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Posts Tagged ‘Eleventh Circuit’

McKinney Due Process Analysis Alive and Well in the Eleventh Circuit

Posted on: April 9th, 2019

By: Dana Maine

This will be a short blog: “The question before us is whether a litigant in this Circuit has a substantive-due-process claim under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment when the alleged conduct is the unlawful application of a land-use ordinance. The answer to that question is a resounding ‘no’ – an answer that this Court delivered in McKinney v. Pate, 20 F.3d 1550 (11th Cir. 1994), 24 years ago and has affirmed ever since.”  Hillcrest Property, LLP v. Pasco County, 915 F.3d 1292 (11th Cir. 2019).  The opinion is a good read for land use practitioners in all circuits.

As for people interested in Georgia law, note that the Georgia Supreme Court has followed the legislative vs. administrative/adjudicative distinction from the federal law in the 2017 trilogy of land use cases – City of Cumming v. Flowers, 300 Ga. 820 (2017), Schumacher v. City of Roswell, 301 Ga. 635 (2017), Diversified Holdings, LLP v. City of Suwanee, 302 Ga. 597 (2017).

For assistance with this or any other local government matter, please contact Dana Maine, [email protected], or any other member of our National Government Practice Group, a list of which can be found on our website – www.fmglaw.com.

 

How Do You Like Them Apples? Eleventh Circuit Slices Up New “Comparator” Standard for Intentional Discrimination Cases

Posted on: March 26th, 2019

By: Tim Boughey

Last week, in Lewis v. City of Union City, Ga. et al., No. 15-11362 (11th Cir. March 21, 2019) (en banc), the Eleventh Circuit issued an important decision addressing the proper comparator analysis applied to circumstantial claims of intentional discrimination (whether under Title VII, Equal Protection, or Section 1981).  At the core of every discrimination case, the employee must produce evidence the employer acted with an impermissible, discriminatory motive or else suffer the dismissal of their case at summary judgment. In most discrimination cases, the employee lacks direct evidence of discrimination – such as clearly sexist, racist, or similarly discriminatory statements or actions by the employer in connection with an employment decision. Without direct evidence, the employee must instead come forth with circumstantial evidence supporting an inference of intentional discrimination. In most cases, the employee proceeds down the familiar McDonnell Douglas framework and attempts to establish that the employer treated a so-called “similarly situated” employee outside of the employee’s protected class more favorably (in lawyer speak a “comparator”).

Over the years, the Eleventh Circuit made efforts to define “similarly situated”, and by its own admission, created something of a “hash” of the concept. In some cases, the Eleventh Circuit defined “similarly situated” to mean “same or similar” and in others as “nearly identical.” In more colloquial terms, the Eleventh Circuit summarized the “similarly situated” concept as one that prevents courts from second-guessing an employer’s reasonable decisions and confusing “apples with oranges.” Faced with the issue of reconciling differing and nebulous definitions, the Eleventh Circuit did some house cleaning Thursday and held “similarly situated” means “similar in all material respects.” In addition, the Eleventh Circuit held courts must apply this standard on the front end of the McDonnell Douglas analysis (commonly referred to as the prima facie stage) before an employer must articulate its legitimate, non-discriminatory reason(s) for making an employment decision.

With the spirit of providing employers “the necessary breathing space to make business judgments,” the Eleventh Circuit provided some guide posts for assessing whether or not an alleged comparator is “similar in all material respects.” Fleshing out the concept, the Eleventh Circuit indicated that a “similarly situated” employee is someone who, when compared to the employee bringing a discrimination claim, (1) engaged in the same basic conduct (or misconduct); (2) is subjected to the same employment policy, guideline, or rule; (3) reports to the same supervisor; and (4) shares the same employment or disciplinary history. The Eleventh Circuit then applied these standards to Lewis’ claims of discrimination and found she flunked the test because the employer applied a different employment policy (implemented two years after her termination) to her two alleged comparators.

This new “similar in all material respects” standard is most important for Human Resources professionals, supervisors, and employment counsel to public and private sector employers on the front lines of cases involving disciplinary action. In this regard, employers should look to past disciplinary decisions under the same work rule and supervisor as well as disciplinary history before making the call to toss a rotten apple from its workforce.

If you have any questions or would like more information, please contact Tim Boughey at [email protected].

As Commerce Moves Online, the Americans with Disabilities Act Follows

Posted on: February 11th, 2019

By: Natalie Pulley

Does the Americans with Disabilities Act, requiring accessibility in public accommodations, apply to a business’ online presence? The Eleventh Circuit has weighed in on the issue, finding in Dennis Haynes v. Dunkin’ Donuts LLC that the ADA applies online.

In Dennis Haynes, the plaintiff is blind and relies on screen reading software. He attempted to go on the website for Dunkin’ Donuts but the website was not compatible with his, or any, screen reading software. The plaintiff sued Dunkin’ Donuts, LLC, claiming that it violated Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act by not maintaining a website compatible with screen reading software. He alleged that the inaccessibility of Dunkin’ Donuts’ website has denied blind people the ability to enjoy the goods, services, privileges, and advantages of Dunkin’ Donuts shops.

The Eleventh Circuit agreed with his position and found that a website must comply with ADA requirements. The court found that a website is a service that facilitates the use of brick and mortar shops, which are places of public accommodation. Further, the court found that the ADA is clear that whatever goods and services the business offers as part of its public accommodation, it cannot discriminate against people on the basis of a disability, even if those goods and services are intangible. This opinion sides with a federal court ruling from Florida, which ruled that a supermarket chain could be liable under the statute for operating an inaccessible site.

While there is no blanket requirement of any specific auxiliary aides on corporate websites, the proliferation of website lawsuits presents a risk of liability. Corporations should take proactive steps to ensure that their websites are accessible to those with hearing, muscular, and visual impairments.

If you have any questions or would like more information, please contact Natalie Pulley at [email protected].

Haynes v. Dunkin’ Donuts, Ltd. Liab. Co., 741 F. App’x 752 (11th Cir. 2018)
Gil v. