LSA Case Accepted for Oral Argument by the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Judicial Circuit
By Farah Majid and Laurie McFalls, LSA Staff Attorneys
On Feb. 2, 2018, Legal Services Alabama received notice that an appeal filed by LSA last spring, has been granted oral arguments and will be heard by a three judge panel. The appeal, which involves the rights of a person receiving a housing subsidy to a fair hearing, is based on a case first filed in December 2015.
Michael Forton, LSA’s Director of Advocacy, said, “This is definitely a big deal. This will be the first time Legal Services Alabama will be doing oral arguments at the Eleventh Circuit since the three Alabama programs merged in 2004. It’s going to be a big day for LSA and a big day for our client.”
The client involved came to LSA when she was facing the loss of her Section 8 Housing Voucher on suspicions that she was involved in illegal drug sales. At the administrative hearing, the Housing Authority’s “evidence” consisted of nothing more than copies of two indictments that were over a year old. The Housing Authority failed to bring any witnesses to the hearing, including law enforcement officers. They provided no testimony or claims from individuals who witnessed any criminal activity by our client. In spite of this absence of proof, and our client's proof (in the form of a court order) that showed these old charges were in the process of being dismissed, the hearing officer still ruled against her, terminating her voucher and effectively barring her from the assistance she needed to avoid homelessness.
LSA filed a federal lawsuit against the Housing Authority since they deprived this young woman of due process by taking away her only home with no meaningful evidence. The federal court upheld the hearing officer’s decision, even based on the lack of proof presented by the Housing Authority at the hearing. It is the appeal of that decision that the court will be hearing.
Forton said, “The Eleventh Circuit only takes about four percent of the appeals filed every year for oral arguments, so it’s pretty rare. I believe that their acceptance of the case for oral arguments indicates that they are interested in the issues we raised, and are open to reversing the trial court. Honestly, I think that’s what has to happen in this case. The entire idea of punishing someone simply because they were accused of a crime is just ridiculous."
The team handling the appeal was Forton, Farah Majid and Laurie McFalls, all members of LSA’s High Impact Litigation Unit. The United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Judicial Circuit has jurisdiction over federal cases originating in the states of Alabama, Florida and Georgia.