Justia Civil Rights Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Public Benefits
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Plaintiff and her now-adult son K.S., a former high school student with a specific learning disability, filed suit under the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act (IDEA), alleging that the school district neither provided K.S. with a free appropriate public education (FAPE) nor complied with procedural safeguards meant to ensure such.The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's decision affirming two administrative decisions concluding that the school district did not violate the IDEA's substantive and procedural requirements. The court reviewed the voluminous record and the magistrate judge's thorough report that the district court adopted, discerning no reversible error in the district court's holding that: (1) the school district did not violate its obligation to identify and evaluate K.S. as a student with a suspected disability; (2) the individualized education programs and transition plan created for K.S. complied with IDEA's substantive requirements; and (3) the school district's procedural foot-faults in failing to include K.S. for the first manifestation determination review and failing to consider certain relevant information were not actionable. View "H v. Riesel Independent School District" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs, tenants living in substandard conditions in a "Section 8" housing project, filed suit seeking to compel HUD to provide relocation assistance vouchers. The Fifth Circuit held that, because 24 C.F.R. 886.323(e) mandates that HUD provide relocation assistance, its alleged decision not to provide relocation vouchers to plaintiffs is not a decision committed to agency discretion by law and is therefore reviewable. Furthermore, the agency's inaction here constitutes a final agency action because it prevents or unreasonably delays the tenants from receiving the relief to which they are entitled by law. Therefore, the district court has jurisdiction over plaintiffs' Administrative Procedure Act (APA) and Fair Housing Act (FHA) claims and erred in dismissing those claims.However, the court agreed with the district court that plaintiffs failed to state a claim for which relief can be granted on their Fifth Amendment equal protection claim. In this case, plaintiffs failed to state a plausible claim of intentional race discrimination. Accordingly, the court reversed in part, affirmed in part, and remanded for further proceedings. View "Hawkins v. United States Department of Housing and Urban Development" on Justia Law

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About 50 businesses that offer live adult entertainment (nude or nearly nude dancing) sought loans under the second round of the Paycheck Protection Program enacted to address the economic disruption caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. Congress excluded plaintiffs and other categories of businesses from the second round of the Program, 15 U.S.C. 636(a)(37)(A)(iv)(III)(aa), incorporating 13 C.F.R. 120.110. Plaintiffs asserted that their exclusion violated their rights under the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment.The district court issued a preliminary injunction, prohibiting the Small Business Administration (SBA) from denying the plaintiffs eligibility for the loan program based on the statutory exclusion. The Seventh Circuit granted the government’s stay of the preliminary injunction and expedited briefing on the merits of the appeal. The SBA satisfied the demanding standard for a stay of an injunction pending appeal, having shown a strong likelihood of success on the merits. Congress is not trying to regulate or suppress plaintiffs’ adult entertainment. It has simply chosen not to subsidize it. Such selective, categorical exclusions from a government subsidy do not offend the First Amendment. Plaintiffs were not singled out for this exclusion, even among businesses primarily engaged in activity protected by the First Amendment. Congress also excluded businesses “primarily engaged in political or lobbying activities.” View "Camelot Banquet Rooms, Inc. v. United States Small Business Administration" on Justia Law

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Compensatory education is not an automatic remedy for a child-find violation under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Compensatory educational services are designed to counteract whatever educational setbacks a child encounters because of IDEA violations—to bring her back where she would have been but for those violations. At minimum, a parent must offer evidence that a procedural violation—like the child-find violation asserted here—caused a substantive educational harm, and that compensatory educational services can remedy that past harm.The Eleventh Circuit concluded that the district court was well within its "broad discretion and equitable authority" when it concluded that plaintiff had not shown that the school board's child-find violation resulted in educational deficits for the child that could be remediated with prospective compensatory relief. Furthermore, because the school began its special education referral process before plaintiff filed suit, she cannot show that she is entitled to attorney's fees. Accordingly, the court affirmed the district court's judgment. View "J.N. v. Jefferson County Board of Education" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of the high school and school district in an action brought by plaintiff under Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. Plaintiff, a student with attention deficit disorder, sought damages after he was assaulted and seriously injured by another student at a high school football game. Petitioner argues that guidance issued by the DOE in various Dear Colleague Letters should be binding, and that the school's failure to adopt all of the Letters' suggestions for preventing harassment of disabled students amounts to disability discrimination.The panel concluded that guidance issued by the DOE in the Letters was not binding and that plaintiff may not use the Letters to leapfrog over the statutory requirements to assert a cognizable claim under the ADA or the Rehabilitation Act. The panel explained that the Letters do not adjust the legal framework governing private party lawsuits brought under the ADA or Rehabilitation Act. Therefore, plaintiff's claims—which rely entirely on the enforceability of the Letters as distinct legal obligations—fail. In this case, the Letters did not make plaintiff's need for social accommodation "obvious," such that failure to enact their recommendations constituted a denial of a reasonable accommodation with deliberate indifference. Furthermore, no request for a social-related accommodation was ever made and no prior incidents of bullying or harassment involving plaintiff were observed or reported by the school prior to the assault during the football game. View "Csutoras v. Paradise High School" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal based on failure to exhaust administrative remedies of plaintiffs' action under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Plaintiffs claim that the district court is failing its responsibilities to students under the IDEA by not timely identifying and evaluating students with disabilities, and, after identifying them, by providing them with insufficiently individualized, "cookie-cutter" accommodations and services. Although plaintiffs argue that exhaustion was not required because they are challenging district-wide policies that only a court can remedy, plaintiffs are unable to identify such policies. The panel agreed with the district court that plaintiffs have not satisfied any of the limited exceptions recognized by caselaw to the exhaustion requirement contained in 20 U.S.C. 1415(l). In this case, plaintiffs challenged what amounted to failures in practice by the school district, rather than policies or practices of general applicability. View "Student A v. San Francisco Unified School District" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's preliminary injunction ordering E.E.'s current educational placement as his "stay put" placement during the pendency of judicial proceedings in a suit brought under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).The panel concluded that the ALJ acted without legal authority in determining that E.E.'s potential future placement in the 2020 individualized education plan (IEP) constituted his current placement for purposes of E.E.'s stay put placement. Therefore, because the ALJ acted ultra vires, her stay put determination was void. Consequently, the parents' stay put motion did not seek to modify an existing stay put order, so the district court correctly entered an automatic preliminary injunction pursuant to Joshua A. v. Rocklin Unified Sch. Dist., 559 F.3d 1036, 1037 (9th Cir. 2009). Furthermore, the school district's proposed exception to the stay put provision is not supported by either the text of the IDEA or any other legal authority, and the panel declined to adopt it. View "E.E. v. Norris School District" on Justia Law

