Law Center Litigation
The Martin v. City of Boise (formerly Bell v. City of Boise) case has had a significant impact across the United States, particularly in the western states. The Law Center, Idaho Legal Services Inc., and pro bono partner Latham & Watkins have been litigating this case for almost a decade, and last September major progress was made when the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled that it is cruel and unusual punishment to criminalize the simple act of sleeping outside on public property when no alternative adequate shelter exists. Boise has requested a rehearing on the ruling, but in the meantime, dozens of cities have already repealed or stopped enforcing their anti-camping laws.
Often when someone loses their home, they take shelter in their vehicle. A vehicle may provide benefits that a shelter does not, such as independence from prohibitive rules and curfews or a place to store belongings. And for people with disabilities, shelters can be inadequate for many reasons such as cleanliness, access to medication, proximity to others, and more. However, the City of San Diego was ticketing people who sought shelter in their vehicles. The Law Center along with Disability Rights California, Bonnet Fairbourn & Balint, Dreher Law Firm and pro bono partner Fish & Richardson, filed a lawsuit in 2017 against the City of San Diego for violating the rights of people experiencing homelessness who choose to seek shelter in their vehicles.
On September 14, 2018, six homeless plaintiffs sued the City of Puyallup, Washington, and Pierce County for destruction of their property during sweeps of their outdoor encampments. The plaintiffs are represented by the Law Center and Perkins Coie. The complaint alleges that the City and County violated Plaintiffs’ Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable interference with their property interests, and their Fourteenth Amendment right to due process. The Law Center, with support of Perkins Coie, later amended the complaint to include a violation of plaintiff’s right to privacy under the Washington State Constitution.
On May 12, 2017, three named plaintiffs and a putative class of unsheltered homeless individuals filed suit against the City of Houston in the Southern District of Texas. Plaintiffs are represented by the Law Center, the ACLU of Texas, and pro bono partner, Dechert LLP. The complaint challenges Houston’s anti-camping and anti-panhandling ordinances and alleges that the City violated Plaintiffs’ First Amendment right to free speech, Fourth Amendment right against unreasonable searches and seizures, Eighth Amendment right against cruel and unusual punishment, and Fourteenth Amendment right to protection against vagueness.
In August 2018, on behalf of three Greensboro, North Carolina, citizens, the Law Center, together with the ACLU of North Carolina and Legal Aid of North Carolina, filed suit against the City of Greensboro for an ordinance to restrict panhandling. The City eventually relented and repealed the ordinance and now the Law Center and partners are pushing for retrospective damages and declaratory relief on behalf of the plaintiffs.
Amici Curiae in Support of Appellants, Citizens for Strong Schools v. Florida State Bd. of Educ., No. 1D16-2862 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 2016).
On November 4, 2016, the Law Center, Bassuk Center on Homeless and Vulnerable Children and Youth, Disability and Public Benefits Clinic of Florida Coastal School of Law, University of Miami School of Law Children and Youth Law Clinic and pro bono counsel Baker Donelson, submitted an amicus brief to the Florida 1st District Court of Appeal in support of the appellants, Citizens for Strong Schools, represented by Southern Legal Counsel. Our brief argued that Florida is not meeting its constitutional mandate to address the educational needs of homeless Florida students.
Citizens for Strong Schools, represented by Southern Legal Counsel, the Law Center, and pro bono counsel Baker Donelson, filed the underlying lawsuit in state court to hold the state accountable for its failure to meet its constitutional obligation to provide high quality, uniform, safe, secure, and efficient public education to all Florida students. At trial, the Law Center and Baker Donelson argued that the state is failing to meet its obligations under the Florida Constitution to serve the educational needs of homeless students in Florida. After a 4-week bench trial, the trial court found in favor of the state and held that the constitutional provision was not enforceable in court.
On December 13, 2017, the Florida 1st District Court ruled against the Appellants, who are appealing.
Amicus brief is due June 14, 2018.
Amici Curiae in Support of Appellants, Hooper v. City of Seattle, Case No. C17-77RSM (U.S. District Court Western District Oct. 4, 2017)
The Law Center with pro bono counsel Dechert LLP filed an amicus brief in the Plaintiffs’ appeal from denial of class certification in lawsuit filed on behalf of two individual plaintiffs and a putative class of persons subject to sweeps in the City of Seattle. The case was filed in Western District Court of Washington and alleges that the City’s policy and practice in removing encampments violates the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments.
