New York City residents subjected to City nuisance laws alleged that the City violated their constitutional rights. The City of New York, in separate proceedings, charged Sung Cho, David Diaz, and Jameelah El-Shabazz with violating the City’s nuisance abatement law. Under the nuisance abatement law, the City has the authority to shut a business or vacate a residence for up to one year on proof that offenses such as drug or stolen property crimes have occurred on the premises. The City relied on this nuisance law when it charged Sung Cho with the sale of stolen electronics at Sung Cho’s laundromat, Nagle WashRite LLC, located at 228 Nagle Avenue in Manhattan. In a separate case, the NYPD had arrested and subsequently sought to evict David Diaz and his family members after cocaine was found being sold from his apartment. The City also relied on the nuisance abatement law as it sought to evict El-Shabazz and her son following an arrest for drug possession.
All three families settled with the City which resulted in dismissal of the City’s nuisance actions. The settlement agreement required Cho to waive several rights including the right to a hearing if accused of further violations, and compelled him to consent to future warrantless inspections. Both Diaz and El-Shabazz were required to permanently bar their family members from entering their respective apartments.
Cho, Diaz, and El-Shabazz sued the City in federal court, that the City forced them to waive their constitutional rights in the settlement agreements. The district court dismissed the complaint and Cho, Diaz, and EL-Shabazz appealed.
The Court of Appeals for Second Circuit reversed the district court and re-instated the complaint. The court rejected the district court’s logic that this case should not have been brought in federal court. The district court had applied the Rooker-Feldman doctrine—a legal principle which establishes that if an individual has the right to appeal a state-court judgement, the federal court should defer jurisdiction until the State Court acts. The Second Circuit rejected application of the Rooker-Feldman doctrine because, among three other elements, the Rooker-Feldman doctrine requires that the plaintiff complain of an injury caused by a state-court judgment. The court reasoned that the injury that Cho, Diaz, and El-Shabazz asserted did not occur from a state-court judgment, but instead occurred when the City coerced them into a settlement that took their constitutional rights. The Second Circuit reinstated the complaint, and sent the case back to the district court for further proceedings.
(CIT) Sung Cho v. City of New York, 910 F.3d 639 (2nd Cir. 2018).
By: Jessica Kumar (Jessica is a New York Law School Graduate, Class of 2019).