Armed with a belief in the inherent dignity of all human beings, SLC fights to protect every person’s human and civil rights. Human rights are our most fundamental rights that are granted to all of us universally because we are human beings. By contrast, civil rights are granted to us by federal, state and local laws such as those guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution or federal civil rights statutes. The rights we have enforced over the years appear on this page and we highlight just a few examples of our successes in protecting the foundations of freedom and justice in our society.
Promoting Fairness and Due Process
The Constitution protects us from government overreach by requiring the government to provide due process of law when it decides to deprive a person of life, liberty, or property. SLC holds the government accountable for unfairly depriving people of constitutionally protected liberties and property interests without providing the required notice and a meaningful opportunity to challenge those decisions. We protect people from wrongful deprivations of their rights by ensuring fairness in government proceedings.
Transgender Identity Initiative
SLC developed a model clinic to assist transgender individuals in obtaining a legal name change through the court and in amending their names and gender markers on their identification documents to accurately reflect their gender identity. Since January 2017, we have been holding a series of clinics across the state in collaboration with local legal aid programs and other community partners. The transgender population is one of the most underserved communities, and there is an urgent need for legal assistance to change their name and gender markers on key identification documents to protect them from harassment, discrimination, and even violence.
Defending the right to free speech and assembly creates space for grassroots movements to engage in political protest and advance struggles for social, racial and economic justice. SLC’s impact litigation and advocacy on behalf of grassroots groups have successfully reformed local permit laws in cities around the state that unlawfully restrict free speech activities on public sidewalks, parks, and streets. SLC also provides legal support for organizing through Know Your Rights trainings and legal advice.
Wright v. City of St. Petersburg, Case No. 13-010801-CI-11 (Fla. 6th Jud. Cir.); 2D16-3361 (Fla. 2d DCA). This case was filed under Florida's Sunshine Law challenging the City's amendments to the City trespass ordinance in violation of statutory requirements for enacting ordinances. During SLC's Catron litigation against the City, the City amended its trespass ordinance in response to the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals decision in 2011. At the time, it appeared the City had violated the Sunshine Law by deliberating in secret during a closed attorney-client session to amend the ordinance, but SLC had to wait until after the Catron litigation concluded at the end of 2012 to obtain a copy of the transcript from the closed session. SLC obtained the transcripts and filed this lawsuit on behalf of Rev. Bruce Wright, who we also are representing in a challenge to a trespass warning for one year banning him from Williams Park. The court granted our motion for summary judgment on the grounds that the City failed to provide reasonable notice of its hearing to amend the ordinance, but ruled that the City did nothing wrong during the attorney-client session. The court voided ab initio the portions of the ordinance added in violation of the Sunshine Law and Florida statutory requirements for amending ordinances. The City filed an appeal to the Second DCA and we cross-appealed the portions of the judgment about the attorney-client session. The First Amendment Foundation filed an amicus curiae in support of our client=s position. The Second DCA reversed the part of the judgment that the City of St. Petersburg did not violate the Sunshine Law during a private strategy session with the City's attorneys, known as a "shade" meeting. And it affirmed the part that the council members violated statutory notice requirements when, upon emerging from their shade meeting with the attorneys, they took up and voted to approve an ordinance amendment that had been discussed during that meeting.
Bobby M. v. Martinez, Case No. TCA 83-7003 (N.D. Fla., J. Paul), 907 F. Supp. 368 (N.D. Fla. 1995); settlement reported in 11 ABA Mental & Physical Disab. L. Rptr. 101 (1987); analysis of case and legislative implementation and funding reported in 9 ABA Juvenile & Child Welfare L. Rptr. 150 (1990). This statewide class action suit was brought on behalf of approximately 1000 youth confined to Florida's juvenile training schools, which then were the only facilities for youth in the delinquency system. The suit challenged the conditions and practices of those schools, and alleged unconstitutional conditions of confinement and inappropriate placements. Preliminary injunctions banned hogtying, restricted lock up, barred admission of males under age 13, prohibited admissions of any females, prohibited admissions of runaways, truants and status offenders regardless of age, and closed the facility located in Ocala (McPherson Training School). On the eve of trial, the State settled. Three consent decrees were entered that phased down the two remaining schools to 130 youths each, permanently closed the lock-up units, mandated treatment and educational services, provided access to counsel, and required the development of a new juvenile justice system. The new system included individualized, multi-disciplinary assessments and a broad array of community-based programs providing substance abuse programs, sex dysfunction programs, prevention and diversion projects, and gang prevention projects. SLC led the monitoring and enforcement phase (except for educational issues). The Florida Legislature enacted the Juvenile Justice Reform Act of 1990 to implement Bobby M. and appropriated $52.7 million for the new programs for the first year of implementation. The new programs provided over 1,700 new community based residential beds and services and treatment for over 120,000 youth per year. In connection with this legislative implementation, SLC was retained by the Florida House of Representatives as Special Counsel. Co-counsel: National Prison Project, Youth Law Center & Michael C. Dale.
