Armed with legal expertise and 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. They 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. SLC has diligently enforced civil and human rights through our advocacy for more than 40 years. Below we highlight just a few examples of our many successes in protecting the foundations of freedom and justice in our society.

 

Promoting Fairness and Due Process

The Constitution protects us from the overreach of our government by requiring it to provide due process of law before depriving a person of life, liberty, or property. SLC protects people from wrongful deprivations of their rights by ensuring fairness in government proceedings. And we hold the government accountable for unfairly denying people’s constitutionally protected liberties and property interests without providing the required notice and a meaningful opportunity to challenge those decisions.

McArdle v. City of Ocala, 2021 WL 481015 (M.D. Fla, J. Moody, 2021). Southern Legal Counsel represented three plaintiffs who had been repeatedly arrested under the city’s open lodging ordinance for sleeping outside and experiencing homelessness, and who had been trespassed from public parks with no way to contest their trespass warnings. The court ruled that it is unconstitutional under the Eighth Amendment to arrest someone for sleeping outside when no shelter is available, and it enjoined the city from “arresting, citing, or otherwise enforcing the open lodging ordinance against someone identifying as homeless” before inquiring about the availability of shelter space. Relying on SLC’s previous court victory, Catron v. City of St. Petersburg (see below), the court also held that the city violated procedural due process, must rescind the trespass warnings against the plaintiffs, and can no longer issue trespass warnings without due process of law. SLC co-counseled with the ACLU of Florida and pro bono attorney Andy Pozzuto.

Moreland et al. v. Palmer (N.D. Fla., J. Walker, 2013). In a statewide class action, SLC represented persons with developmental disabilities who challenged, under federal due process, the adequacy of notices being used to reduce services in a new Florida Medicaid Waiver program—the iBudget program. A mediated settlement resulted in: 1) cessation of arbitrary reductions of services; 2) reinstatement of millions of dollars in benefits for the settlement class, impacting thousands of people; 3) policy changes to ensure notice is sent to both the person and his/her legal representative; and 4) policy changes to provide notices in English and in the person’s primary language. Nancy E. Wright was co-counsel.

Catron v. City of St. Petersburg, 658 F.3d 1260 (11th Cir. 2011). On behalf of homeless people who were trespassed from city parks, this case established that all people enjoy a constitutionally protected liberty interest to be in public places of their choosing and that the government must provide due process if it deprives people of this right by issuing trespass warnings. Co-counsel were the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty and 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 the Agency for Persons with Disabilities (APD) from terminating or reducing Medicaid Waiver recipients’ benefits prior to affording them 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 she was 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 she 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. We co-counseled with Greater Orlando Area Legal Services and pro bono counsel 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.

Governmental Accountability

City of St. Petersburg v. Wright, 241 So. 3d 903 (Fla. 2d DCA). This case was filed under Florida's Sunshine Law challenging the City's amendments to its trespass ordinance in violation of statutory requirements for enacting ordinances. During SLC's Catron litigation against the St. Petersburg, 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 represented in a challenge to a trespass warning banning him from Williams Park for one year. 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 appealed, and we cross-appealed the portions of the judgment about the attorney-client session. The First Amendment Foundation filed an amicus brief 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. We co-counseled with Alice K. Nelson.

Access to Courts

Hermann v. Ruvin & Caballero v. Ruvin (Fla. 3d DCA 2019). Pro se litigants were not allowed to file family court pleadings (including name change petitions) without first purchasing and paying for services of the Clerk’s Self-Help Center. Our clients attended a forms preparation clinic hosted by Legal Services of Greater Miami and their pro se petitions for name change that were filed through Florida’s E-Filing portal were “abandoned” by the Clerk of Court who refused to docket the petitions. We filed petitions for writ of mandamus with the Third DCA, which were transferred to the Circuit Court. The Clerk refused to docket and after we filed new writs of mandamus compelling the docketing of the original writs, the Clerk docketed the original writs. The Court issued a show cause order, which was stayed as the parties entered into settlement discussions. The Clerk agreed to docket our clients’ petitions and change its procedures. Persons who file pro se petitions through the online portal no longer have their pleadings “abandoned.” The Clerk developed a waiver of self-help form for pro se litigants to use, agreed to docket petitions regardless of whether a waiver is filed, and changed the language pro se litigants receive when they file through the online portal to communicate ability for pro se litigants to avail themselves of the self-help program or obtain a waiver. LSGMI was co-counsel.

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 Florida 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 challenged 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 unlawfully denied access to justice for thousands of indigent litigants in Pinellas and Pasco Counties.        

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 was 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 drafting model rules, which were adopted, governing representative appearances of lay advocates before state agencies.​​​​​​​

Women's Rights

Equal Rights Amendment litigation (2020). After Virginia became the 38th state to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment, litigation ensued to compel the National Archivist to publish the ERA in the US Constitution. With pro bono co-counsel Baker Donelson, we filed an amicus in the federal Virginia and Massachusetts cases on behalf of the US Council of Mayors and ERA organizations from Georgia, South Carolina and Louisiana. We explained the import and impact of the ERA in a policy brief, arguing that ratification of the ERA would put the United States in the company of all other industrialized nations in guaranteeing equality for women; lead to sex discrimination claims being subjected to a strict scrutiny analysis by courts along with race, religion and national origin; and provide uniform protections from sex-based discrimination across the United States for the first time in history.

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 was the Center for Reproductive Rights.​​​​​​​​​​​​​​

First Amendment

Ft. Lauderdale Food Not Bombs, et al. v. City of Ft. Lauderdale (S.D. Fla., J. Zloch); 901 F.3d 1235 (11th Cir. 2018). The City of Ft. Lauderdale made international news when it enacted an ordinance prohibiting outdoor food sharing, and arrested multiple people for sharing food in public places. We were retained by Ft. Lauderdale Food Not Bombs and individual members of the organization to file a federal suit challenging violations of their First Amendment rights. Food Not Bombs shares food as symbolic expression of its political message that society should direct its resources to fulfilling the human right to food instead of war. The court entered summary judgment for the City, deciding that Plaintiffs are not engaged in symbolic expressive conduct that is protected by the First Amendment. We appealed to the Eleventh Circuit, which ruled in a first impression case that sharing food is protected speech under the First Amendment. The Eleventh Circuit remanded to the Southern District for a determination on the merits of whether the ordinance at issue was unconstitutional under the principles the Eleventh Circuit set forth in its opinion. The court again ruled for the City finding that the ordinance and park rule did not violate the First Amendment.  We are currently on a second appeal to the Eleventh Circuit.

Jimenez, et al v. City of Daytona Beach (M.D. Fla., J. Presnell, 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. Our suit alleged 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. Co-counsel: Legal Advocacy Center of Central Florida.

To read more about First Amendment cases on behalf of people experiencing homelessness, visit our page on Ending Homelessness.

Killmon, et al. v. City of Miami, et al. (S.D. Fla., J. Altonaga, 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 were Carol A. Sobel, Robert W. Ross, Jr., Mara Verheyden-Hilliard, Carl Messineo and 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 were Carol A. Sobel and Robert W. Ross, Jr.

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 was Public Citizen Litigation Group.​​​​​​​