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Media Alerts - Knife Rights, Inc. v. Vance - Second Circuit
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September 23, 2015
  Knife Rights, Inc. v. Vance - Second Circuit
Headline: Second Circuit Finds Individual and Business Plaintiffs Have Standing to Seek a Declaratory Judgment that New York's Law Criminalizing the Possession of Gravity Knives is Unconstitutionally Vague, but Advocacy Organization Plaintiffs Lack Standing

Area of Law: Constitutional Law

Issue(s) Presented: Whether plaintiffs-appellants have standing to pursue a vagueness challenge to a New York law criminalizing the possession of gravity knives and to pursue injunctive relief.

Brief Summary: Plaintiffs-Appellants John Copeland, Pedro Perez, the business Native Leather, and the advocacy organizations Knife Rights and Knife Rights Foundation brought an action to the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York seeking declaratory and injunctive relief against the city of New York and New York County District Attorney Cyrus Vance, Jr., for applying the New York law criminalizing the possession of gravity knives in such a way that renders the proscription unconstitutionally vague as applied to common folding knives, thereby depriving the plaintiffs of the notice mandated by due process.

The United States District Court for the Southern District of New York dismissed plaintiffs' complaint for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, concluding that they lacked standing to pursue that challenge. The United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit affirmed the district court's holding that the organizations Knife Rights and Knife Rights Foundation do not have standing, but vacated and remanded the district court's holding as to Copeland, Perez, and Native Leather, finding those plaintiffs sufficiently alleged an injury in fact to satisfy standing.

To read the full opinion, please visit:
http://www.ca2.uscourts.gov/de...scourts.gov/decisions/ isysquery/f68a9b82-d6fd-43c9-ac50-bf1531f61e64/2/hilite/

Extended Summary: In 2010, plaintiffs-appellants John Copeland, an artist, and Pedro Perez, an art dealer, were separately charged with violations of New York Penal Law § 265.01(1), relating to the illegal possession of gravity knives. Joined by plaintiff-appellant Knife Rights, an advocacy organization which asserted certain of its members have been charged or were threatened with charged violations of § 265.01(1), Copeland and Perez initiated an action in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York seeking a declaration that New York Penal Laws §§ 265.00(5) and 265.01(1) are unconstitutionally vague as applied to common folding knives, and an injunction preventing the defendants, New York City and New York County District Attorney Cyrus Vance, Jr. from continuing to enforce these statutes as to such knives. The defendants moved for dismissal, and plaintiffs successfully sought leave to amend, adding as plaintiffs Native Leather, a retail store that sells folding knives and had been previously charged with violations of § 265.01(1) resulting in fines and mandatory surrender of property, and a second advocacy group Knife Rights Foundation. The defendants then renewed their motion for dismissal, arguing that the court lacked subject matter jurisdiction because no plaintiff alleged an "injury in fact," which is necessary to establish Article III standing. The district court agreed and entered judgment for the defendants.

Copeland and Perez alleged that they have carried, and wish again to carry, common folding knives, but cannot do so because they cannot determine which knives the defendants will deem gravity knives prohibited by § 265.01(1), and they do not wish to risk prosecution, having already been charged with § 265.01(1) violations. The United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit found that, given that defendants have indicated their continued intent to prosecute under this statute, Copeland and Perez demonstrated a credible threat of imminent prosecution for intended conduct. The court reasoned that neither Copeland nor Perez should be required to pursue arguably illegal activity or exposure to criminal liability to establish standing to challenge the constitutionality of the law threatened to be enforced. Therefore, the Court found Copeland and Perez satisfied the injury in fact element of standing, and vacated the district court's judgment in favor of the defendants and remanded for further proceeding.

Likewise, the court held that Native Leather, which sells a variety of folding knives that it does not believe violates § 265.01(1), had been formerly charged under the statute, and alleged it is unable to determine which knives the defendant will deem proscribed gravity knives, also satisfied standing requirements. The court concluded that the totality of the circumstances demonstrated a credible threat of imminent prosecution if defendant Vance determined that Native Leather was again selling common folding knives he deemed proscribed gravity knives. The court again reasoned that Native Leather should not be required to expose itself to criminal liability before bringing a suit to challenge the constitutionality of the law threatened to be enforced and vacated the district court's judgment in favor of the defendants, remanding for further proceeding.

In contrast, the Second Circuit held that advocacy organization plaintiffs Knife Rights and Knife Rights Foundation lacked standing to sue on behalf of their members. Rejecting the contention that these plaintiffs met their requirements of Article III standing because they incurred expenses in opposing defendants' application of § 265.01(1), the court found that, even if these expenditures impaired the organization's activities, they at best demonstrate past injury and not injury that can be redressed through the prospective declaratory and injunctive relief sought in this action. Lacking a credible threat that they will be prosecuted, or a showing that anticipated expenditures and ensuing harm to their organizations' activities are certainly impending, the Court affirmed the district court's judgment dismissing Knife Rights and Knife Rights Foundation for lack of standing.

To read the full opinion, please visit: http://www.ca2.uscourts.gov/de...scourts.gov/decisions/ isysquery/f68a9b82-d6fd-43c9-ac50-bf1531f61e64/2/hilite/

Panel: Judges Katzmann, Kearse, and Raggi

Argument (if known): 01/13/2015

Date of Issued Opinion: 09/22/2015

Docket Number: 13-48040-cv

Decided: Affirmed in Part and Vacated and Remanded in Part

Case Alert Author: Steven Manganelli

Counsel: Daniel L. Schmutter, Greenbaum, Rowe, Smith & Davis LLP, Woodbridge, New Jersey, for Plaintiffs‐Appellants; Benjamin E. Rosenberg (Patricia J. Bailey, on the brief), Assistant District Attorneys, for Cyrus R. Vance, Jr., District Attorney of New York County, New York, New York, for Defendant‐ Appellee Cyrus R. Vance, Jr. 3 Michael J. Pastor, Senior Counsel (Kristin M. Helmers, Counsel, on the brief), for Zachary W. Carter, Corporation Counsel of the City of New York, New York, New York, for Defendant‐ Appellee City of New York.

Author of Opinion: Judge Raggi

Case Alert Circuit Supervisor: Elyse Diamond Moskowitz

    Posted By: Elyse Diamond @ 09/23/2015 09:23 AM     2nd Circuit  

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