Kearns v. Cuomo, No. 19-3769 (2d Cir. 2020)Annotate this Case
Plaintiff, the Clerk of Erie County, filed suit alleging that he could be prosecuted under federal immigration law for performing certain duties under New York's Driver's License Access and Privacy Act (the "Green Light Law"), which establishes certain policies and procedures related to standard licenses. The Green Light Law directs the New York State DMV to accept various foreign documents as proof of identification and age for standard licenses, and prohibits DMV from inquiring about the immigration status of standard-license applicants; restricts DMV’s retention and use of certain applicant information; and requires that within three days of receiving a request for information or records from federal immigration authorities, DMV provide written notification to the subject of the request and inform the person of the identity of the requesting agency. New York law designates certain county clerks as agents of the DMV Commissioner and assigns them discrete functions in that regard. Plaintiff challenges the licensing, nondisclosure, and notification provisions of the Green Light Law.
The Second Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of the suit based on lack of Article III standing, holding that compliance with the state law would not expose plaintiff to a credible threat of prosecution under federal law. The court explained that the REAL ID Act permits states to issue noncompliant licenses provided that they meet certain requirements, which do not include the verification of lawful status. Furthermore, 6 C.F.R. 16 37.71(a), promulgated by DHS, permits states that issue REAL ID Act-compliant licenses also to issue licenses "that are not acceptable by Federal agencies for official purposes," provided they meet certain requirements. The court concluded that the theory that issuing standard licenses constitutes criminal harboring is directly at odds with federal law that expressly permits the issuance of such licenses, and thus plaintiff lacks standing to challenge the licensing provisions of the Green Light Law. The court also concluded that plaintiff lacks standing to challenge the nondisclosure and notification provisions of the Green Light Law. Finally, the court concluded that the threat that plaintiff will be removed from office is speculative. For largely the same reasons that he lacks standing in his individual capacity, plaintiff lacks standing in his official capacity. The court considered plaintiff's remaining arguments and found them to be without merit.