US Supreme Court to Hear Pro Bono Client’s Dispute over Social Security Benefits
Jenner & Block is proud of its 2018 pro bono results:
The Court recently granted the firm’s petition for certiorari in Biestek v. Berryhill. The firm represents petitioner Michael Biestek, who applied for Social Security benefits because of a disabling, physical impairment. During a hearing before an administrative law judge, a vocational expert testified that jobs were available to Mr. Biestek despite his disability. But the vocational expert, citing the “confidentiality” of her files, would not produce the data and analyses underlying her conclusions. The administrative law judge refused to require the expert to produce this information and then denied Mr. Biestek the disability benefits. The Sixth Circuit affirmed the administrative law judge but noted that there is a divide between the Seventh Circuit and other circuits on the issue.
“This case presents the question whether the Social Security Administration may permissibly deny benefits based on only a vocational expert’s testimony that ‘other work’ exists, when the vocational expert refuses to disclose the data underlying that testimony. There is a well-established, and entrenched, conflict among the circuits on this question, and this case presents the ideal vehicle for this Court to resolve the issue,” according to the petition.
Partner Ishan K. Bhabha leads the team representing Mr. Biestek. Associates Lauren J. Hartz and Natacha Y. Lam are also on the team.
Firm Team Partners with McDonalds to Secure Asylum for Pro Bono Client
Partner Wade A. Thomson led a firm team that secured asylum for a pro bono client who was arrested, detained and tortured by members of the federal police force in Congo at the Direction Générale de Surveillance du Territoire (DGST) three times between May 2013 and June 2014. Our client held a leadership position in a teachers union that planned and coordinated nationwide teachers’ strikes in 2013. Our client refused government bribes to frustrate the strikes and instead published a newspaper article that was critical of the government and supportive of the strike. Because of these acts, our client was accused of being a member of an opposition political party and was brutally tortured and threatened with death by Congolese forces.
In 2015, in-house counsel at McDonalds Corporation reached out to Wade to take the case. In October 2017, the team appeared with our client at the Chicago Asylum Office and represented him in his asylum interview. On June 29, 2018, he was granted asylum. This victory comes through the collaborative efforts of the firm and McDonalds. Other members of the firm team included former associates Yasmine Kurukgy and Ashley Waddell Tingstad, Case Assistant Jocelyn C. Carreon-Crawford and Legal Secretary Brenda Carey.
Firm Ranks No. 1 in Pro Bono for Ninth Time in American Lawyer’s Annual Survey
Once again, The American Lawyer has recognized Jenner & Block as the No. 1 law firm in the United States for pro bono service. This marks the ninth time the firm has achieved the top spot in the annual survey of pro bono commitment among Big Law firms. The firm is also recognized among the top 10 law firms on this year’s international ranking.
The ranking, in The American Lawyer’s annual survey, is based on 2017 hours, which totaled more than 90,700. As The American Lawyer points out, the firm averaged 168 pro bono hours per lawyer. On the international front, Jenner & Block is ranked seventh.
Partner Andrew W. Vail, co-chair of the firm’s Pro Bono Committee, observes in the profile that the firm has an “extremely broad and deep” commitment to pro bono work and puts considerable effort into identifying pro bono work for litigators and transactional lawyers. In 2017, the firm increased its commitment to pro bono on asylum cases and also represented three people who were wrongfully convicted. All three of the convictions were vacated.
Jenner & Block was also named No. 1 in 2017, 2015, 2014, 2012, 2010, 2009, 2008 and 1999. The firm has placed among the leading 10 pro bono programs nationwide every year since the survey began in 1990.
US Supreme Court Cites Firm’s Amicus Brief in Immigration Ruling
In Pereira v. Sessions, the US Supreme Court rejected efforts by the Department of Justice to use procedural shortcuts to eliminate protections for people who have lived for decades in the United States. In its 8-1 ruling on June 21, 2018, the Court cited part of an amicus brief authored by a firm team on behalf of the National Immigrant Justice Center (NIJC).
Pereira concerns the case of petitioner Wescley Fonseca Pereira, a native of Brazil who faced removal after living in the United States since 2000. A critical form of relief available to Mr. Pereira, and other immigrants like him, is “cancellation of removal,” which allows immigration judges to decline to order the removal of a noncitizen who meets stringent requirements—meaning that he or she has lived in the country for at least 10 years, has no criminal record, has “good moral character,” and shows “exception and extremely unusual hardship” to a US citizen family member.
At issue was how to calculate the 10 years. The statute stops this 10-year clock when the government serves a “notice to appear,” which the statute defines as a written notice satisfying particular requirements—including that it must include the “time and place” at which removal proceedings will be held. Despite the statute’s text, however, the government claimed that—as a matter of administrative convenience—it could omit the “time and place” but still treat the notice as stopping the 10-year residency clock.