The Law Center, Disability Rights Washington, and other non-profit advocacy groups submitted an amicus brief to the 9th Circuit in support of Plaintiff-Appellant’s 23(f) appeal of the denial of class certification in Hooper v. City of Seattle, Case No. C17-77RSM (U.S. District Court Western District Oct. 4, 2017.) The case, brought by the ACLU-WA, challenges Seattle’s sweeps policy and practices on 4th and 14th Amendment grounds. The brief was filed on June 11, 2018.
Amici Curiae in Support of Appellants, Kohner Properties v. Johnson, No. SC 95944 (MO S.Ct. 2016)
On October 24, 2016 the Law Center, with assistance from pro bono partner, Dechert, LLP, and on behalf of ourselves, American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri Foundation, Housing Umbrella Group of Florida Legal Services, Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, Legal Services NYC, National Alliance of HUD Tenants, National Housing Law Project, National Legal Aid and Defenders Association, and Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law, filed an amicus brief to the Missouri Supreme Court. The underlying case regards a judicially-imposed requirement to pay rent into escrow before a tenant may use an affirmative defense under the warranty of habitability. For low-income renters, this could be prohibitive (e.g. if they have to pay rent into escrow and pay for a hotel due to an uninhabitable apartment at the same time). LaTasha Johnson, the Defendant/Appellant is represented by the Legal Services of Eastern Missouri against Kohner Properties.
Our brief highlights the literature addressing the historical importance of the warranty of habitability and its continued role for economically disadvantaged tenants, how other states have approached the warranty of habitability when used as a defense to an eviction and related due process concerns, the consensus in both domestic and international law regarding tenants’ rights to habitable housing, and the social science literature supporting the conclusion that judicially-crafted protections for (often) low-income renters are essential to protect tenants from housing abuses The case was argued on February 8, 2017 and awaits a decision.
Amici Curiae in Support of Appellants, Manning et. al. v. Caldwell, No. 17-1320 (4th Cir. 2017).
On June 19, 2017, the Law Center together with pro bono partner Latham & Watkins filed an amicus brief in the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals. The underlying case was brought persons experiencing homelessness who are also addicted to alcohol against the city attorneys for Roanoke and Richmond, Virginia. The plaintiffs are represented by Legal Aid Justice Center in Virginia. Our brief supports Plaintiffs’ position that Virginia’s Interdiction Statute, which is used to classify alcoholics who are homeless (and thus more likely to drink in public view) as “habitual drunkards” and then repeatedly criminally prosecutes them for possessing, purchasing, or consuming alcohol, is both bad law and bad policy. The amicus reviews both Eighth Amendment case law and notes the outlier status of this statute as one of only two states with such a law, and the many more constructive approaches that could be taken to address the concerns of alcoholism and homelessness. The case was heard January 24, 2018. Skadden argued the case and reported the panel was very harsh, with one judge actively stating the position was wrong. Currently awaiting decision, though not optimistically.
Amici Curiae in support of Plaintiffs Emergency Stay Request, Orange County Catholic Worker, et al. v. Orange County, et al. Case No. 8:18-cv-00155-DOC-(KESx) (C.D. Ca 2018).
On February 12, 2018, the Law Center filed an amicus letter in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California. The judge invited “written briefing from any amicus groups which may include. . .service providers . . . and housing organizations” regarding a request for a preliminary injunction against a sweep of the Santa Ana riverbed encampment. The Plaintiffs are represented by Carol Sobel, the Elder Law and Disability Rights Center, and Schonbrun, Seplow, Harris & Hoffman. At Carol Sobel’s request, our letter highlights standards from our encampments report and other information from Housing Not Handcuffs and the DOJ Statement of Interest brief. The motion hearing was February 13, 2018. The judge allowed the sweep to go forward with commitment from the county to ensure alternative shelter/housing for all who were displaced, and threatened a permanent injunction against enforcement of camping ordinances for cities who do not cooperate with resettlement.
