Tanvir v. Tanzin, 050218 FED2, 16-1176

Docket Nº:16-1176
Opinion Judge:POOLER, CIRCUIT JUDGE:
Party Name:MUHAMMAD TANVIR, JAMEEL ALGIBHAH, NAVEED SHINWARI, Plaintiffs-Appellants, v. FNU TANZIN, Special Agent, FBI; SANYA GARCIA, Special Agent, FBI; JOHN LNU, Special Agent, FBI; FRANCISCO ARTUSA, Special Agent, FBI; JOHN C. HARLEY III, Special Agent, FBI; STEVEN LNU, Special Agent, FBI; MICHAEL LNU, Special Agent, FBI; GREGG GROSSOEHMIG, Special ...
Attorney:RAMZI KASSEM, CLEAR Project, Main Street Legal Services, Inc., City University of New York School of Law (Naz Ahmad, on the brief), Long Island City, NY, for Plaintiffs-Appellants. Jennifer R. Cowan, Erol Gulay, Sandy Tomasik, Debevoise & Plimpton LLP, New York, NY, for Plaintiffs-Appellants. Sha...
Judge Panel:Before: KATZMANN, Chief Judge, POOLER and LYNCH, Circuit Judges.
Case Date:May 02, 2018
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit
 
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MUHAMMAD TANVIR, JAMEEL ALGIBHAH, NAVEED SHINWARI, Plaintiffs-Appellants,

v.

FNU TANZIN, Special Agent, FBI; SANYA GARCIA, Special Agent, FBI; JOHN LNU, Special Agent, FBI; FRANCISCO ARTUSA, Special Agent, FBI; JOHN C. HARLEY III, Special Agent, FBI; STEVEN LNU, Special Agent, FBI; MICHAEL LNU, Special Agent, FBI; GREGG GROSSOEHMIG, Special Agent, FBI; WEYSAN DUN, Special Agent in Charge, FBI; JAMES C. LANGENBERG, Assistant Special Agent in Charge, FBI; JOHN DOE #1, Special Agent, FBI; JOHN DOE #2, Special Agent, FBI; JOHN DOE #3, Special Agent, FBI; JOHN DOE #4, Special Agent, FBI; JOHN DOE #5, Special Agent, FBI; JOHN DOE #6, Special Agent, FBI, Defendants-Appellees.1

No. 16-1176

United States Court of Appeals, Second Circuit

May 2, 2018

          Argued: March 1, 2017

         Plaintiffs-Appellants Muhammad Tanvir, Jameel Algibah, and Naveed Shinwari ("Plaintiffs") appeal from a February 17, 2016 final judgment of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York (Abrams, J.), dismissing their complaint against senior federal law enforcement officials and 25 named and unnamed federal law enforcement officers. The complaint alleged, inter alia, that in retaliation for Plaintiffs' refusal to serve as informants, federal officers improperly placed or retained Plaintiffs' names on the "No Fly List, " in violation of Plaintiffs' rights under the First Amendment and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, 42 U.S.C. § 2000bb et seq. ("RFRA").

         The complaint sought (1) injunctive and declaratory relief against all defendants in their official capacities for various constitutional and statutory violations, and (2) compensatory and punitive damages from federal law enforcement officers in their individual capacities for violations of their rights under the First Amendment and RFRA. After the parties agreed to stay the official capacity claims, the district court dismissed Plaintiffs' individual capacity claims. As relevant here, the district court held that RFRA does not permit the recovery of money damages against federal officers sued in their individual capacities. Plaintiffs appeal that RFRA determination only.

         Because we disagree with the district court, and hold that RFRA permits a plaintiff to recover money damages against federal officers sued in their individual capacities for violations of RFRA's substantive protections, we reverse the district court's judgment and remand for further proceedings.

          RAMZI KASSEM, CLEAR Project, Main Street Legal Services, Inc., City University of New York School of Law (Naz Ahmad, on the brief), Long Island City, NY, for Plaintiffs-Appellants.

          Jennifer R. Cowan, Erol Gulay, Sandy Tomasik, Debevoise & Plimpton LLP, New York, NY, for Plaintiffs-Appellants.

          Shayana D. Kadidal, Baher Azmy, Center for Constitutional Rights, New York, NY, for Plaintiffs- Appellants.

          ELLEN BLAIN, Assistant United States Attorney (Sarah S. Normand, Benjamin H. Torrance, Assistant United States Attorneys, on the brief), for Joon H. Kim, Acting United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, New York, NY, for Defendants-Appellees.

          Before: KATZMANN, Chief Judge, POOLER and LYNCH, Circuit Judges.

