Disability Rights Legal Center (DRLC) files amicus briefs and United Nations petitions on behalf of the disability community to educate courts on points of law, to gather or organize information and to raise awareness about some aspect of the case the court may otherwise miss. DRLC is not paid for this work. Examples of amicus briefs and petitions submitted include:
On March 2012 civil rights advocates, including Disability Rights Legal Center, submitted a Petition to the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention. The Petition was filed on behalf of California inmates placed in isolated segregation for an “indefinite” period or for many years solely based upon a “validation” that they are gang members or associates of a gang. The Petition alleges that penalizing them in this fashion (i.e., with indefinite or determinate terms of many years solely for gang membership or association without the prisoner having engaged in any illegal acts or acts in violation of prison rules or even having planned to do so) constitutes cruel and degrading treatment in violation of California’s obligations under international law, as such isolation has adverse effects on their mental and physical health.
1. Turner v. American Association of Medical Colleges; filed 2010.
Locke Lord Bissell & Liddell LLP co-counseled with DRLC to file an Amicus Curiae Brief in the Court of Appeal of the State of California First Appellate District–Division Five on behalf of the Disability Rights Legal Center; Public Justice, P.C.; the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund, Inc. and the Legal Aid Society – Employment Law Center. The brief argues that awarding attorney’s fees to defendants that prevail in lawsuits where claims of discrimination are made should be limited to cases where the plaintiff’s action was frivolous, unreasonable or without foundation. To rule otherwise would discourage protected persons from asserting their rights though private actions. In this case, the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), administrators of the Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT), sought attorney’s fees after it prevailed in a lawsuit brought by students with disabilities challenging AAMC for its failure to provide testing accommodations to people with disabilities.
2. Cullen v. Pinholster; filed 2010.
Mayer Brown co-counseled with DRLC to file an amicus brief in the U.S. Supreme Court. Pinholster involves an ineffective assistance of counsel claims for an individual with traumatic brain injury and seizure disorder facing the death penalty. Pinholster’s trial counsel announced they had “done nothing to prepare mitigation,” worked only 6.5 hours to prepare and present one witness and offered no evidence of Pinholster’s mental disability. Pinholster’s trial counsel had a psychiatrist examine Pinholster without providing the psychiatrist Pinholster’s educational, medical or psychiatric treatment records. DRLC’s amicus emphasizes that such educational, medical or psychiatric information itself may have a direct mitigating effect in the sentencing phase of a capital case, as in cases of severe childhood abuse. DRLC’s amicus explains the necessity both to obtain an accurate diagnosis of any disabilities and to decide whether to pursue additional and more focused professional opinions as potential evidence at the sentencing phase.
3. Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin et.al.; filed 2012.
DRLC submitted an amicus brief to the Supreme Court on this matter in which the Court has granted certiorari. DRLC’s brief supports the position of Respondents, University of Texas at Austin. The brief provides the Court with information regarding the importance of diversity in higher education and argues that lack of diversity in higher education leads to underrepresentation of minority populations in professions serving people with disabilities. This, in turn, results in lack of culturally and disability-sensitive services, and the continued disenfranchisement of people with disabilities, particularly those of color.
4. Moeller v. Taco Bell Corp; filed 2012.
DRLC filed an amicus brief to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals on behalf of itself and the National Disability Rights Network, Disability Rights Education & Defense Fund, Colorado Cross-Disability Coalition, Disability Rights Montana, Disability Rights California, The National Federation of the Blind, Washington Lawyer’s Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs and Legal Aid Society- Employment Law Center. Through its brief, Amici argued that a district court’s orders indefinitely delaying issuance of an order of injunctive relief — as mandated by the ADA in response to proven violations of Title III – would significantly impede access to justice for individuals with disabilities and thwart the private enforcement scheme upon which disability rights statutes so highly depend. Amici’s brief provided the Court with legislative context and factual data regarding ADA enforcement within which to consider the Appellant’s request for reversal and remand, and set forth compelling reasons why an enforcement scheme that is guaranteed to result in timely injunctive relief is essential to realizing equal access goals contemplated by ADA.