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The Second Circuit affirmed the district court's judgment, which (A) declared the Board to be in violation of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) for denying a free appropriate public education (FAPE) to disabled students between the ages of 21 and 22 while providing a free public education to nondisabled students in the same age range, and (B) permanently enjoined the Board and its successors, employees, and agents, etc., from terminating, on the basis of age, FAPEs for plaintiff class members who have not received a regular high school diploma before they reach the age of 22.The court concluded that the original plaintiff, D.J., had standing to bring the action where D.J. received ten months less of special education than he would have if not for the Board's enforcement of the challenged state regulation, thereby demonstrating injury for purposes of Article III standing. Furthermore, D.J.'s standing was entirely traceable to the Board's enforcement of the regulations at issue and the injury could be redressed by judicial action. On the merits, the court concluded that the district court did not abuse its discretion in interpreting the IDEA term "public education" to encompass free adult education programs offered by the State of Connecticut. The court considered all of the Board's arguments on appeal and found them to be without merit. View "A.R. v. Connecticut State Board of Education" on Justia Law

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The American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 allocated $29 billion for grants to help restaurant owners. The Small Business Administration (SBA) processed applications and distributed funds on a first-come, first-served basis. During the first 21 days, it gave grants only to priority applicants--restaurants at least 51% owned and controlled by women, veterans, or the “socially and economically disadvantaged,” defined by reference to the Small Business Act, which refers to those who have been “subjected to racial or ethnic prejudice” or “cultural bias” based solely on immutable characteristics, 15 U.S.C. 637(a)(5). A person is considered “economically disadvantaged” if he is socially disadvantaged and he faces “diminished capital and credit opportunities” compared to non-socially disadvantaged people who operate in the same industry. Under a pre-pandemic regulation, the SBA presumes certain applicants are socially disadvantaged including: “Black Americans,” “Hispanic Americans,” “Asian Pacific Americans,” “Native Americans,” and “Subcontinent Asian Americans.” After reviewing evidence, the SBA will consider an applicant a victim of “individual social disadvantage” based on specific findings.Vitolo (white) and his wife (Hispanic) own a restaurant and submitted an application. Vitolo sued, seeking a preliminary injunction to prohibit the government from disbursing grants based on race or sex. The Sixth Circuit ordered the government to fund the plaintiffs’ application, if approved, before all later-filed applications, without regard to processing time or the applicants’ race or sex. The government failed to provide an exceedingly persuasive justification that would allow the classification to stand. The government may continue the preference for veteran-owned restaurants. View "Vitolo v. Guzman" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs, former recipients of Social Security disability benefits and former clients of an attorney who orchestrated one of the largest fraud schemes in the history of the SSA, argued in consolidated appeals that SSA's categorical exclusion of allegedly fraudulent medical evidence during the redetermination process was unlawful because they were never afforded any opportunity to rebut the allegation that their evidence was tainted by fraud.The Fourth Circuit joined its sister circuits and held that the SSA's redetermination procedures violate the Administrative Procedure Act (APA) and the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment. The court agreed with plaintiffs that it is arbitrary and capricious for the agency to deny beneficiaries an opportunity to contest the Office of the Inspector General's fraud allegations as to their cases, while permitting other similarly situated beneficiaries to challenge similar allegations arising from SSA's own investigations. The court also agreed with plaintiffs that the SSA's redetermination procedures violated their due process rights under the Fifth Amendment because they were denied the opportunity to contest the Office of the Inspector General's fraud allegations against them. In this case, the court considered each Mathews factor and concluded that each factor supports a finding that the SSA's redetermination procedures violated plaintiffs' due process rights. Accordingly, the court affirmed in No. 19-1989 and reversed in No. 19-2028. View "Kirk v. Commissioner of Social Security Administration" on Justia Law