Federal judge dismisses lawsuit against city of LaGrange

Published 4:14 pm Thursday, December 7, 2017

On Thursday, a federal judge dismissed a lawsuit that alleged the city of LaGrange violated the Fair Housing Act by restricting access to utilities to economically disadvantaged citizens.

The lawsuit had been filed by the Georgia State Conference of the NAACP, the Troup County NAACP, Project South and several individuals.

It alleged that the city’s billing practices were unfair and said the policies disproportionately affected minorities. The lawsuit challenged the city’s court debt policy, which required any applicant for utility service to first pay any debt owed to the city — including court judgements and fines. It also challenged a policy that requires individuals seeking utility services to provide a valid social security number and a photo ID issued by the United States or a state government, according to the lawsuit. The lawsuit argued that many immigrants are ineligible to obtain these two documents.

Judge Timothy C. Batten, Sr., ruled in United States District Court for the Northern District of Georgia that the complaint against the city failed to state a claim for which relief could be granted under the Fair Housing Act.

The city of LaGrange filed the motion to dismiss the lawsuit on July 21. Officials with the city remained confident throughout the legal process.

“We always believed the city would prevail in this litigation,” said Mayor Jim Thornton. “The judge’s ruling affirms that the mayor and council can adopt such policies as are necessary to protect the financial stability of the city.”

The plaintiffs have not yet determined whether they will appeal, according to Justin Cox, a staff attorney with the National Immigration Law Center.

“We’re still consulting with our clients about next step, but we remain confident that what the city is doing is illegal, and we aren’t going away,” Cox said.

Cox also stated that on top of the legality of the policy in question, the policy is immoral.

“Regardless of the legality of what the city is doing, it is plainly immoral and the city really ought to be ashamed about how it’s treating its most vulnerable residents,” Cox said.

LaGrange Daily News editor Daniel Evans contributed to this story.