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Biotechnical Atheneum v. National Lawyers Guild, Inc., et al.

Supreme Court, New York County

This is the second motion by defendants National Lawyers Guild, Inc. and The National Lawyers Guild Foundation, Inc. (collectively "the Guild", "NLG", or "Defendants") to dismiss plaintiff, Bibliotechnical Athenaeum's ("Plaintiff') complaint. Defendants' first motion to dismiss was denied by order dated March 30, 2017 ("Prior Order"), which is incorporated into this order by reference.

The Prior Order gives a detailed rendering of the background and facts of this case. Briefly, Defendants, which have been described as a "progressive bar association committed to advancing civil rights and civil liberties,"1 organized and held a "Law for the People" convention in August of 2016. The convention included an annual awards banquet. As part of the banquet, Defendants offered attendees the opportunity to buy advertising in a "Dinner Journal." Plaintiff, a self-described Israeli organization, attempted to submit an advertisement to be included in the Dinner Journal. The advertisement was to be approximately 3" by 3" and was to read in its entirety:
Bibliotechnical Athenaeum
Congratulations to the Honorees
4 Shlomtzion St. Elazar
Gush Etzion

Defendants, however, informed Plaintiff in writing that they would not accept Plaintiffs advertisement because of a "resolution barring [Defendants] from accepting funds from Israeli organizations."
Plaintiffs initial complaint alleged violations of the New York State Hum~ Rights Law and the New York City Human Rights Law. Defendants moved to dismiss, arguing that their actions were protected by the First Amendment. In denying Defendants' motion, the court held, among other things, that Plaintiff had standing to commence this action; that the First Amendment did not bar Plaintiff's complaint; and that the banquet and Dinner Journal fell within the scope of the Human Rights Laws. Notably, the court denied Defendants' motion without prejudice. Neither party had submitted a copy of the Dinner Journal for the court's review, meaning that the court was unable to evaluate Defendants' assertion that their First Amendment rights would be violated were they obliged to accept Plaintifrs advertisement.

On September 24, 2017, Plaintiff filed an amended complaint as required by the Prior Order. This time, Plaintiff annexed a copy of the Dinner Journal to the complaint. The court has now had a chance to review the Dinner Journal thoroughly. The document consists of 40 pages. With the exception of a cover page, a two-page introduction, a program agenda, and seven pages of honoree biographies, the remaining 25-plus pages consist of advertisements. Most of the advertisements congratulate one or more of the honorees, some simply list the naine and address of the advertiser without any accompanying message, and some contain what could be considered statements or messages referencing current and historic political issues.

Defendants now move to dismiss the amended complairit under CPLR 321 l(a)(l) and CPLR 321 l(a)(7). In their motion papers, Defendants advance several arguments, including that the Guild's resolution barring it from accepting money from Israeli corporations is First Amendment-protected speech, and that neither the banquet nor the Dinner Journal constitute "public accommodations" under The Human Rights Law. Defendants also ask that the court take judicial notice of the "controversial nature" of Gush Etzion, which is purported to be a settlement in the West Bank that is listed as Plaintiff's address in its proposed advertisement.

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