Several courts of appeals had deferred to the DOJ. But the Supreme Court rejected the DOJ’s approach and held that the clock stops only upon the service of a notice including the time and place of the remove hearing. In rejecting the DOJ’s argument that including the hearing’s time and place would be infeasible, the Court cited the firm’s amicus brief, which showed that the government had previously used a system that allowed automatic scheduling of hearings. Relying on the firm’s brief, Justice Sonia Sotomayor, writing for the Court, explained that “[g]iven today’s advanced software capabilities, it is hard to imagine why DHS and immigration courts could not work together to schedule hearings before sending notices to appear.” As a result of the Court’s ruling, thousands of immigrants are now eligible to seek cancellation of removal.
The team writing the brief included Partner Lindsay C. Harrison and Associates Zachary C. Schauf and Jonathan A. Langlinais.
Pro Bono Win for Jenner & Block’s LA Office: Breaking Ground on Homes for the Homeless
After a hard-fought mediation, Partners Michael McNamara and G. Thomas Stromberg recently secured an agreement to allow pro bono client Colden (aka FlyawayHomes) to move forward in building homes for the homeless. This particular permanent supportive housing (PSH) project is unique: it repurposes shipping containers from the Port of Los Angeles to manufacture modular housing units, which drastically reduces the time and cost of completion compared to traditional construction.
“It’s cheaper for shipping companies to leave them here then to ship them back…Therefore, you have all these one-time-use containers that are essentially brand new,” Kevin Hirai, chief operating officer of FlyawayHomes, said in a video feature about the project. In addition, the PSH is 100 percent privately funded and does not use taxpayer money for development, which amounts to about $3 million to build the three-story, 33-person capacity structure. “It’s a beautiful model, if you think about it,” Mr. Hirai added. “You can invest money, make a modest return and house our most vulnerable neighbors.”
It took months of difficult negotiations for the parties to enter into an agreement to move forward with building the homes. Lawry J. Meister, president of FlyawayHomes, thanked Mr. McNamara and Mr. Stromberg for their efforts: “We truly never would have reached an agreement if it weren’t for your diplomacy, determination and dedication to getting it done.”
Jenner & Block Honored with ACLU Award for Pro Bono Work
The American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California recognized lawyers from Jenner & Block’s Los Angeles office today with its Homeless Rights Advocacy Award. The organization presented the honor at its annual luncheon in recognition of the firm’s work in obtaining a favorable settlement for pro bono clients in a class action lawsuit challenging a Southern California city’s discriminatory housing ordinances.
Serving as co-counsel with the ACLU, the firm represented the Victor Valley Family Resource Center (VVFRC), which provides transitional housing to individuals recently released from incarceration, and also represented individual tenants and landlords who acted as class representatives.
Beginning in 2016, the City of Hesperia, in California’s high desert, began issuing regular citations to VVFRC for violating a city ordinance—which hadn’t been enforced in years—barring two or more unrelated individuals on probation from living together. The City also began pressuring VVFRC’s landlords to evict the organization, relying on a new ordinance requiring landlords to evict upon notice any tenant engaged in unspecified criminal activity, regardless of whether an arrest was made or citation issued.
In response, the ACLU of Southern California filed a class action lawsuit in the Central District of California against the City and the San Bernardino County Sheriff, alleging that the two ordinances were unconstitutional in that they violated state and federal equal-protection and due-process rights. Jenner & Block joined the case as co-counsel shortly after.
In the spring of 2017, Hesperia’s city council repealed one of the ordinances. Later that year, the city council adopted significant revisions to the other ordinance, many of which were drafted by Associate Christopher S. Lindsay and our ACLU co-counsel.
As part of a settlement agreement finalized in April 2018, Hesperia also agreed to pay a substantial award to make VVFRC and our other clients whole for the costs they incurred due to the city’s enforcement of the two ordinances, rescind any outstanding fines or citations, and release liens imposed against their properties. It also agreed to pay attorneys’ fees.
In addition to Mr. Lindsay, Associate Andrew G. Sullivan helped lead the firm team, with support from Partner A.J. Thomas and former associate Kate Spelman. Many other associates made valuable contributions, including Brian Adesman, Ben J. Brysacz, Sean D. Nelson and Daixi Xu; summer associate Anna Lyons; and former associate Calvin Mohammadi. Paralegals Alonso Ponce, Diana Vuong and Julian Valenzuela, and legal assistants Jennifer Rodriguez, Laura Saltzman and Kat White, supported the team.