RMP v. Jones, 419 So. 2d 618 (Fla. 1982). As counsel for amicus Florida Center for Children and Youth, SLC briefed and argued first impression issue concerning the lock-up and commingling of runaways, truants and ungovernable youth (status offenders) with delinquents charged with or adjudicated on criminal law violations. The Florida Supreme Court declined to reform the system of mixing law violators with status offenders. The Florida Legislature followed by amending the law to prohibit this practice and established new comprehensive programs for these non-criminal youth. Co-counsel: National Juvenile Law Center.
In re Juvenile Rules of Proc., 393 So. 2d 1077 (Fla. 1980). As counsel for Florida Center for Children and Youth, SLC petitioned for a rule change of first impression to the Juvenile Rules of Procedure concerning the placement of delinquents charged as minors in adult jails when juvenile detention facilities were overcrowded or were otherwise believed to be inadequate. The petition was granted by Juvenile Court Rules Committee of The Florida Bar and its Board of Governors, but the Florida Supreme Court denied the proposed rule amendment. The Florida Legislature then amended the statute to restrict minors not charged as adults from commingling with adult jail inmates.
Promoting Fairness and Due Process
Catron v. City of St. Petersburg, 658 F.3d 1260 (11th Cir. 2011). Case established that all people enjoy a constitutionally protected liberty interest to be in public places of their choosing and the government must provide due process if it deprives people of this right by issuing trespass warnings. Co-counsel: National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty & Florida Institutional Legal Services.
Washington, et al. v. DeBeaugrine, 658 F. Supp. 2d 1332 (N.D. Fla., J. Hinkle 2009). Issuing a preliminary injunction, the federal district court prohibited APD from terminating or reducing a plaintiff’s benefits prior to affording the plaintiff an evidentiary hearing. As a result of the preliminary injunction, SLC negotiated a settlement with APD that resulted in a permanent injunction that applies to the putative class of more than 4,000 individuals with developmental disabilities.
Mosher v. State of Fla., 876 So. 2d 1230 (Fla.1st DCA 2003). A person with a severe and persistent mental illness who had been institutionalized for significant periods of time was found not competent to proceed to trial after a charge of aggravated battery, and confined to the forensic unit at Florida State Hospital (FSH). After confinement and treatment for about two years, FSH reported that she would not regain competency. The trial court determined that state law required her to be confined for five years. We appealed by filing a petition for writ of certiorari on the basis that there was clear evidence that the defendant could not attain competency and that continued confinement violated due process. The First DCA held that due process required the court to release the client from the criminal confinement or commit her under the ordinary civil commitment process.
Grayden v. Rhodes, 345 F.3d 1225 (11th Cir. 2003). SLC represented extremely low-income tenants who were evicted from their apartment building with less than a day’s notice because the City of Orlando had decided to condemn the building. The federal appeals court agreed with SLC that tenants have a constitutional right to contemporaneous notice of their right to a hearing in a condemnation action against the apartment owner. This opinion is the touchstone of federal due process law in the Eleventh Circuit and is cited by courts in hundreds of other cases. Co-counsel: Greater Orlando Area Legal Services & Cathy L. Lucrezi
Buxton v. City of Plant City, Fla., 871 F.2d 1037 (11th Cir. 1989). In a landmark case widely cited by courts, SLC established the right of public employees to receive a name-clearing hearing after termination of their employment when stigmatizing information has been made part of the public record or otherwise published.
Killmon, et al. v. City of Miami, et al. (S.D. Fla. 2004). When law enforcement coordinated an all-out assault on the First Amendment during the protests of the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) in November 2003 in Miami, SLC successfully challenged the mass false arrests and use of excessive force by over 40 local, state and federal law enforcement agencies to deliberately disrupt lawful protests. We won significant monetary settlements for violations of protesters’ rights to challenge police and government misconduct based on false arrest, use of excessive force and unlawful political profiling against activists for merely exercising their First Amendment rights. Co-counsel: Carol A. Sobel, Robert W. Ross, Jr., Mara Verheyden-Hilliard, Carl Messineo & Jonathan Moore.
Lake Worth for Global Justice, Inc. v. City of Miami (S.D. Fla., J. Graham 2004). This First Amendment case came out of the political demonstrations against the first U.S. based meetings of the Free Trade Area of the Americas to take place in Miami. Plaintiffs sought, inter alia, a temporary restraining order to prevent enforcement of the City of Miami’s unconstitutional permit laws concerning marches and demonstrations on public sidewalks, streets, and parks, as well as other regulations restricting the size and activities of public assemblies and parades. We represented a human rights organization that wanted to demonstrate while the Miami Civilian Investigative Panel met to investigate police misconduct during the FTAA demonstrations, as well as participate in other demonstrations in the Miami area. The Court ordered the City to have an expedited permit process for all groups seeking to demonstrate and required the City to advise the Court of any denials of permits in order to permit judicial review. In response to the lawsuit, the City repealed two of the challenged ordinances and revised the permit scheme several times to address our constitutional challenges. Co-counsel: Carol A. Sobel & Robert W. Ross, Jr.
