Akiva Shapiro is a litigation partner in Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher’s New York office, Chair of the Firm’s New York Administrative Law and Regulatory Practice Group, Co-Chair of its Religious Liberty Working Group, and a member of the Firm’s Appellate and Constitutional Law, Media, Entertainment and Technology, and Securities Litigation Practice Groups, among others. Mr. Shapiro’s practice focuses on a broad range of high-stakes constitutional, administrative, commercial, and appellate litigation matters. He is regularly engaged in front of New York’s trial courts, federal and state courts of appeal, and the U.S. Supreme Court.
Mr. Shapiro was named Litigator of the Week by The American Lawyer in August 2021 for what it called an “extraordinary SCOTUS win for New York landlords,” obtaining an emergency injunction from the Court on due process grounds in Chrysafis v. Marks. He was named a runner-up Litigator of the Week by The American Lawyer in November 2020 for “two big wins . . . scored late on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving,” including obtaining an emergency injunction from the U.S. Supreme Court in The Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn, New York v. Cuomo, a landmark religious liberties decision. Referencing both emergency decisions, The American Lawyer recognized Mr. Shapiro’s “knack for getting the attention of the U.S. Supreme Court. Quickly.” He was also named a runner-up Litigator of the Week in November 2021 for winning pre-discovery dismissal of assault and battery claims brought by former New York Knicks star Charles Oakley against Madison Square Garden, and in August 2019 for a First Amendment and due process victory on behalf of the New York State title insurance industry, and was recognized by The American Lawyer in October 2022 for a CPLR Article 78 victory holding that the Town of East Hampton’s plan to close its airport was arbitrary and capricious for failure to conduct required environmental reviews.
Representative litigation involving government entities and constitutional issues:
- Property rights litigation:
- Obtained emergency injunction from the U.S. Supreme Court of New York State’s COVID-19 eviction moratorium law. The Court held that the moratorium scheme violated “the Court’s longstanding teaching that ordinarily ‘no man can be a judge in his own case’ consistent with the Due Process Clause.” According to data published by Reuters, the decision marked the first time the Supreme Court had granted an emergency injunction to private litigants outside the religious liberties context since the inception of the pandemic, after nearly 100 prior applications had been denied. Mr. Shapiro was awarded Litigator of the Week by The American Lawyer for this win.
- Mounting a federal constitutional challenge to New York State’s recent amendments to its rent regulation laws. Asserting Taking Clause, Due Process, and Contracts Clause claims, among others, on behalf of a number of small apartment building owners.
- First Amendment speech and assembly litigation:
- Represented good government groups in successful First Amendment challenge to New York State’s sweeping, first-in-the-nation requirement that large swaths of non-profit organizations publicly disclose essentially all of their donors. The court granted summary judgment for Citizens Union and the other Plaintiffs in full, striking the challenged provisions as “invalid on their face” under the First Amendment. After the decision, the government agreed to pay attorneys’ fees and to waive any appeal of the district court’s decision.
- Represented non-profit organization NYCLASS in successful appeal, on First Amendment grounds, narrowing injunction that had significantly restricted public protests near Central Park.
- Religious liberties litigation:
- In what has been called “one of the most significant religion cases in the past 30 years,” obtained an emergency injunction from the U.S. Supreme Court on behalf of The Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn, New York, blocking enforcement of Governor Cuomo’s executive order restricting house of worship attendance during the Covid-19 pandemic. The Wall Street Journal editorial page described the decision with one word: “Wow.” Mr. Shapiro was awarded runner-up Litigator of the Week by The American Lawyer for this victory.
- Represented elite marathoner Beatie Deutsch in her groundbreaking effort to have the Tokyo 2021 Olympics Women’s Marathon moved from its scheduled date on the Jewish Sabbath so she can compete in accordance with her religious beliefs. Mr. Shapiro’s op-ed on the representation, A Tokyo Sequel to ‘Chariots of Fire,’ was published in the Wall Street Journal in October 2020.
- Successfully represented synagogue in suit against a local zoning board for violating client’s First Amendment, Due Process, and Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act rights by imposing unreasonable and oppressive conditions on the synagogue’s use of its property for religious services, study, and activities. Argued summary judgment motion and “prerogative writs” trial and, while appeal of those decisions was pending, negotiated a favorable settlement that removed essentially all of the challenged conditions and restrictions.
- Regulatory challenges: When the New York State Department of Financial Services adopted sweeping new statewide restrictions on traditional title industry marketing and fee practices, Mr. Shapiro and his colleagues had to go up and down the state court system twice on behalf of the New York State Land Title Association, in the process successfully blocking the regulations’ implementation for two years, getting the new regulations struck down by a trial court in August 2019 as unconstitutional on Due Process and First Amendment grounds—for which Mr. Shapiro was named a runner-up Litigator of the Week by The American Lawyer— and eventually resulting in the permanent invalidation of key portions of the regulations.
