A group of Fordham Law students participating in the Federal Litigation Clinic claimed a recent victory when the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit ruled in their favor in a discrimination case.
The clinic’s client had previously brought a Fair Housing Act pregnancy discrimination claim in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York, which had been dismissed under Rule 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim.
The Second Circuit Court vacated this part of the prior judgment and permitted re-pleading before the Eastern District Court. In a footnote to the summary order, the Second Circuit judges wrote, “We commend the Fordham Law School clinic for its fine advocacy in this case and believe it would be beneficial for counsel to continue representing Palmer at the district court level.”
3L Jessica Engle was responsible for arguing the case before the Second Circuit Court on October 10. “Our main argument was that even though the complaints were inarticulate and confusing, they still presented sufficient facts to survive a motion to dismiss if you took the time to parse them,” Engle said. “A lot of our argument consisted of taking the judges through the facts that were in the record and demonstrating how they interacted with each other to raise a plausible, minimal inference of discrimination sufficient to survive a motion to dismiss.”
Engle credits the countless hours of preparation from the entire clinic team—the Fordham professors, students, and alumni involved—with helping her put forth an impressive showing in court.
“Nervousness suddenly hit me as I walked up to the podium,” she said, “but once I took a breath and started my argument I felt very focused and confident. My team had done a great job of helping me prepare, so I knew exactly what I wanted to say in response to each question I received.”
That team consisted of Professors Michael W. Martin and Ian Weinstein, the supervising attorneys of the clinic, as well as a group of students and recent graduates: Katherine Wentworth-Ping ’18, Anita Carrol ’18, and 3L David Lacker worked on the main brief for the case last spring; 2Ls Doug Bresnick, Joanna Heinz, and Natalie Hoehl drafted the reply brief over the summer; and 3Ls Eunice Lee, Michael Mazzullo, and Jennifer Rosenblatt helped Engle prepare her argument.
Mazzullo, Engle’s primary mooting partner leading up to the case, was also present for the argument.
“Jessica did a wonderful job. She was articulate, poised, and thorough,” Mazzullo said. “I wasn’t surprised, because I had seen her rehearse argument numerous times. Perhaps most impressive was her ability to respond to the judges’ thoughts and questions on the spot, which are impossible to fully predict.”
The Second Circuit judges were impressed as well; after Engle concluded her argument, Judge John M. Walker leaned into the microphone and told Engle to come back again soon. Judges Debra Ann Livingston and Guido Calabresi chimed in with their agreement.
Wentworth-Ping, who worked as a pro bono scholar with the clinic last year and is now an associate at Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan, was present from the beginning of Fordham Law’s involvement in this case. As the primary drafter of the brief, Wentworth-Ping worked closely with Carrol, Lacker, and Weinstein to craft the document, ultimately filing the brief a day before she graduated.
“My time with the Federal Litigation Clinic was invaluable in preparing me for a firm like Quinn, where young associates are encouraged to partake in case theory discussion, client facing tasks, and case management generally,” she said.
Bresnick, whose role involved sitting in on negotiations between Weinstein and opposing counsel about possible settlements before filing the brief, as well as reading through it several times, found the process exciting and motivating.
“In law school, you rarely get a chance to witness practical lawyering,” he said. “Being on this case I was able to watch how Professor Weinstein negotiated with the other side in trying to attain the best possible settlement for our client. It was fascinating to see how quickly he had to think on his feet, always keeping the best interest of the client in mind.”
“Working in this clinic reaffirmed my aspirations to be a lawyer,” Bresnick added.
Upon graduating, Engle will be joining the New York City Law Department’s Special Federal Litigation Division.