Tummino, et al. v. Hamburg, 936 F. Supp. 2d 162 (E.D.N.Y. 2013). The right to privacy and equal protection won out over the federal Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) unprecedented political interference and unjustified delay in approving emergency contraception (also known as the Morning-After Pill) as an over-the-counter drug for all women without any age restriction. With plaintiffs from Gainesville, Florida, this action was brought on behalf of women, girls, reproductive rights organizations and National Women’s Liberation. After an eight-year battle, the Court ordered the FDA to make emergency contraception available over-the-counter and eliminated the prescription requirement, age restrictions, and any other restrictions on how it is sold. This suit had nationwide impact. Co-counsel: Center for Reproductive Rights.
Jimenez, et al v. City of Daytona Beach (M.D. Fla. 2016). A couple from Daytona Beach was arrested and trespassed from a city park for providing food to homeless people as part of their ministry. After the City dropped the charges, it denied the couple a permit to continue their ministry in public parks. We filed suit in September 2015 on behalf of the couple and their ministry alleging that the ordinances on food sharing violate the First (freedom of religion) and Fourteenth (due process) Amendments of the U.S. Constitution. In the settlement agreement, the City agreed to change its policies and procedures to permit our clients to share food, rescind the trespass notices that were improperly issued in the City Parks and to issue directives to its police officers that no City trespass warnings can be issued in City parks at this time. Co-counsel: Legal Advocacy Center of Central Florida.
Fane v. Florida State Bd. of Accountancy, 945 F.2d 1514 (11th Cir. 1991), aff'd sub nom Edenfield v. Fane, 507 U.S. 761 (1993). In a First Amendment challenge to the restrictions on certified public accountants from soliciting business in person, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Florida’s ban was an impermissible restriction of commercial speech. Co-counsel: Public Citizen Litigation Group.
Access to Courts
Ledger v. City of St. Petersburg, 135 So.3d 496 (Fla. 2d DCA 2014); State v. Jachimski, 162 So. 3d 302 (Fla. 2d DCA 2015). For more than five years, indigent litigants in the Sixth Judicial Circuit were denied access to appellate courts for one reason: they could not afford to pay the $400 filing fee. When SLC attempted to file appeals with the circuit court on behalf of homeless individuals, our clients had the courthouse doors slammed in their face due to an administrative order that prohibited filing fee waivers for indigent litigants. SLC petitioned the Second District Court of Appeals to challenge the administrative order. The appellate court ordered the circuit court to grant indigent filing fee waivers to all of our clients. In two separate decisions, the 2d DCA held that indigent litigants in civil and criminal cases have a clear legal right to filing fee waivers under Florida law and ordered the judges to grant the fee waivers. SLC’s advocacy resulted in the repeal of the administrative order that had impacted thousands of indigent litigants in Pinellas and Pasco Counties who were being unlawfully denied access to justice. In 2016, SLC was recognized by The Florida Bar Foundation with Second Runner-Up for the Steven M. Goldstein Award for Excellence for its advocacy in these cases.
The Florida Bar v. Furman, 376 So. 2d 378 (Fla. 1979). More options are needed to address the justice gap and assist those who cannot afford a lawyer. Two unauthorized practice of law cases resulted in making it easier for litigants to represent themselves or hire qualified lay advocates. SLC represented a paralegal being prosecuted by The Florida Bar for unauthorized practice of law for assistance she provided to self-filers seeking uncontested divorces.This case led to the Florida Supreme Court’s directive to the Bar to undertake a study of Florida's unmet legal needs. The “Furman Study” led to the creation of the Interest on Trust Accounts (IOTA) Program for funding legal services for the poor and the adoption of simplified divorce procedures and other reforms. Co-counsel: Public Citizen Litigation Group.
The Florida Bar v. Moses, 380 So. 2d 412 (Fla. 1980). In another unauthorized practice of law case, we represented a labor relations consultant for representing his employer in a state administrative proceeding. This case established precedent that resolved the conflict between the Florida Supreme Court's authority to regulate the practice of law and the Legislature's authority to provide for and regulate administrative agency proceedings. The Florida Supreme Court ruled that the Legislature has the authority to allow qualified lay advocates to represent others in administrative proceedings. Following this decision, SLC participated extensively in the drafting of model rules, which were adopted, governing representative appearances of lay advocates before state agencies.
Unlawful seizure of property
Gotshall, et al. v. City of Titusville (M.D. Fla., J. Presnell 2013). In June 2011, in preparation for the final shuttle launch, the City of Titusville cleared eleven homeless encampments, destroying the personal property of a number of individuals who lived at these camps. Titusville’s unlawful actions deprived people of personal belongings that are critical to their survival, such as clothing, medication, tents and blankets, as well as irreplaceable personal possessions, such as family photographs, personal records and documents, and even the ashes of a deceased parent contained in an urn contacted SLC to assist in investigating and pursuing legal remedies on behalf of their homeless clients impacted by the City’s sweep of these camps. We achieved a mediated settlement. Co-counsel: Community Legal Services of Mid-Florida.