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Archive for the ‘Civil Rights Class Actions’ Category

The U.S. Supreme Court heard oral argument Monday in a Horne v. Flores, a case that originated as a class action against the State of Arizona for insufficient funding of education for non-native-English speaking students.  For a report on the oral argument, see this AP article

The case is interesting from a variety of perspectives, but perhaps most interesting is that it pits different officials from the same state against each other.  The petitioners include the Superintendent of Public Instruction and the Speaker of the state’s House of Representatives.  Along with the original class representatives, the respondents include the State of Arizona and the Arizona State Board of Education.

The appeal arises from the denial of a Rule 60(b) motion for relief from a series of previous orders from a federal court following a finding that the state’s programs for educating students who do not speak English proficiently violated the Equal Educational Opportunity Act (EEOA). 

The appeal raises complex questions of federalism, standing, and separation of powers.  Petitioners argue, among other things, that the federal court’s continued supervision and attempts to require compliance with previous orders must be reconsidered in light of the existence of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) and a recent state enactment that increased funding for English language programs.  The Speaker of the House and President of the Senate intervened “as presiding officers of their respective legislative bodies,” which had enacted the state English language funding law found by the federal district court to be inadequate to comply with its earlier judgments. For links to the briefs filed by the various parties, see the ABA’s website:

http://www.abanet.org/publiced/preview/briefs/april09.shtml#08294

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According to SCOTUS Blog, the ABA Journal, and other sources (see the citations within Debra Cassens Weiss’s ABA Journal article), the U.S. Supreme Court has accepted certiorari in Perdue v. Kenny A., et al., Case No. 08-970.  The appeal involves an attorneys fee award to attorneys who successfully prosecuted a class action on behalf of thousands of foster children in Georgia’s two most populous counties, Fulton and DeKalb.  The lawsuit resulted in consent decrees that require significant reforms to the State’s and counties’ foster care systems.  Although the case involves an action brought by attorneys for a non-profit public interest organization and their cooperating counsel, the outcome of the Supreme Court case could have broad repercussions on the attorneys fees awardable in a variety of cases in federal court, including run-of-the-mill class actions.   The Court accepted review of the following question:

Can a reasonable attorney’s fee award under a federal fee-shifting statute ever be enhanced based solely on qualify of performance and results obtained when these factors already are included in the lodestar calculation?

For more information on the history of the case with links to key documents, see childwelfare.net:

http://childwelfare.net/activities/kennya/kenny_a_case_overview_20060718.html

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According to Tricia Bishop of the Baltimore Sun, a U.S. District Court Judge has certified a class of people who allegedly have been subject to being detained and strip-searched by officials in Baltimore’s Central Booking and Intake Center.  Bishop quotes the attorney for the class, William Claiborne, as saying that the decision means “everything” to arrestees because of the difficulties facing any given individual in convincing a jury that he or she is telling the truth about the allegedly unconstitutional strip searches: 

It’s difficult for an individual to persuade a jury that he’s telling the truth, [but] when you have 50 or 60 or 100,000 people coming in, it changes the balance, it really changes the balance of power.  It’s like having a union.

In other words, more than just giving the powerless the financial resources to take on powerful government interests, pursuing civil rights relief as a class action may also serve to bolster the credibility of the witnesses whose testimony is necessary to prove the underlying claims.

See the link below for the Baltimore Sun article:

http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/local/baltimore_city/bal-md.classaction23mar23,0,4747739.story

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