involved in Matter of Vinluan v. Doyle (N.Y. App. Div. Jan. 13):
Ten nurses, all from the Republic of the Philippines, are under indictment in Suffolk County for the misdemeanor offenses of conspiracy in the sixth degree, endangering the welfare of a child, and endangering the welfare of a physically-disabled person. The prosecution of these individuals came in the aftermath of their simultaneous resignations from positions at a Long Island nursing home. [The amount of notice provided before the next scheduled shift for each nurse ranged from 8 to 72 hours.] The attorney who provided these nurses with legal advice was also indicted....
[T]he indictment handed down against the petitioners explicitly makes the nurses' conduct in resigning their positions a component of each of the crimes charged. Thus, the indictment places the nurses in the position of being required to remain in Sentosa's service after submitting their resignations, even if only for a relatively brief period of notice, or being subject to criminal sanction. Accordingly, the prosecution has the practical effect of exposing the nurses to criminal penalty for exercising their right to leave their employment at will. The imposition of such a limitation upon the nurses' ability to freely exercise their right to resign from the service of an employer who allegedly failed to fulfill the promises and commitments made to them is the antithesis of the free and voluntary system of labor envisioned by the framers of the Thirteenth Amendment. While we are, of course, mindful that protecting vulnerable children from harm is of enormous importance, the fact that the prosecution may serve a legitimate societal aim does not suspend the nurses' constitutional right to be free from involuntary service.
We are also cognizant of the fact that Thirteenth Amendment rights are not absolute, and that "not all situations in which labor is compelled ... by force of law" are unconstitutional. It has been recognized that the Thirteen Amendment "was not intended to apply to exceptional cases well established in the common law at the time" of its enactment. Thus, the Amendment has been held inapplicable to a narrow class of civic duties that have traditionally been enforced by means of imprisonment, including military service.... [A]n individual's right to be free from involuntary service may be limited in "exceptional cases, such as the service of a sailor ... the obligations of a child to its parents, or of an apprentice to his master, or the power of the legislature to make unlawful and punish criminally an abandonment by an employee of his post of labor in any extreme cases."
Guided by these principles, we conclude that this is not an exceptional case justifying a restriction of the petitioners' Thirteenth Amendment rights. The nurses in this case were engaged in private employment rather than the performance of public service. Moreover, while they possessed the education and training necessary to care for chronically ill patients, including children on ventilators, these skills are not so unique or specialized that they cannot be readily performed by other qualified nurses. Furthermore, although an employee's abandonment of his or her post in an "extreme case" may constitute an exceptional circumstance which warrants infringement upon the right to freely leave employment, the respondent District Attorney proffers no reason why this is an "extreme case." The nurses did not abandon their posts in the middle of their shifts. Rather, they resigned after the completion of their shifts, when the pediatric patients at Avalon Gardens were under the care of other nurses and staff members.
Moreover, while the indictment alleges that the nurses collectively resigned "knowing that their resignations and the prior resignations at other Sentosa Care facilities would render it difficult for Avalon Gardens to find, in a timely manner, skilled replacement nurses for Avalon Gardens' pediatric patients," it is undisputed that coverage was indeed obtained, and no facts suggesting an imminent threat to the well being of the children have been alleged. Indeed, the fact that no children were deprived of nursing care played a large role in the Education Department's decision to clear the nurses of professional misconduct. Under these circumstances, we cannot conclude that this is such an "extreme case" that the State's interest in prosecuting the petitioners for misdemeanor offenses based upon the speculative possibility that the nurses' conduct could have harmed the pediatric patients at Avalon Gardens justifies abridging the nurses' Thirteenth Amendment rights by criminalizing their resignations from the service of their private employer.
Note that the Thirteenth Amendment argument rests heavily on several Supreme Court cases from the first half of the 1900s, such as Pollock v. Williams (1944). There's also a passage on lawyers' First Amendment rights to offer objectively reasonable advice to their clients: "it would eviscerate the right to give and receive legal counsel with respect to potential criminal liability if an attorney could be charged with conspiracy and solicitation whenever a District Attorney disagreed with that advice."
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