4.Case Update: District of Columbia Sued for Failure to Provide for People with Disabilities During Disasters

Drinker Biddle & Reath LLP, along with Disability Rights Advocates and the Washington Lawyers’ Committee, in coordination with the Barbara McDowell Foundation’s High Impact Pro Bono Litigation Project, secured a groundbreaking settlement that will have a profound, positive impact on those with disabilities in the nation’s capital and beyond. 

The agreement settles a 2014 lawsuit filed on behalf of the United Spinal Association, DC Center for Independent Living, and two District residents with disabilities that alleged numerous critical deficiencies in the District’s emergency preparedness plan which, if left unaddressed, would have resulted in people with disabilities being left behind in large-scale disasters. These problems included not putting accessible evacuation options in place and not planning for emergency communications with persons with hearing and vision disabilities. This case was part of the Drinker Biddle Barbara McDowell High Impact Pro Bono Initiative.

As a result of this historic settlement, the District has agreed to a comprehensive three-year plan that includes: (1) creating a Disability Community Advisory Group that will provide disability-specific recommendations for emergency plans and trainings, (2) ensuring that emergency-related public communications are disseminated in accessible formats, (3) considering physical accessibility a priority when opening emergency shelters, (4) creating a Post-Emergency Canvassing Operation plan, (5) ensuring that transportation resources are sufficient to meet the potential demand for accessible transportation during emergencies, and (6) creating and implementing a work plan to improve procedures for evacuating people with disabilities from high-rise buildings.

5.Case Update: “FOIA” Litigation Filed Against the United States Customs and Border Protection Service (“CBP”)

Update on “FOIA” Litigation Filed Against the United States Customs and Border Protection Service (“CBP”).

The American Immigration Council (“the Council”) represented by Drinker Biddle and Jerry Hartman, in coordination with the Barbara McDowell Foundation's High Impact Project, brought suit in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia on June 6, 2016, to force the United States Customs and Border Protection (“CBP”) to turn over information to it about complaints against agency personnel nine months after seeking the records through a Freedom of Information Act (“FOIA”) request.

The suit seeks an order forcing the prompt search and handover of information the Council requested regarding allegations of misconduct and the processing of complaints against CBP personnel, so that the Council can determine whether CBP has made progress in responding to complaints of abusive behavior by its agents. 

In a previous FOIA request, the not-for-profit American Immigration Council obtained data from CBP containing information on 809 abuse complaints against CBP agents. That information was the basis of a 2014 report by the Council, called “No Action Taken: Lack of CBP Accountability Responding to Complaints of Abuse.” That report found that in nine southwestern Border Patrol sectors, 40 percent of the complaints were for “physical abuse” and another 38 percent were for “excessive force.” Ninety-seven percent of the 809 cases examined were resolved by CBP as “no action,” according to the data produced by CBP in response to the prior FOIA request. The present suit is an effort to follow up on that report and to measure any progress made since January 2012. 

As a result of the litigation, CBP produced documents demonstrating that it had not made any significant progress in addressing complaints of abuse filed against its agents. Based on the documents produced, the Council issued a second report in August 2017 entitled, “Still No Action Taken: Complaints Against Border Patrol Continue to Go Unanswered.”

In October 2019, the parties settled the case. Pursuant to the settlement, CBP will produce, within 45 days, an additional set of documents covering its response to complaints of abuse filed against its agents over the last three years. These documents will allow the Council to produce another report regarding CBP’s handling of complaints against it, with an eye towards determining whether the change in Administration has resulted in any change in the agency’s response to these complaints. As part of the settlement, CBP also will pay attorneys’ fees in the amount of $60,000.