          POOLER, CIRCUIT JUDGE:

         Plaintiffs-Appellants Muhammad Tanvir, Jameel Algibah, and Naveed Shinwari ("Plaintiffs") appeal from a February 17, 2016 final judgment of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York (Abrams, J.), dismissing their complaint against senior federal law enforcement officials and 25 named and unnamed federal law enforcement officers. As relevant here, the complaint alleged that, in retaliation for Plaintiffs' refusal to serve as informants, federal officers improperly placed or retained Plaintiffs' names on the "No Fly List, " in violation of Plaintiffs' rights under the First Amendment and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, 42 U.S.C. § 2000bb et seq. ("RFRA").

         The complaint sought (1) injunctive and declaratory relief against all defendants in their official capacities for various constitutional and statutory violations, and (2) compensatory and punitive damages from federal law enforcement officers in their individual capacities for violations of their rights under the First Amendment and RFRA. As relevant here, the district court held that RFRA does not permit the recovery of money damages against federal officers sued in their individual capacities. Plaintiffs appeal that RFRA determination only.

         Because we disagree with the district court, and hold that RFRA permits a plaintiff to recover money damages against federal officers sued in their individual capacities for violations of RFRA's substantive protections, we reverse the district court's judgment and remand for further proceedings.

         BACKGROUND

         On appeal from the district court's dismissal of Plaintiffs' complaint, we "accept[] as true factual allegations in the complaint, and draw[] all reasonable inferences in the favor of the plaintiffs." Town of Babylon v. Fed. Hous. Fin. Agency, 699 F.3d 221, 227 (2d Cir. 2012).

         I. Relevant Factual and Procedural Background

         Plaintiffs are Muslim men who reside in New York or Connecticut. Each was born abroad, immigrated to the United States early in his life, and is now lawfully present here as either a U.S. citizen or as a permanent resident. Each has family remaining overseas.

         Plaintiffs assert that they were each approached by federal agents and asked to serve as informants for the FBI. Specifically, Plaintiffs were asked to gather information on members of Muslim communities and report that information to the FBI.2 In some instances, the FBI's request was accompanied with severe pressure, including threats of deportation or arrest; in others, the request was accompanied by promises of financial and other assistance. Regardless, Plaintiffs rebuffed those repeated requests, at least in part based on their sincerely-held religious beliefs. In response to these refusals, the federal agents maintained Plaintiffs on the national "No Fly List, " despite the fact that Plaintiffs "do[] not pose, ha[ve] never posed, and ha[ve] never been accused of posing, a threat to aviation safety." App'x at 74, 84, 92 ¶¶ 68, 118, 145.

         According to the complaint, Defendants "forced Plaintiffs into an impermissible choice between, on the one hand, obeying their sincerely held religious beliefs and being subjected to the punishment of placement or retention on the No Fly List, or, on the other hand, violating their sincerely held religious beliefs in order to avoid being placed on the No Fly List or to secure removal from the No Fly List." App'x at 109 ¶ 210. Plaintiffs allege that this dilemma placed a substantial burden on their exercise of religion.

         Additionally, Defendants' actions caused Plaintiffs to suffer emotional distress, reputational harm, and economic loss. As a result of Defendants' actions placing and retaining Plaintiffs on the "No Fly List, " Plaintiffs were prohibited from flying for several years. Such prohibition prevented Plaintiffs from visiting family members overseas, caused Plaintiffs to lose money they had paid for plane tickets, and hampered Plaintiffs' ability to travel for work.3

         A. The "No Fly List"

         In an effort to ensure aircraft security, Congress directed the Transportation Security Administration ("TSA") to establish procedures for notifying appropriate officials of the identity of individuals "known to pose, or suspected of posing, a risk of air piracy or terrorism or a threat to airline or passenger safety." 49 U.S.C. § 114(h)(2). TSA was further instructed to "utilize all appropriate records in the consolidated and integrated terrorist watchlist maintained by the Federal Government" to perform a passenger prescreening function. 49 U.S.C. § 44903(j)(2)(C)(ii).

         The "No Fly List" is one such terrorist watchlist and is part of a broader database developed and maintained by the Terrorist Screening Center ("TSC"), which is administered by the FBI. The TSC's database contains information about individuals who are known or reasonably suspected of being involved in terrorist activity. The TSC shares the names of individuals on the "No Fly List" with federal and state law enforcement agencies, the TSA, airline representatives, and cooperating foreign governments.

         Plaintiffs allege that federal law enforcement and intelligence agencies may "nominate" an individual for inclusion in the TSC's database, including the "No Fly List, " if there is "reasonable suspicion" that the person is a "known or suspected terrorist." App'x at 68 ¶ 41. In order for a nominated individual to be added to the "No Fly List, " there must be additional "derogatory information" showing that the individual "pose[s] a threat of committing a terrorist act with respect to an aircraft." App'x...

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