Clementine Co. v. Adams, No. 22-2599 (2d Cir. 2023)Annotate this Case
Plaintiffs, who operate small venue theaters in New York City, brought claims for declaratory and injunctive relief and nominal damages, alleging that the City’s Key to NYC program—which required certain indoor venues to check the COVID-19 vaccination status of patrons and staff before permitting entry—violated their rights to free speech and equal protection under the First and Fourteenth Amendments. Following the expiration of the Key to NYC program, the district court dismissed as moot Plaintiffs’ claims for declaratory and injunctive relief. The district court also dismissed Plaintiffs’ claim for nominal damages for lack of standing, concluding that Plaintiffs failed to plausibly allege an injury in fact. Plaintiffs now appeal that order.
The Second Circuit concluded that Plaintiffs have plausibly alleged Article III standing. However, the court affirmed the judgment of dismissal on the alternative ground of failure to state a claim. The court explained that Key to NYC does not impair a fundamental right because it does not violate Plaintiffs’ First Amendment rights. Nor does it target a suspect class. These are locations where large numbers of unassociated individuals are likely to gather and spend significant amounts of time exposed to one another, thereby posing a relatively high risk of spreading COVID-19. Requiring individuals in those settings to be vaccinated mitigated that risk and incentivized vaccination among the people most likely to be in a position to spread the virus. Accordingly, Plaintiffs have not plausibly alleged an equal protection violation.