5. B., by and through his Guardian Ad Litem, Allison Brenneise, and Robert Brenneise, v. San Diego Unified School District; filed 2012.
Amicus brief filed in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals on behalf of DRLC and Learning Rights Law Center. Through its brief, Amici argued that the District Court erred in justifying the reduction of T.B.’s attorneys’ fees by finding that the School District’s monetary settlement offer conditioned on T.B. disenrolling from public school was superior to the injunctive relief awarded to T.B. by the administrative law judge.
The monetization of public school education for students with disabilities is akin to the unconstitutional “separate but equal” doctrine. It effectively segregates students with disabilities. In this instant case, it relegated T.B. to attending school in his parents’ garage. The Supreme Court in Brown v. Board of Education, 347 U.S. 483 (1954) rejected this same exclusion. That “separate but equal” policy was wrong for the same reason that the District Court is wrong here—a student with disabilities who is prevented from being educated in public school will not receive the same quality education as a student with disabilities who is educated in a public school with accommodations.
Unfortunately, in order to realize the benefits of the IDEA, parents of children with disabilities must often pursue litigation against school districts that are unwilling to comply with the statute’s mandate. In recognition of this fact, and in light of the important rights conferred on children with disabilities by IDEA, Congress provided that prevailing parents who filed suit to protect the civil rights of their children with disabilities could recover attorneys’ fees from school districts.
6. Law School Admission Council, Inc. v. State of California; filed 2013.
DRLC has agreed to sign on to an amicus curiae letter in opposition to the Law School Admission Counsel’s motion for preliminary injunction to strike section 99161.5 of the Education Code, which prohibits the practice of “flagging” test scores of test takers receiving reasonable accommodations. Other signatories include the Legal Aid Society – Employment Law Center, Disability Rights California and DREDF. Despite the efforts of DRLC and its peers, the Sacramento Superior Court issued a preliminary injunction barring the State from enforcing Education Code section 99161.5 on February 1, 2013.
7. RM v. Saddleback; filed 2013.
DRLC with Munger Tolles & Olson drafted an amicus brief in this case, involving an award of attorneys’ fees to a prevailing defendant school district in a special education matter. The amicus brief argues, among other things, that an overly broad reading of the IDEA fee provision will create uncertainty and risk, chilling a substantial amount of meritorious litigation.
8. Lillard v. Sunflower Farmers Market; filed 2013.
A judge in the District of Colorado recently revived the holding — thought to be long dead — that plaintiffs in Title III cases have to notify their state agency before filing suit. This comes from a misreading of 42 U.S.C. § 12188(a)(1), which incorporates by reference 42 U.S.C. § 2000a-3(a) from Title II of the CRA. Section 2000a-3(c) requires plaintiff to notify his or her state agency; this provision is not incorporated into Title III’s remedial provision.
9. Cion Peralta v. T. Dillard, et al.; filed 2013.
On February 7, 2013, DRLC, along with Prison Law Office, Disability Rights California and Rosen Bien, Galvan & Grunfeld LLP filed a brief as amici curiae supporting a petition for panel rehearing in Cion Peralta v. T. Dillard, et al. In the case, a 9th circuit panel held that for a prisoner to succeed in a damages claim against a prison doctor, the jury must consider the fiscal situation of the doctor (and his employer). Amici filed their brief for two reasons: 1) to explain how the petition actually understates the damage the opinion will do in undermining the long-recognized purposes of 42 U.S.C. § 1983 both to deter unconstitutional conduct, such as denial of basic medical care to prisoners, and to compensate those prisoners who have already suffered terrible constitutional harms, and 2) to provide their unique perspective based on representing thousands of prisoners in cases challenging inadequate medical and mental health care in state prisons and county jails.