Amici Curiae in Support of Appellee, G.S. v. Rose Media School District, No. 17-2886 (3d Cir. 2018)
The Law Center signed on to an amicus brief to the 3rd Circuit filed by the Education Law Center – PA. Homelessness disproportionately affects students with disabilities and parents experiencing homelessness often lack access to counsel and legal resources to protect their rights. After signing a settlement agreement that waived G.S.’s rights to future legal claims under the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act, the school disenrolled G.S. because it held that the family is no longer homeless even though there has been no changes in the student’s living situation. Education Law Center, the Law Center, and other legal advocates urged the 3rd Circuit to find in favor of G.S. because waiving a homeless student’s future educational rights goes against public policy and because state and local educational agencies cannot deny eligibility for McKinney-Vento supports and services based on an arbitrary limit on the length of time a student experiences homelessness. On Nov. 6, 2018, in a non-precedential opinion, the 3rd Circuit ruled in favor of Plaintiffs affirming the family’s right to continue attending school and emphasizing that homelessness has no time limit under the Act. On Monday, January 7, 2019, the Amici filed a new motion requesting the opinion be converted to “precedential,” and await a decision on that motion.
Status: Closed, but motion pending
Amici Curiae in Support of Plaintiffs’ Motion for Preliminary Injunction and Summary Judgment, Nat’l Fair Housing Alliance, et al. v. Carson, et al. Case No. 1:18-cv-01076-BAH (D.D.C. 2018)
June 5, 2018, the Law Center joined the National Housing Law Project and other amici to file an amicus brief in the District Court of DC. In the underlying case, NFHA, et al. are challenging HUD’s notice that allows jurisdictions to stop submitting Analyses of Fair Housing (AFHs), as required under the 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing (AFFH) Regulation. The challenge is under the Administrative Procedure Act and the Fair Housing Act. The amicus looks at HUD’s responsibility to affirmatively further fair housing under the Fair Housing Act both historically and these current actions, to argue that the department is acting in purposeful disregard to the law.
The Law Center supported Plaintiff’s at the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals asking the Court to uphold a narrow injunction preventing Los Angeles from seizing and trashing “bulky property” of unhoused people based solely on its size. Arguments have not yet been scheduled.
In Massachusetts Coalition for the Homeless v. City of Fall River, MA, the Law Center, with the pro bono assistance of Mintz, Levin, Cohn, Ferris, Glovsky and Popeo, P.C. supported the plaintiffs’ arguments against a statewide anti-panhandling statute in the Massachusetts Supreme Court. The Court will hear the case on November 2.
The Law Center, together with the ACLU of Washington, Washington Defenders Association, Seattle University School of Law Human Rights Advocacy Project, and LoGerfo Garella PLLC submitted a brief in support of the plaintiff’s application for certiorari to the Washington State Supreme Court. The brief asks the Court to review the constitutionality of tows and impounds of vehicle homes without any consideration of the fact that people live in them. The Court has not yet decided whether or not to hear the case.
In a major First Amendment victory, the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida has declared Florida Statutes 316.2045 and 337.406—which prohibit the solicitation of charitable contributions on Florida roadways except by charitable organizations or when a local government permit has been issued— unconstitutional.
Frank v. Walker, 835 F.3d 649 (7th Cir. Aug. 29, 2016)
Ruthelle Frank, and a putative class of individuals who could not obtain photo ID through reasonable efforts sued the State of Wisconsin for violating the Voting Rights Act, and the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution by requiring a photo ID in order to vote. The Law Center joined with the ACLU of Wisconsin and pro bono partner, Dechert LLP, to represent the Plaintiffs in the suit filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin.
In April 2016, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals held that anyone who is eligible to vote in Wisconsin, but cannot obtain a qualifying photo ID with reasonable efforts, is entitled to an accommodation. See Frank v. Walker, 819 F.3d 384 (7th Cir. 2016). On remand, the district court issued an injunction that permits any registered voter to declare by affidavit that reasonable effort would not produce a photo ID. The Seventh Circuit then stayed that injunction pending appeal in a decision filed in August 2016, finding that the injunction would likely be reversed on appeal and that disruption of the state’s electoral system in the interim would cause irreparable harm. See Frank v. Walker, 2016 WL 4224616 (7th Cir. Aug. 10, 2016). Plaintiffs petition for initial review en banc was denied. Ruthelle Frank died on June 4, 2017 and counsel did not move to substitute a party.