Tanzin v. Tanvir

Summarized by:

  • Court: U.S. Supreme Court Certiorari Granted
  • Area(s) of Law: Remedies
  • Date Filed: November 22, 2019
  • Case #: 19-71
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Tanvir v. Tanzin, 894 F.3d 449 (2nd Cir. 2018)

Whether the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (“RFRA”) of 1993, 42 U.S.C. 2000bb et seq., permits suits seeking money damages against individual federal employees.

Respondents allege that after they refused to become FBI informants due to their religious beliefs, agents retaliated by placing or retaining them on the No Fly List. Respondents allege this choice substantially burdened their exercise of sincerely held religious beliefs and sought damages against petitioners in their individual capacity. The Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) allows claimants to “obtain appropriate relief against a government,” and it defines “government” to include an official. The district court found in favor of petitioners. The Second Circuit Court of Appeals reversed, concluding “appropriate relief” includes money damages against individuals, and Congress intended to follow a background presumption of the “availability of all appropriate remedies unless Congress has expressly indicated otherwise.”  Petitioners argue RFRA applies to defendants, sovereign and non-sovereign, and courts should not use the above presumption when damages are not available against the primary class of defendants. Petitioners point to  Supreme Court decision Sossamon v. Texas, 563 U.S. 277 (2011), where it held that the same phrase in RFRA’s sister statute, the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA), does not speak clearly enough to authorize damages against a State and Congress must be clear for that availability. Petitioners argue Congress allows injunctive relief against officers in official capacities, but damages against those acting in an individual-capacity should not qualify as “appropriate relief against a government.” Petitioner reasons that in light of separation-of-powers concerns and the “substantial costs” they impose, this rule is consistent with Supreme Court precedents showing disfavor for damages against government officials without express congressional authorization.

Advanced Search

Back to Top