10. CW v. CUSD; filed 2013.
DRLC and the Youth and Education Law Project at Stanford Law School filed an amicus brief in this case, in support of appellant’s challenge to a district court’s order granting attorneys’ fees and cost to a prevailing school district in a case filed under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, 29 U.S.C. §§ 1400 et seq. (IDEA).
11. Veronese v. Lucasfilm, Ltd.; filed 2013.
DRLC authored an amicus letter to the California Supreme Court requesting review in a pregnancy discrimination case that has implications for the employment of people with disabilities to the extent the decision making was based on stereotyping and paternalistic notions about the abilities of individuals to perform job functions. Failing to instruct the jury that an employer may not terminate a protected employee due to concern for the employee’s well-being undermines existing law and will have a chilling effect on the rights of all protected groups of people.
12. Butler v. WinCo Foods, LLC, No. 13-55862 (9th Cir.); filed 2013.
DRLC signed on to an amicus brief written by the Civil Rights Enforcement and Education Center (“CREEC”) addressing mootness under Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act. In the WinCo case, the court granted the defendant grocery store’s motion to dismiss for mootness after it made a last-minute change to its discriminatory policy – carved out for the plaintiff only.
Courts’ analysis of the mootness standard is of critical importance in Title III cases, as that statute has no damages remedy. If defendants can rob a court of jurisdiction by making a last-minute policy change — especially one carved out for the plaintiff only — it will be difficult to effect systemic change. The WinCo decision also flies in the face of well-settled mootness law that places a “heavy burden” on defendants to show that “‘subsequent events [make] it absolutely clear that the allegedly wrongful behavior could not reasonably be expected to recur.’” See e.g. Friends of the Earth, Inc. v. Laidlaw Envtl. Servs., Inc., 528 U.S. 167, 189 (2000) (citations omitted).
13. Figueroa v. Gonzales; Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.
Right to accommodations for immigrants with mental disabilities in deportation proceedings.
14. Miller v. Cal. Speedway Corp.; Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.
Line of Sight over standing spectators in stadiums.
15. Forest Grove School v. TA; United States Supreme Court.
Right of children with disabilities under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act to reimbursement for private school placement without prior receipt of special education service.
16. Sabi v. Donald Sterling, et al.; California Court of Appeals.
Issue of whether landlords must take Section 8 vouchers as a reasonable accommodation. This is of particular concern for the disproportionate poverty of people with disabilities and their practical difficulties in finding accessible and affordable housing.
17. Goodman v. State of Georgia; United States Supreme Court.
Argument with other disability activists to assert that Congress’ enactment of Title II allows plaintiffs with disabilities to seek damages against public entities.
18. Graham and Sullivan v. State of Florida; United States Supreme Court.
Argument that youth under 18 should not be sentenced to life without parole. DRLC took a stand on this case because the plaintiffs were both individuals with disabilities and argued that a majority of youth sentenced to life without parole are, in fact, individuals with disabilities.
19. Astrue, Commissioner of Social Security, v. Capato, et.al.; United States Supreme Court.
Argument that a child born through artificial insemination after the death of a parent due to cancer is entitled to benefits from the parent’s social security.
20. State of Florida, v. U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services; Supreme Court of the United States.
Support of respondents in favor of affirming the constitutionality of the Medicaid Expansion Provisions of the Affordable Care Act.
21. T.B. v. San Diego Unified School District; Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.
Argument that the attorneys’ fees provision of IDEA is critical to empowering families of children with disabilities to pursue litigation that protects their children’s right to a free and appropriate public education.
22. Oster, et. al v. Lightbourne, et. al; Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.
Argument that drastically reduced funding for California’s In-Home Support Services violates the Americans with Disabilities Act and will lead to illness, physical and mental deterioration, injury and, ultimately, institutionalization for more than 375,000 Californians.
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