Supreme Court Litigation Clinic Wins on Behalf of Client with Denial of Cert

Justice Louis Brandeis once wrote that sometimes, “[t]he most important thing we do is not doing.”  Please join me in congratulating the students, faculty and staff of the Supreme Court Litigation Clinic for getting the best possible result for its client in City of New York v. Southerland: a denial of certiorari.

As it arrived at the Supreme Court, the case involved a section 1983 action by six children (the Clinic’s clients) and their father against a social worker for the City.  On the basis of an inaccurate affidavit purporting to show that the children’s older sister (who he had strong evidence to show was a runaway) would be found there, the social worker obtained a warrant to enter the family apartment to look for her.  Once inside, and after not finding the sister, he and the police summarily removed the Clinic’s clients without a judicial order.  The Second Circuit rejected the social worker’s claim of qualified immunity for the clients’ unconstitutional search and seizure claims.  In the petition for a writ of certiorari, the social worker argued, among other things, for two new rules: first, a per se rule regarding probable cause in child welfare cases and, second, a per se rule that a subsequent determination by a family court authorizing removal of a child extinguishes any cause of action the child might have for being seized without a court order.

Working closely with local counsel Michael O’Neill and Carolyn Kubitschek, clinic members Cathleen Hamel (‘13), Daniel Kuo (‘14), Ryan McGinley-Stempel (‘13), and Elizabeth Schmitz-Robinson (‘14) mastered a voluminous record and several complex areas of law to craft a brief in opposition.  The importance of their work is highlighted by the fact that the Supreme Court relisted the case for further consideration three times before denying the petition.

Professor Pam Karlan (the clinic’s Co-Director) supervised the Southerland team. Professor Jeff Fisher (the clinic’s other Co-Director) and Lecturer Kevin Russell provided additional supervision. Other clinic students spent countless hours in workshops on the case and production work.  And as usual, Joanne Newman provided superb assistance.

Congratulations to all.