Appeal filed in lawsuit against city

Published 8:15 pm Thursday, March 15, 2018

A lawsuit challenging two utility-related City of LaGrange policies has been filed in the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals.

The lawsuit was originally filed in May 2017 and was dismissed in December by Judge Timothy C. Batten Sr. Batten ruled in the 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 lawsuit was brought on behalf of the Georgia State Conference of the NAACP, the Troup County NAACP, Project South and seven individual plaintiffs.

Now, the plaintiffs in the case are seeking a reversal of the district court decision.

“Plaintiffs have the right to and have appealed the lower court’s decision to the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals, which hears appeals from federal trial courts in Georgia,” said Jeff Todd, the attorney for the City of LaGrange. “We are still in the briefing stage and will file a timely brief in support of the district court’s decision. Judge Batten’s decision was correct, and we fully expect the Eleventh Circuit to affirm the dismissal.”

The lawsuit challenges two policies. The first requires any applicant for utility service to first pay any debt owed to the city, including court judgements and fines. The second policy 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. The plaintiffs argue that the policies disproportionately impact minority groups.

“The policies continue to affect each of the individual plaintiffs in the case. We have seven individuals across three membership organizations with members who are being harmed by the policy,” said Jamie Crooks, one of the attorneys representing the plaintiffs. “But, also for other people in LaGrange who are currently subject to the policies or will be in the future. We believe the policies are unfair and unlawful, and we would like them to go away, so other people don’t face the same kinds of challenges.”

Several amicus briefs were filed in support of plaintiff’s position, according to Crooks. Those amicus briefs were from The NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund and 11 other civil rights groups; the Southern Poverty Law Center and Justice in Aging; the Georgia Latino Alliance for Human Rights and the Alabama Coalition for Immigration Justice; the Atlanta Legal Aid Society, the Georgia Legal Services Program, the Atlanta Volunteer Lawyers Foundation; and four former assistant HUD Secretaries.

Atteeyah Hollie, an attorney for Southern Center for Human Rights, said in an email that the district court’s decision in December was a narrow reading on the Fair Housing Act, and that it did not consider the opinions of other district courts in the Eleventh Circuit.