National Rifle Association of America v. Maria T. Vullo, No. 21-636 (2d Cir. 2022)Annotate this Case
Plaintiff National Rifle Association of America (the "NRA") claims that Defendant, the former Superintendent of the New York State Department of Financial Services ("DFS"), violated its rights to free speech and equal protection when she investigated three insurance companies that had partnered with it to provide coverage for losses resulting from gun use and encouraged banks and insurance companies to consider discontinuing their relationships with gun promotion organizations. The NRA contends that Defendant used her regulatory power to threaten NRA business partners and coerce them into disassociating with the NRA, in violation of its rights.
The district court dismissed the equal protection claim on the basis that Defendant was protected by absolute immunity, but it declined to dismiss the free speech claims, concluding that the NRA plausibly alleged its claims and issues of fact existed as to whether she was protected by qualified immunity.
The Second Circuit reversed and remanded. The court explained that here, the various cases addressing the issue did not provide clear and particularized guidance but involved very different circumstances and much stronger conduct. The cases do not clearly establish that Defendant’s statements, in this case, were unconstitutionally threatening or coercive. Qualified immunity balances the need to hold public officials accountable when they exercise their power irresponsibly with the need to shield officials from harassment, distraction, and liability when they perform their duties responsibly. Here, the Complaint's factual allegations show that, far from acting irresponsibly, Defendant was doing her job in good faith.