The New York Appellate Division, First Department ruled on December 26, 2019 that rape and sexual assault are necessarily motivated at least in part by animus towards the victim’s gender, and therefore prohibited by the New York City Victims of Gender-Motivated Violence Protection Law.
The case is Breest v. Haggis, one of the few cases of the MeToo era that is being litigated in civil court. Emery Celli Brinckerhoff & Abady LLP represents Haleigh Breest, who alleges that Hollywood director Paul Haggis raped and assaulted her after a film premiere in 2013. The First Department affirmed the lower court’s decision denying Haggis’s motion to dismiss the case. In so doing, the Court rejected Haggis’s argument that, in order to plead a claim, the plaintiff had to allege that he had expressed hatred towards all women. In the first appellate ruling to ever address this important law, the Court made it clear that it did not agree with other lower court decisions that created “insuperable barriers” for sexual assault victims to plead their claims and seek justice.
The Court held that: “Rape and sexual assault are, by definition, actions taken against the victim without the victim’s consent. Without consent, sexual acts such as those alleged in the complaint are a violation of the victim’s bodily autonomy and an expression of the perpetrator’s contempt for that autonomy. Coerced sexual activity is dehumanizing and fear-inducing. Malice or ill will based on gender is apparent from the alleged commission of the act itself. Animus inheres where consent is absent.”
“This is a historic ruling that breathes new life into the New York City law against gender motivated violence,” said ECBA partner Zoe Salzman. “This decision paves the way for a jury to hold Paul Haggis accountable at trial.”
ECBA won a landmark ruling in Breest v. Haggis. ECBA represents a young woman named Haleigh Breest in a case alleging that she was raped and sexually assaulted by the director Paul Haggis. In a legal filing, Haggis swore under oath that he had not had intercourse with Breest. But he refused to give a sample of his DNA to compare to the sample left in Breest’s tights. Justice Robert R. Reed of the New York Supreme Court ruled that Haggis had to provide his DNA because, if it matched the DNA on the tights, it could help prove Breest’s claim of rape and rebut Haggis’s denial of intercourse. “This is an important decision by the court. We believe it is the first case of the #MeToo era to order disclosure of DNA evidence,” said Breest’s lawyer, Zoe Salzman.
City & State New York named ECBA Co-Founder Jonathan S. Abady to its inaugural Law Power 50, a list of the 50 most influential lawyers in New York State. The list considers each lawyer’s achievements, track record and political influence. Click here to view City & State’s list.
Jonathan S. Abady has been selected by City & State NY as one of New York’s 50 Most Distinguished People Over 50. City & State NY’s power lists have been a long standing institution in New York. This year was the organization’s fourth annual 50 Over 50 list. The issue honors top professionals from government relations, advocacy, academia, media, business and more.
CBS news program “48 Hours” presented an in-depth review of the fatal police shooting of Danroy “DJ” Henry, a PACE University student. The segment investigates the cause of the tragedy and includes interviews with DJ’s family, witnesses, DJ’s childhood friend, Brandon Cox, and others. Mr. Cox was seated beside DJ in the car when an officer shot into their vehicle, killing DJ, and wounding Mr. Cox. A link to the story can be found here.
ECBA has settled the 2016 Pennsylvania recount case brought by presidential candidate Jill Stein and Pennsylvania voters. The lawsuit challenged Pennsylvania’s use of paperless voting systems, as well as its byzantine, anti-voter recount procedures.
The settlement requires Pennsylvania to provide voter-verifiable paper ballots to all voters by 2020, and automatic, robust, statewide election audits by 2022.
“With this settlement, Pennsylvania will go from an election integrity backwater to a national leader,” said Ilann M. Maazel. “We will be watching closely to ensure Pennsylvania implements every one of these important election reforms.”
ECBA won a landmark ruling allowing a case for rape to proceed under New York City’s Victims of Gender Motivated Violence Protection Act. Justice Robert R. Reed denied the defendant’s motion to dismiss the case, holding that the complaint properly alleged all the elements of the claim.
The New York City Council passed the Act in 2000 to create a private right of action for victims of “gender motivated crimes of violence” like sexual assault and rape to sue their abusers in civil court. The Act also extends the statute of limitations to bring such cases to 7 years. Justice Reed’s ruling gives real meaning to the City’s Act and makes it a powerful and much needed tool for victims of sexual misconduct to seek justice in the courts.
The case is Breest v. Haggis, No. 161137/2017 (N.Y. Sup. Ct.).