Unless you are from the ATL, you probably haven't heard of the Battle of Atlanta. Two parties, armed with pro bono lawyers from BigLaw firms, have battled for decades over the homeless. Earlier this week, the Eleventh Circuit may have ended the federal dispute by affirming summary judgment.
Before we get to the case, you need to know about the history of homelessness in Atlanta. According to the ABA Journal, the city of Atlanta has torn down nearly 4,700 public housing units, engaged in sweeps to arrest the homeless for trespassing, and now has set their sights on the Metro Atlanta Task Force for the Homeless, a facility that houses between 500 and 700 men each night.
What is the city's complaint? It says it has to do with hundreds of thousands of dollars in unpaid water and sewer bills. The Task Force, and attorney Steven Hall of Baker Donelson, argue that the motivations are closer to greed and racism. The former Coca-Cola factory turned shelter is in a valuable area on Peachtree Street. The clientele are almost exclusively African-American.
The Task Force's claims were tossed via summary judgment in September 2011. The Eleventh Circuit affirmed two days ago. Among the notable findings were:
- A pleading mistake? The Task Force alleged a violation of the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments but did not mention the First Amendment in the complaint. The latter claim was therefore dismissed via summary judgment. Hill told the Atlanta Progressive News that he was using notice pleading and not every constitutional claim has to be pleaded specifically. The Eleventh indicated that the new fact-ish pleading standard of Twombly and Iqball was required.
- The "class of one" equal protection arguments were dismissed because they failed to show that they were treated differently than others who were similarly situated. Hill told APN that the court completely ignored the race based allegations. They were not arguing class of one. They argued discrimination against the Task Force because it was seen as primarily an African-American organization.
- Though the city delayed on certifying the shelter, costing them federal and state grants, there is no protected property interest in discretionary permits, licenses, etc. Hill maintains that it wasn't just the property interest in the certificate - the denial was part of a larger conspiracy to take away the shelter itself.
- The Task Force's breach of contract claim was properly dismissed because they did owe arrearages and the assertion that the meter readings were incorrect or estimated were not supported by the record. Hill pointed out that the referenced testimony stated that accurate readings were the city policy. He has evidence that the policy was not the practice, at least regarding his client.
So, is this the end of the war? Probably not. Hill indicated to APN that a petition for rehearing or an appeal to SCOTUS might follow. Separate suits are pending in state court as well.
- Metropolitan Atlanta Task Force for the Homeless v. City of Atlanta, Georgia (Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals)
- 11th Circuit: Defendant May Be Sentenced Without Indictment (FindLaw's Eleventh Circuit Blog)
- The Supreme Court Wreaks Havoc in the Lower Federal Courts--Again (FindLaw's Writ)