Breest v. Haggis

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Concerning whether additional allegations are necessary to prove animus in alleged rape and sexual assault cases.

  • Fairness in the Courts
  • Violence Against Women and Girls


  • VAWA Civil Rights Remedy
  • Authored Amicus Brief


Background of the Case

Plaintiff raised claims under New York City’s Victims of Gender-Motivated Violence Protection Law, which was passed in 2000 and provides a civil cause of action for victims of crimes of gender-based violence, allowing victims to collect money damages from their perpetrator. The law was passed after the U.S. Supreme Court, in U.S. v. Morrison, struck down the federal civil rights remedy for gender motivated crimes under the Violence Against Women Act, finding the remedy to be an unconstitutional exercise of Congressional Power. In this case, the defendant sought to dismiss plaintiff’s amended complaint, which included claims that defendant raped and sexually assaulted her. Defendant argued that plaintiff failed to adequately state a cause of action and required an additional showing of gender motivation.

Our Role in the Case

Legal Momentum along with law professors who were all involved in the development, passage, and defending the constitutionality of the VAWA civil rights remedy, filed this brief in the New York Appellate Division, First Department. The brief educates the court on the legislative history and intent of the civil rights remedy. The brief argues that neither Congress nor the New York City Council intended that proof of bias against women as a group, or proof of specific hostility or ill will, be required to demonstrate the gender motivation element. Instead, when interpreting the gender motivation requirement, the legislative history instructs courts to interpret the requirement consistently with other civil rights statutes by evaluating the “totality of the circumstance,” looking at the circumstantial and direct evidence.


The Court clarified that additional allegations are not necessary to prove animus in alleged rape and sexual assault cases.