- Challenges to enforcement actions:
- SEC enforcement defense: Successfully defended Lynn Tilton and her Patriarch entities against SEC fraud charges in which the SEC sought disgorgement of more than $200 million from Ms. Tilton—the largest disgorgement award ever sought by the SEC from an individual—and Ms. Tilton’s debarment for life as an investment advisor. After a multi-week trial, the SEC Administrative Law Judge overseeing the case issued a landmark 57-page decision dismissing all of the SEC’s charges in full, and the SEC chose not to appeal.
- NYAG enforcement defense: Defended DraftKings against State Attorney General litigations over the legality of daily fantasy sports in various states. In the New York action, Gibson Dunn obtained a stay pending appeal of an injunction that would have barred DraftKings from operating in the state and, while the appeal was pending, the case was resolved favorably through state legislation legalizing daily fantasy sports in New York.
- Overturning NYPD policy: After the City of New York began arresting entertainment venue’s ticket agents on the grounds that they were selling “goods or services” on the sidewalk without a “general vendor” license, obtained a unanimous reversal from New York’s Appellate Division, First Department, invalidating the policy and legal interpretation underlying the arrests.
Representative commercial litigation matters:
- Civil RICO:
- Filed $1 billion civil RICO, breach of contract, fraud, and breach of fiduciary duty action on behalf of a major international insurer, defeated motion to dismiss the case, and at the same time obtained dismissal of the adverse party’s $150 million breach of contract claim. After expedited discovery, successfully moved for summary judgment on our client’s breach of contract claim, and participated in a 25-day bench trial on our client’s RICO and other remaining claims that resulted, post-trial, in a confidential settlement.
- Obtained dismissal with prejudice on the pleadings of a $1 billion civil RICO suit against private equity investor Lynn Tilton and her Patriarch entities filed in the Southern District of New York.
- Defamation defense:
- Represented Madison Square Garden in successfully defeating all claims brought by former Knicks star Charles Oakley arising out of an incident in which Oakley was removed from the Garden during a Knicks game. Mr. Shapiro was awarded runner-up Litigator of the Week by The American Lawyer for this win.
- Won summary judgment ruling dismissing all claims asserted against religious elementary school—including defamation, breach of contract, and employment discrimination claims—after the school terminated its employment relationship with a teacher whose conduct was determined not to be consistent with the school’s standards, and communicated its decision to the school community. The court determined that the claims were barred by the ministerial exception and that adjudicating them would excessively entangle the court in religious doctrine.
- Contract disputes:
- In a major victory for the rule of law, defeated attempt to confirm a sham $18 billion Egyptian arbitral award in U.S. federal court. The trial court found that there was no agreement to arbitrate between the parties and that numerous procedural infirmities independently precluded confirmation of the award. The Ninth Circuit affirmed that dismissal in a unanimous opinion.
- Successfully prosecuted breach of contract and business tort claims in front of AAA arbitration panel. Second-chaired arbitration, examining and cross-examining witnesses, after which the panel granted our client’s claims and awarded damages and attorney’s fees. After the opposing party refused to pay the award, brought a successful action in federal court for confirmation and obtained payment in full.
- Represented Dubai-based company in successfully proving authenticity of operating contract governing its commercial relationship with a New York supplier, after the supplier falsely alleged that the contract was forged. On the eve of a federal jury trial on the authenticity of the agreement, and with the testimony of a handwriting expert and ink chemist dooming the forgery allegation, the other side capitulated completely, stipulating to the authenticity of the agreement and to immediate arbitration of the merits of the contract dispute.
- Securities litigation: Obtained complete dismissal on the pleadings of putative securities class action brought under Sections 11 and 15 of the Securities Act and sections 10(b) and 20(a) of the Exchange Act against AmTrust Financial Services, Inc. and certain of its officers and directors. The suit followed AmTrust’s restatement in 2017 of certain line items in its prior financial statements.
Representative litigation in front of the U.S. Supreme Court:
- Chrysafis v. Marks: Representing small landlords and the Rent Stabilization Association in obtaining groundbreaking injunction protecting due process rights, discussed in more detail above.
- The Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn, New York v. Cuomo: Represented Brooklyn Diocese in obtaining landmark injunction protecting religious liberties, discussed in more detail above.
- Federal Republic of Germany v. Philipp and Republic of Hungary v. Simon: Representing a bi-partisan group of Members of the House of Representatives in support of Holocaust survivors and their heirs in two cases that will determine whether foreign sovereigns and their instrumentalities can be held accountable in United States courts for the genocidal seizure of property during the Holocaust, consistent with Congress’s instructions. Mr. Shapiro’s op-ed on the case, Holocaust Survivors Deserve Their Day in Court, was published in the Wall Street Journal in December 2020.
