2020 Grantees' Six-Month Reports on Their Cases

The Barbara McDowell Foundation 2020 grantees reported the progress of their grant-funded cases in their recently submitted Six-Month Reports. The full reports can be found under each grantees’ listing on our Grants by Year page. 

Below are the summaries from each Grantee’s report. 

Fair Elections Center

Fair Elections Center represents Plaintiffs in a federal lawsuit challenging Kentucky’s arbitrary process for voting rights restoration for felons on First Amendment grounds. The lawsuit was filed on behalf of eight former felons. 

Kentucky had an estimated 242,987 felons who were still disenfranchised after completing their full sentences including parole and probation. Kentucky's voting rights restoration process requires felons who have completed their full sentences to apply for restoration to the Department of Corrections' Division of Probation and Parole. The restoration process lacks any time limits for when the Department of Corrections or the governor must take action. This delay has created a backlog of applications in Kentucky. As of March 2018, there was a backlog of 1,459 restoration of civil rights applications. 

Since the Court had previously denied the State’s motion to dismiss the case and had denied plaintiffs request for discovery, the parties proceeded to cross-motions for summary judgment and completed their briefing on December 5, 2019. The case is now pending with the Court. 

National Center for Law and Economic Justice

National Center for Law and Economic Justice is using their grant funds to pursue a lawsuit against the city of Montgomery, Alabama seeking damages on behalf of a putative class (or classes) of people subjected to discriminatory court debt collection practices. 

The NCLEJ lawsuit is aimed at the city’s practice of jailing indigent people for unpaid traffic tickets, fines, and fees and then coercing their labor to “work off” the debt at $50/day.  Extensive discovery has occurred in the case to date. In January 2020, the parties filed cross-motions for summary judgment, with briefing continuing through March 9, 2020. Work on the case continues preparing for class certification briefing and trial. 

“The assistance from the Barbara McDowell and Gerald S. Hartman Foundation supports our efforts to fight for the fundamental civil rights of low-income people of color in Montgomery, Alabama. We could not be more grateful for the support – it is truly making a difference,” Claudia Wilner, Director of Litigation and Advocacy.

National Veterans Legal Service Program

The National Veterans Legal Services Program (NVLSP) is challenging by a class action lawsuit to be filed in the District of Columbia the legality of a policy employed by the United States Department of the Navy that has resulted in the discharge of more than 16,000 members of the Navy and Marine Corps without the military disability retirement benefits to which they are entitled. 

Since 9/11, Congress has found that in order to avoid the expense of providing lifetime medical care to disabled veterans and their families, the military departments often “low-ball” the disability rating assigned to service members who have medical conditions that make them unfit for continued military service. The lawsuit would seek an injunction requiring the Navy to change the way it assigns disability ratings to comply with applicable laws and regulations.

In the first six months of the grant period NVLSP has worked to secure class representatives, communicating with, and reviewing the records of putative class members. 

National Women’s Law Center

The Foundation is supporting National Women’s Law Center (NWLC) in two pieces of litigation related to the Department of Education’s (DOE) Title IX rules on sexual harassment.  

In its first case, SurvJustice v. DeVos, which challenges the Title IX sexual harassment guidance issued by the DOE in 2017, NWLC sought an extension for the due date for their opening appellate brief, which is now due in the second quarter of 2020.

In its second case NWLC is preparing to undertake a challenge to the Department’s final Title IX rules on sexual harassment which were issued on May 6, 2020, with an effective date of August 14, 2020. Over the first six months of the grant period, NWLC worked with their co-counsel to prepare a draft complaint asserting that the DOE’s interpretation of Title IX violates the Administrative Procedures Act because it is arbitrary, capricious, and contrary to law. Further, NWLC entered into retainer agreements with three organizations who will serve as plaintiffs in their lawsuit challenging the final rules. They also engaged in outreach to identify individual students who would likely have standing to also serve as plaintiffs. 

North Carolina Prisoner Legal Services 

North Carolina Prisoner Legal Services filed a class action lawsuit in state court alleging that North Carolina’s use of solitary confinement inflicts “cruel or unusual punishments” prohibited by the state Constitution. Every day, state prison officials subject over 3,000 people to this practice. Plaintiffs asked for declaratory and injunctive relief only – not for money damages. 

Plaintiffs and Defendants moved jointly on December 9, 2019 to have this case designated as an exceptional case, meaning that a single judge would oversee the case because of its complexity. Progress in the case thereafter slowed because of the Corona Virus.  On April 24, 2020, plaintiffs filed a motion for class certification.  Defendants will now determine whether or not they intend to seek discovery related to that motion. 

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