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K&L Gates Secures Pro Bono Win in Third Circuit Case Establishing New Federal Standard

23 March 2023

A K&L Gates team in Pittsburgh secured a major pro bono win in the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, which not only reversed a summary judgment loss for the client, but also created a new standard -- at the K&L Gates team’s urging -- for the qualified immunity analysis under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

Prior to this precedential Third Circuit opinion, the government took the position that in order to defeat a qualified immunity defense, a prisoner plaintiff had to identify a closely analogous case in which a government official had been held liable for similar conduct, with the prior case making it “clearly established” that the conduct in question was illegal. The government argued, and the District Court agreed, that because there was no closely analogous case for the client’s fact pattern, qualified immunity applied. The Third Circuit rejected that analysis and, adopting K&L Gates’ argument, held that “the right to pray free of substantial, deliberate, repeated, and unjustified disruption by prison officials” was so obvious as to be clearly established, regardless of whether or not there was a closely analogous case.

Pittsburgh partner John Hagan supervised the team, which included associates Sarah Czypinski, Jess Moran, Terrina LaVallee, and Kira Geary. The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund participated as an amicus in the case.

Hagan noted: “Although this case will continue, we take great pride in helping our client, Charles Mack, achieve protections for the fundamental right of prisoners to pray. Our team is committed to seeing that right vindicated.”

Lawyers at K&L Gates actively engage in a variety of pro bono efforts and work on hundreds of pro bono matters each year. In addition to providing legal assistance directly to individuals who have limited means but substantial legal needs, firm lawyers provide legal counsel and public policy advocacy to help organizations advance their public service programs, work to advance the rule of law around the world, and accept court appointments to provide pro bono counsel. For more information on K&L Gates’ pro bono program, please visit:

K&L Gates is a fully integrated global law firm with lawyers located across five continents. The firm represents leading multinational corporations, growth and middle-market companies, capital markets participants and entrepreneurs in every major industry group as well as public sector entities, educational institutions, philanthropic organizations and individuals.

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