Amicus Brief Urges Seventh Circuit to Reverse Lower Court’s Dismissal of Pro Se Litigant’s Case
Jenner & Block is proud of its 2019 pro bono results:
In Cordell Sanders v. Michael Melvin, et al., the district court dismissed a plaintiff’s entire case as a sanction based on imprecise allegations the plaintiff — who is mentally ill and had been housed in solitary confinement for years—had included in their years-old, pro se complaint, and did so despite that a pending summary judgment motion showed a factual dispute regarding those allegations. This dismissal is now on appeal.
Led by Dean Erwin Chemerinsky, amici are five legal professors who are experts on civil rights litigation, civil procedure, federal procedure, and the application of pleading standards to pro se litigants. They urge the Seventh Circuit to reverse the lower court’s decision and remand for further proceedings. They argue that affirming such a dismissal would be contrary to the established principles of leniency afforded pro se and inmate litigants, would violate the well-known rule that sanctions be narrowly-tailored to misconduct, and would contravene the policy favoring resolving cases on their merits, among other things. The legal system, they note, is complex and challenging – “especially for those without legal training.” They argue that the Seventh Circuit has held “that courts have an affirmative obligation to ensure that a pro se litigant’s claims are not dismissed as a result of procedural unfairness.” In this case, they argue, the district court was “particularly harsh and unnecessarily punitive.” Regarding sanctions against the litigant, the brief notes that “less draconian” alternatives are available. And dismissal with prejudice, according to the brief, is the “most severe” sanction that should be meted out “only with extreme caution.” “Sanctions should be used as a scalpel to surgically address issues where appropriate, not as a sledgehammer to squash an entire case,” the brief reads.
The team writing the brief pro bono includes Partner Gabriel K. Gillett and Associates Grace C. Signorelli-Cassady, Jeremy M. Sawyer, and Elena M. Olivieri, with valuable assistance from Paralegal Mary Frances Patston.
Pro Bono Client Patrick Pursley Receives Certificate of Innocence
Longtime client Patrick Pursley received a certificate of innocence on February 26, 27 years after he was convicted of murder in a Winnebago County jury trial. The state had relied heavily on the testimony of a state ballistics examiner that a firearm attributed to Mr. Pursley fired the bullets and cartridge cases found at the crime scene. New evidence, however, showed conclusively that this firearm was not the one used in the crime. For over a decade, a firm team worked on behalf of Mr. Pursley to win a new trial. In January 2019, at the end of that new trial, Judge Joseph G. McGraw acquitted Mr. Pursley.
Watch Mr. Pursley discuss the impact of the certificate.
Learn more about his case in The Heart of the Matter.
Over the years, the team helping Mr. Pursley included Partners Robert R. Stauffer and Andrew W. Vail, Associates Kevin J. Murphy and Monika N. Kothari, and former associate Kyle Palazzolo.
Partner David Robbins Helps Pro Bono Client Avoid Risk of Debarment
The US Navy proposed that client Nathan McNutt be debarred after his prior employer submitted a mandatory disclosure alleging time mischarging with bare minimum supporting information. The risks of debarment are tremendous, including an inability to work in the government contracts community at all. This can shut even the most well-trained and effective software engineers/tech developers, etc., out of their chosen career and deprive the US Government of their ability to innovate.
Mr. McNutt did his best to respond on his own and explain why his former employer's disclosure was factually incorrect, but as is the case with individuals – who bear the brunt of proposed debarment actions – he needed some help to convey the facts in a self-contained, effective manner.
Team Files Amicus Brief in Case Regarding Forced Separation of a Father and Son at the Border
Jenner & Block Partner David B. Robbins
assisted Mr. McNutt, gathered facts, crafted an effective response, explained why Mr. McNutt's prior employer was incorrect, and arranged for Mr. McNutt to take ethics and compliance training from Debarment Solutions Institute
, a third-party training organization. Days after submitting matters in opposition, the Navy terminated the proposed debarment with no further action, granting the relief the firm requested.
The plaintiffs are a father and his toddler son who seek redress for their forced separation at the border when they tried to enter the country. The amicus brief was submitted in support of their opposition to the government’s motion to dismiss their claims. Filed on behalf a Stanford law professor and clinicians, the brief argues that the Trump Administration’s forced family separation policy is torture under international law. “Since the inception of the Trump Administration’s family separation policy, amici curiae have important experience studying the mental and physical suffering endured by separated families. As a result, amici curiae have a significant interest in Plaintiffs’ allegations that the separation of D.J.C.V. from G.C., his asylum-seeking parent, constituted torture in violation of international human rights law,” reads the brief.
The team writing the brief includes Partners Brian J. Fischer, Debbie L. Berman, and Andrew W. Vail; Associates Brandon J. Polcik and Corinne M. Smith; Law Clerk Sara Cervantes; and Senior Paralegal Cheryl Olson.
Associate Elizabeth Deutsch Highlights Successful Suit against the SBA Regarding CARES Funding
On December 10, Jenner & Block Associate Elizabeth B. Deutsch presented at the Washington Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs’ annual John Burke Pro Bono Breakfast, which highlights the pro bono work of the Committee and its partnerships with law firms, including Jenner & Block. The discussion focused on the firm’s winning lawsuit against the Small Business Administration, challenging the agency’s implementation of the CARES Act’s PPP loan program to arbitrarily exclude from loan eligibility disproportionately Black business owners with criminal histories. The program also featured plaintiff and client Sekwan Merritt, a Maryland small-business owner whom the lawsuit made eligible for PPP capital. Ms. Deutsch worked on the case with Partner Kali Bracey, Associate Jacob D. Alderdice, and Paralegal Cheryl Olson.
Firm Joins Pro Bono Effort to Help Residents Struggling One Year after Sewage Backup
Jenner & Block is proud to join a coalition of law firms helping residents in South Ozone Park, Queens, New York. One year ago, governmental infrastructure failure caused a sewage backup, but many community members still struggle to navigate the city’s claims and compensation system as they try to rebuild their lives and homes. Working with the New York Lawyers for the Public Interest (NYLPI), the firm is helping families pursue their claims with the New York City Comptroller’s office, the government entity charged with administering their claims and fully compensating them for their losses.
Several local media outlets have reported on what NYLPI calls the South Ozone Park Sewage Legal Assistance Project. Among those with coverage were NY1, CBS, and NBC. An NYLPI press release also details the situation.
The team that is partnering with NYLPI on this important project includes Special Counsel David W. Sussman, Partner Mélida Hodgson, and Associate Edeli Rivera.