Hassan v. City of New York

At a Glance

Date Filed: 

June 6, 2012

Current Status 

The case is in pre-trial litigation. On October 13, 2015, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals issued a strong opinion in our clients' favor that reversed and remanded the case back to the district court.

Co-Counsel 

Muslim Advocates, Gibbons, P.C.

Client(s) 

Syed Farhaj Hassan; The Council of Imams in New Jersey; Muslim Students Association of the U.S. and Canada Inc.; All Body Shop Inside & Outside; Unity Beef Sausage Company; Muslim Foundation Inc.; Moiz Mohammed; Jane Doe; Sofia Tahir; Zaimah Abdur-Rahim; and Abdul-Hakim Abdullah

Case Description 

Hassan v. City of New York is a federal lawsuit filed against the City of New York that challenges the New York Police Department’s suspicionless surveillance of Muslim Americans in New Jersey solely because of their Muslim identity. In a Pulitzer-Prize-winning series of stories released in 2011, the Associated Press revealed that after the 9/11 attacks, the NYPD established a sprawling and secretive human mapping and suspicionless surveillance program that targeted Muslim American communities in New York, New Jersey, and beyond.  Hassan v. City of New York is the first case ever brought on behalf of Muslim Americans who were unlawfully targeted and surveilled under this program. The case is part of CCR’s broader effort to end warrantless government surveillance of civilians, particularly those who are being targeted on the basis of their Muslim identity or activism. 

The original complaint was filed by Muslim Advocates in the District Court of New Jersey and joined by CCR. We are asking the courts to declare this surveillance program unconstitutional and order the NYPD to immediately stop spying on our clients. We also ask the court to order the NYPD to destroy any records that have been surreptitiously generated about our clients and to award financial compensation for the economic harms that have resulted from the NYPD’s discriminatory conduct. 

Our client Zaimah Abdur-Rahim was surveilled by the NYPD because she operates a grade school for Muslim girls.  NYPD officers recorded details about the school, such as the fact that it was run from Abdur-Rahim’s home and that its students were predominantly African-American.

There is no dispute that the NYPD’s goal under this program – both ambitious and chilling – was to create a human mapping system that monitored Muslims all along the Eastern Seaboard and beyond. No Muslim individual or entity appears to have been beyond suspicion. The NYPD monitored and/or infiltrated almost every aspect of Muslim life, from mosques and student associations, to halal butcher shops and restaurants, to private citizens. Internal NYPD documents confirm that the surveillance program was not tied to suspicion of criminality and, in fact, produced zero leads to terrorist activity after more than a decade in operation. The documents also show that the NYPD used the racial or ethnic background of Muslim Americans as a proxy to identify and target adherents of the Muslim faith, listing 28 “ancestries of interest” that are – to the NYPD – deserving of additional suspicion and scrutiny. Among those ancestries of interests are Egyptian, Pakistani, Somali, Sudanese, and an array of other Asian, Middle Eastern, and African ancestries that together comprise roughly 80 percent of the world’s Muslim population.  Seemingly oblivious to the dark historical irony, the NYPD also listed “American Black Muslim” among the “ancestries of interest.”

The NYPD’s Muslim surveillance program contravenes decades of civil rights precedent and challenges bedrock constitutional principles: among them equal protection under the law and the First Amendment guarantee of the freedom of religion. 

Case Timeline

January 15, 2016
City files answer to complaint with district court
January 15, 2016
City files answer to complaint with district court
October 13, 2015
Third Circuit Court of Appeals issues opinion and order in our clietns' favor reversing and remanding district court's dismissal
October 13, 2015
Third Circuit Court of Appeals issues opinion and order in our clietns' favor reversing and remanding district court's dismissal

The court of appeals rules that specifically targeting Muslims for surveillance is a stigmatizing injury sufficient to give our clients legal standing to pursue the case. It also rules that courts cannot accept at face value the NYPD’s claim that discrimination was necessary to protect “national security.”

January 13, 2015

Oral argument is held before Third Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia

January 13, 2015

Oral argument is held before Third Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia

An audio recording of the argument can be heard here.

November 7, 2014

CCR and MA file reply brief in appeal

November 7, 2014

CCR and MA file reply brief in appeal

October 7, 2014

City files opposition brief in appeal

October 7, 2014

City files opposition brief in appeal

This filing marks the first time since the de Blasio administration took office that the City publicly takes a position in the case. The City repeats the arguments made during the Mayor Bloomberg/Commissioner Kelly era claiming that surveillance of people based upon their religion is not illegal. The NYPD continues to defend its program even though the Supreme Court has forbidden law enforcement to use constitutionally protected characteristics as a reason to spy on communities or individuals.
July 10, 2014

Dozens of organizations sign on to eight amicus briefs filed in support of our appeal

July 10, 2014

Dozens of organizations sign on to eight amicus briefs filed in support of our appeal

Organizations and individuals that filed amicus briefs include 100 Blacks in Law Enforcement Who Care, Karen Korematsu, ACLU NJ, MALDEF, Interfaith Alliance Foundation, Bend the Arc: A Jewish Partnership for Justice, Police Chief Chris Burbank, Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, the Sikh Coalition, the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA, AALDEF, Latino Justice, National Council of Jewish Women, the Auburn Theological Seminary, DRUM, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, ADC, and New Jersey Muslim Lawyer’s Association.

July 2, 2014

CCR and MA file opening appellate brief

July 2, 2014

CCR and MA file opening appellate brief

March 21, 2014

CCR and MA file notice of appeal to Third Circuit Court of Appeals

March 21, 2014

CCR and MA file notice of appeal to Third Circuit Court of Appeals

February 20, 2014

District Court issues opinion and order granting City's motion to dismiss

February 20, 2014

District Court issues opinion and order granting City's motion to dismiss

In a summary 10-page opinion, and without oral argument, Judge William J. Martini dismisses the lawsuit for lack of standing and because the court considers plaintiffs’ claims of discrimination from NYPD’s Muslim surveillance program not “plausible.” He further states that any harm the plaintiffs may have suffered would be due to the Associated Press' uncovering and reporting on the program, not the program itself.
February 25, 2013

City files reply in support of their motion to dismiss

February 25, 2013

City files reply in support of their motion to dismiss

January 25, 2013

CCR and MA file opposition to City's motion to dismiss

January 25, 2013

CCR and MA file opposition to City's motion to dismiss

Our response argues that the court should reject the City’s assertion that the events of 9/11 justify broad surveillance of any and all New Jersey Muslims, without any indication of wrongdoing.
December 2012
CCR joins lawsuit
December 2012
CCR joins lawsuit
December 6, 2012

City of New York files motion to dismiss

December 6, 2012

City of New York files motion to dismiss

October 3, 2012

Muslim Advocates files a first amended complaint on behalf of 11 individual and organizational plaintiffs

October 3, 2012

Muslim Advocates files a first amended complaint on behalf of 11 individual and organizational plaintiffs

Among the plaintiffs are a decorated Iraq war veteran, current and former Rutgers University students, the parent organization of the Muslim Student Associations of Rutgers University (Newark and New Brunswick campuses), a coalition of New Jersey mosques, and the owners and proprietors of a grade school for Muslim girls. This disparate group of individuals and organizations share just one characteristic: their Muslim affiliation. That fact alone led the NYPD to target and surveil them in clear violation of bedrock U.S. constitutional principles.