive a motion to dismiss.”

As for his lack of due process claim, the Court reasoned that to support such a claim, Jones was required to allege some “protected liberty or property interest” of which he was deprived. Although Jones conceded on appeal that he had no protected right to access school property, he instead claimed that he had a right to attend school board meetings.

The Court concluded that while there “may be a protected interest in attending school board meetings, the school district does not categorically bar Jones from attending; it simply requires that he provide advance notice before doing so. Especially considering the school district’s interest in protecting students from a person who was discharged from teaching for suspected sexual misconduct with minors, any interest Jones may have in attending board meetings without providing advance notice is de minimis and insufficient to sustain a due process claim.”

On March 23, 2017, Jones petitioned the United States Supreme Court to grant him certiorari, and hear his case. The U.S. Supreme Court is not under any obligation to hear his claim, and usually only does so if the case could have national significance or precedential value. In a typical year, the U.S. Supreme Court will only grant between 100-150 cases certiorari, of the over 7,000 that apply. It remains to be seen whether Jones’ application will be granted.

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