Civil Rights Clinic

LW.10627 / LW.10559
Professor Christopher Dunn
Professor Alexis Karteron
Open to 3L and 2L students
Maximum of 8 students
Year-long course
10 credits*
No pre- or co-requisites.
Recommended: Evidence, Federal Courts


Working with faculty and with the New York Civil Liberties Union (the New York State affiliate of the American Civil Liberties Union), students in the Civil Rights Clinic handle police accountability and other civil rights cases in New York federal and state courts.

Course Description

The year-long Civil Rights Clinic is an intensive 10-credit litigation program in which students represent plaintiffs in civil rights cases in the Southern and Eastern Districts of New York and occasionally in state court under the supervision of professors at the New York Civil Liberties Union.  They also take part in weekly seminars that help to develop their litigation skills and their understanding of the law and the political and social contexts of civil rights litigation. Students devote an average of 17 hours to clinic work each week. We aim to graduate students with an appreciation for the challenges of civil rights work; a thorough understanding of the civil litigation process; experience in some of the issues involved in representing clients; and the lawyering skills, habits of reflection, and confidence to handle clients and litigation effectively.

Founded in 1951 as the New York affiliate of the American Civil Liberties Union, the New York Civil Liberties Union has a central office in New York City with more than fifty staff members, eight regional offices, and more than 40,000 members across the state. Its core mission is to defend and promote the fundamental principles and values embodied in the Bill of Rights, the U.S. Constitution, and the New York Constitution, including freedom of speech and religion, and the right to privacy, equality and due process of law for all New Yorkers. The clinic has dedicated workspace at the NYCLU and the clinic students are an integral part of the NYCLU’s legal team.

Students in the clinic run their own cases, typically involving police practices, with the help of Chris Dunn, the associate legal director of the New York Civil Liberties Union and Alexis Karteron, an NYCLU senior staff attorney. Working in teams of two or three, the students are responsible for their clients and cases, and directly handle nearly all aspects of the litigation. Sometimes we are able to take a case from its initial stages through disposition within a school year, but not always. While a particular case may not present the opportunity to engage in all of the following tasks, each student will handle many of them: the decision whether to take a case; the development of case strategy; counseling clients; drafting pleadings; conducting discovery, including taking and defending depositions; negotiating settlements; appearances at pretrial conferences; briefing and arguing district court motions; and conducting trials.

The focus of the Clinic's case work is on the constitutionality of police practices, although any kind of civil rights or liberties matter might be on our docket. Some students in the clinic may pick up litigation that has carried over from the previous year. We are usually able to respond to student interest by matching students with their preferred cases.

Cases being handled by current clinic students include a § 1983 cases that defends the public’s right to film police activity in New York City without fear of being arrested and a case challenging the lack of access to gravesites at Hart Island, New York City’s potter’s field.  To give interested students an idea of the kinds of cases and issues clinic students have handled, we describe some of them below. Much of the clinic’s work is featured on the NYCLU’s web site,, which we encourage you to visit.

  • Battle v. City of New York (S.D.N.Y), successful a challenge to the NYPD’s unlawful practice of detaining, questioning and searching innocent livery cab passengers – particularly blacks, Latinos and other people of color;
  • Sharma v. City of New York (S.D.N.Y), successful challenge to the arrest of an Indian filmmaker and to the constitutionality of New York City’s film-permit scheme;
  • Wiita v. City of New York (S.D.N.Y.), successful challenge to NYPD photography-investigation practices implicated by the arrest of a Columbia University graduate student for taking pictures near a subway stop;
  • Blair v. City of New York (S.D.N.Y.), successful challenge to NYPD stop-and-frisk practices implicated by the arrest of an African-American reporter for the New York Post as well as aspects of a stop-and-frisk database maintained by the Department;
  • Lino v. City of New York (New York County Supreme Court/Appellate Division), successful challenge to the NYPD’s refusal to seal the database containing personal information of people wrongly stopped and frisked;
  • Matthews v. City of New York (S.D.N.Y./Second Circuit), ongoing challenge to retaliation against a veteran police officer who disclosed the use of an illegal quota system for arrests, summonses and stop-and-frisk encounters in his Bronx precinct;
  • NYCLU v. NYPD (New York County Supreme Court), successful challenge to the NYPD’s refusal to produce, pursuant to the New York Freedom of Information Law, a copy of an electronic database containing information about hundreds of thousands of police stops;
  • NYCLU v. New York City Transit Authority (S.D.N.Y.), successful challenge to policy barring public from observing hearings for people accused by police officers of offenses on New York City’s subways and buses;
  • Campeau-Laurion v. Raymond Kelly, The New York Yankees Partnership, et al. (S.D.N.Y.), successful challenge to Yankee policy, enforced by NYPD, of requiring fans to stand at their seats for playing of “God Bless America” during the seventh-inning stretch;
  • Musumeci v. U.S. Department of Homeland Security (S.D.N.Y.), successful challenge to federal government practice barring from photography of exteriors of federal buildings from public sidewalks and streets;
  • Sultan v. Kelly (E.D.N.Y.), successful challenge to the twenty-one searches of a brown-skinned straphanger under the NYPD’s purportedly “random” subway bag search program;
  • Charles v. City of New York (E.D.N.Y.), ongoing challenge to arrest of woman for videotaping stop-and-frisk of three black teenagers on her block;
  • Zayas v. City of New York (S.D.N.Y.), successful challenge to arrest of news photographer whom NYPD officers ejected from subway system for attempting to photograph stop-and-frisk and then arrested for objecting to the ejection;
  • Gaynor v. City of New York (S.D.N.Y.), successful challenge to arrest and use of physical force against a middle school student by an NYPD school safety agent; and
  • Sullivan v. City of New York (E.D.N.Y.), challenge to arrest of a Staten Island environment activist who criticized the borough president about his handling of a local development site.

In addition to the field work, the Clinic has a two-hour seminar where we meet at the NYCLU and use the cases that the students are working on to discuss and resolve the real-life challenges of litigation. The litigation provides a rich experience from which we all can draw in seminar and other clinic discussions about the complex institutional, political, and social factors that drive behavior and policy in these settings, and about the possibilities for institutional change.

Application Procedure

To apply to the Civil Rights Clinic, please submit the standard application, resume and transcript online through CAMS.  Selection of students is not based on interviews; however, you are welcome to come to a small group meeting of applicants and faculty so that we can have the opportunity to meet each other and so that we can answer the questions you may have.  We will be in touch with you once all applications are in to set those meetings up.

Student Contacts

We suggest that students who are interested in the Clinic talk to current students; they are:

Alexandra Dougherty
Sam Natale
Salmah Rizvi
Andrew Nellis
Junine So
Clark Binkley
Dan Kacinski

* 10 credits include 3 clinical credits and 2 academic seminar credits per semester.