LA Office Team Secures Pro Bono Victory in Housing Discrimination Case
A team from Jenner & Block’s Los Angeles office helped secure a favorable settlement for a pro bono client in a 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.
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 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In the spring of 2017, Hesperia’s city council repealed one of the ordinances.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.
Several media outlets covered the settlement in the case, including the Los Angeles Times, San Bernardino Sun and Victor Valley Daily Press.
At a luncheon on June 8, 2018, the ACLU will honor the firm for its work on the case with its Homeless Rights Advocacy Award.
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.
Firm Team Urges Second Circuit to Keep DACA Program
In an amicus brief, the team argues that President Trump’s decision to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program would harm American colleges and universities. The Obama-era program protects from deportation individuals brought to the country illegally as children. Trump ended the program last year, but the courts have blocked its elimination for now. Submitted on behalf of more than 70 schools including Pomona College, Rice University, and the California State University System, the brief contends that students protected by DACA “are among the most engaged both academically and otherwise” and enrich the campuses they attend. The colleges also argue that they will "almost certainly lose students mid-way through their degree programs, and the retention rate for this population will drop dramatically and beyond what institutions are prepared to accommodate through normal attrition cycles."
The brief was written on a pro bono basis by a team including Partners Ishan K. Bhabha, Lindsay C. Harrison and Thomas J. Perrelli and Associate Jennifer J. Yun.
The same team also filed a federal lawsuit that seeks to preserve DACA. That suit was filed in November 2017 on behalf of Princeton University, a Princeton student and Microsoft. It argues that the rescission of DACA violates both the United States Constitution and federal law.
Firm Secures Victory on Behalf of Native American Tribe
Jenner & Block won a victory on behalf of a Native American tribe when a US district court ruled that the federal government has an affirmative obligation to provide adequate educational and mental health services at Havasupai Elementary School on the Havasupai Reservation in northern Arizona. In a lawsuit brought by several children and the Native American Disability Law Center, the court denied the government’s partial motion to dismiss and held that the government is required to address the impact of trauma and childhood adversity so that all students have the ability to learn and participate in school.
After the federal defendants moved to dismiss several of the students’ claims, the Havasupai Tribe enlisted Jenner & Block to draft an amicus brief supporting the plaintiffs. Partner Brandon D. Fox, Associate Ben J. Brysacz and summer associate Omar Qureshi worked with the tribal chairman and tribal council to draft a brief informing the court of the history of the tribe and its federally operated school. The brief detailed not only the substandard conditions inside the school, but also decades of work by tribal officials to improve those conditions. The ruling recognizes that the federal government has been on notice of its failures for decades and will protect the rights of students at Havasupai Elementary to attend a school with enough resources, teachers and wellness services to provide a safe and effective learning environment.
Firm Team Represents the NAACP and Prince George's County, MD in Suit Over Unconstitutional Census Preparations
Jenner & Block is representing the NAACP and Prince George's County, Maryland in a lawsuit against the federal government over unconstitutional census preparations. Filed on March 28, 2018 in the US District Court for the District of Maryland, the lawsuit aims to combat the impending threat that the 2020 Census will unconstitutionally undercount minority communities, leading to inequalities in political representation and federal funding. Together with the Rule of Law Clinic at Yale Law School, the firm is representing the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, which, in addition to the NAACP and Prince George’s County, also include the NAACP Prince George’s County Branch and two county residents.
Census results determine the number of congressional seats each state receives, the redrawing of legislative district lines and the enforcement of voting rights laws. The federal government also uses Census data to distribute federal funding. In the 2010 Census, Prince George’s County, which has a majority African American population, suffered a 2.3 percent net undercount—the largest net undercount of any county in Maryland and one of the largest of any county in the nation. The lawsuit seeks to compel the Bureau of the Census, an agency within the Department of Commerce, to prepare for and conduct a full and fair 2020 Census, as the Constitution requires.
Partner Angela Allen Profiled in Chicago Lawyer for Her Pro Bono Work with the Military
The feature about Jenner & Block Partner Angela M. Allen highlights her work with the Military Spouse J.D. Network (MSJDN), a group of law-practicing spouses of active-duty service members. Ms. Allen received the organization’s 2017 Exceptional Service Award for going above and beyond to serve others in the military and legal communities through her state licensing work, pro bono and mentoring efforts. Among her efforts: Ms. Allen testified before the Michigan Senate in support of a bill that would make licensing accommodations for military spouses stationed in Michigan. Two bills were signed into law. The feature also notes that she started the firm’s Veteran/Military Families Affinity Group and that she does pro bono work with the newly established Illinois Armed Forces Legal Aid Network. The firm’s pro bono efforts include partnering with CARPLS, a Cook County-based free legal service provider that operates a veteran’s legal aid hotline. “We continue to partner with CARPLS, supporting them and volunteering to help get the word out about the legal aid network so that veterans and military families who have pro bono needs know to call CARPLS to get assistance,” Ms. Allen says.
Ms. Allen is a member of the firm’s Restructuring and Bankruptcy Practice. She serves as the director of the Illinois chapter of MSJDN and on the board of directors of the Turnaround Management Association.
Team Petitions Seventh Circuit for Rehearing in Case of Disabled Athlete
A firm team is seeking to revive its lawsuit that aims to compel the Illinois High School Association (IHSA) to create a separate division to accommodate para-ambulatory athletes.
Since 2010, the firm has represented Evanston High School senior student-athlete Aaron Holzmueller on a pro bono basis. Aaron, who has cerebral palsy, asked IHSA to establish a separate division and qualifying times for certain races in its track program for para-ambulatory athletes. He also asked IHSA to create a para-ambulatory division for the Road Race, a 5-K race open to high school students across Illinois.
IHSA’s executive director denied his requests in October 2015. A team led by Partner Louis E. Fogel assisted Aaron’s family in its administrative appeal of the denial, but the IHSA board affirmed the decision two months later. The team filed a lawsuit in federal court seeking injunctive relief to permit Aaron to have a chance to compete.
In September 2017, the District Court granted summary judgment in favor of IHSA. Aaron. appealed to the US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit. With Mr. Fogel’s assistance, Jenner & Block lawyer Devi M. Rao, then an associate and today a partner, argued the case in November 2017. In early February 2018, a Seventh Circuit panel affirmed the District Court’s decision.
While the Seventh Circuit affirmed the lower court’s decision, the panel was ultimately divided. Judge Ilana Rovner dissented, explaining, “Allowing disabled athletes to compete in a separate division would no more undermine the competitive nature of the track-and-field program than does the current practice of allowing wheelchair athletes and male and female athletes to compete in separate divisions.”
Mr. Fogel and the team have petitioned the Seventh Circuit for en banc rehearing, and that petition is currently pending.
To learn more about the case, please visit The Heart of the Matter annual pro bono report.