- Padilla v. Kentucky: Helped secure landmark decision at the United States Supreme Court holding that criminal defense attorneys have an obligation to advise noncitizen clients about the deportation risks of a guilty plea, and that an attorney who fails to do so violates the Sixth Amendment’s guarantee of effective assistance of counsel. The majority opinion quoted Gibson Dunn’s amicus brief on behalf of legal ethics, criminal procedure, and criminal law professors for the critical proposition that “authorities of every stripe . . . universally require defense attorneys to advise as to the risk of deportation consequences for non-citizen clients.”
- Zivotofsky cases: Represented U.S. Senators, the Chairman and Ranking Member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and other Members of Congress as amici in a landmark separation of powers case brought to protect the role of Congress in foreign affairs. The initial Supreme Court case, Zivotofsky v. Clinton, resulted in an 8-1 win significantly narrowing the political question doctrine and holding that the federal courts have the power to evaluate a constitutional challenge to a statute, even if the statute implicates foreign affairs. The majority opinion specifically noted the involvement of members of Congress as amici in the case. After the case was remanded for a decision on the question of which branch of government controls the recognition power, and the circuit court decided the case in favor of the Executive, filed a successful amicus brief in support of certiorari, followed by a merits-stage amicus brief in Zivotofsky v. Kerry. Although the decision came down in the Executive’s favor on the narrow recognition power issue, the majority opinion expressly affirmed the robust role of Congress in foreign affairs, consistent with the arguments made in our congressional amicus brief. Mr. Shapiro’s op-ed on the case, Is Jerusalem in Israel? Ask the Supreme Court, was published in the Wall Street Journal in October 2014.
- Vartelas v. Holder: Helped secure an important immigration rights victory from the U.S. Supreme Court preserving travel rights for lawful permanent resident aliens. The majority opinion adopted in significant respects the arguments advanced in an amicus brief filed on behalf of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers and other national criminal defense and immigration rights organizations in holding that a provision of the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 (IIRIRA) barring re-entry to the United States by certain lawful resident aliens who made “innocent, casual, and brief” trips abroad did not apply to conduct that predated the Act. Also provided advice relating to Mr. Vartelas’s successful petition for certiorari.
Mr. Shapiro has also been involved in various efforts to shape the law through publications and submissions to rulemaking bodies. His argument in the New York Law Journal, with Gibson Dunn colleagues, that the New York Legislature has the authority to authorize mobile sports betting, consistent with the State Constitution—so long as the servers that effectively place the bets are physically housed at casinos duly authorized under the State Constitution—was adopted by the Legislature in authorizing online sports wagering in the State in 2021. In March 2021, he submitted a proposal, with Gibson Dunn colleagues, to the United States Courts’ Committee on Rules of Practice and Procedure proposing a Federal Rule of Civil Procedure governing the filing of amicus briefs in district courts. That proposal is pending.
Mr. Shapiro is a member of the Board of Governors of the American Association of Jewish Lawyers and Jurists (AAJLJ), the nation’s leading professional organization of Jewish lawyers and jurists, and a former Co-Chair of the AAJLJ’s First Amendment/Religious Liberties Committee. He has been named a Benchmark Litigation “Future Star,” a Super Lawyers New York Metro “Rising Star” in Constitutional Law multiple times, and one of The Jewish Week’s “36 under 36” up-and-coming leaders in the Jewish community for his work on a number of high-profile pro bono cases. Mr. Shapiro has been on multiple Frank Wheat Award-nominated teams for leadership and initiative in pro bono work at Gibson Dunn, and for obtaining significant results for the Firm’s pro bono clients, and was on the Gibson Dunn team that received the Jewish National Fund Presidential Award for pro bono work on behalf of the organization.
Mr. Shapiro earned his Juris Doctor in 2008 from Columbia Law School, where he was a senior editor of the Columbia Law Review, a Harlan Fiske Stone Scholar, and a semifinalist in the Harlan Fiske Stone Honors Moot Court competition. After law school, he served as a research assistant to Judge Debra Livingston of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit and to Professor Harold Edgar. Mr. Shapiro also earned a Master’s Degree in Religious Studies from Yale University, where he was a member of the Yale Journal of Law and the Humanities. In 2001, he graduated from Columbia University with a Bachelor of Arts in History.
Mr. Shapiro has published articles on constitutional and litigation issues in The Wall Street Journal, The New York Law Journal, Law360, Westlaw, JURIST, Tablet Magazine, and other periodicals, and he has been quoted on a variety of legal topics in newspapers ranging from the New York Daily News to the Huffington Post to The Jewish Daily Forward. He regularly gives Continuing Legal Education classes for other lawyers, including on constitutional and complex commercial litigation strategy, brief writing, and deposition techniques.