Sunday, November 24, 2013

New York State National Organization for Women v. Terry case brief

New York State National Organization for Women v. Terry case brief summary
159 F.3d 86 (2d Cir. 1998)

Defendant anti-abortion organizations appealed orders from the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, which reinstated contempt findings and noncompensatory fines, subject to a purge provision, as well as awards of attorney's fees to plaintiff health care providers for prosecuting contempt motions and for prevailing on their civil rights claims against defendants.

On appeal, defendant anti-abortion organizations contended that the contempt sanctions should be vacated for mootness and that the fines were a criminal penalty that could not be imposed lawfully because defendants were not afforded the requisite constitutional procedural protections. Defendants also challenged the propriety of the reinstatement of the attorney's fees to plaintiff health care providers.


  • The court rejected the mootness argument, finding that it was not absolutely clear that defendants' violations of the permanent injunction were unlikely to recur. 
  • The court further found that defendants had not been entitled to a criminal jury trial with respect to the reinstated fines where the purge provision supported the conclusion that the fines were coercive rather than punitive, and thus civil rather than criminal. 
  • The court upheld the awards of attorney's fees and affirmed, holding that the reinstatement of the 42 U.S.C.S. § 1988 fees was appropriate where plaintiffs were conclusively adjudicated to be prevailing parties under 42 U.S.C.S. § 1985(3) prior to the declaration of a new law that would have made them ineligible for a new judgement under § 1985(3).

The court affirmed the reinstatement of the contempt findings and noncompensatory contempt fines, subject to an opportunity for defendant anti-abortion organizations to purge their contempt, where sanctions were not moot because it was unclear that defendants' violations were unlikely to recur. Awards of attorneys' fees were also affirmed where plaintiff health care provides were the prevailing parties on their contempt and civil rights claims.

Also see: Abortion legal definition -

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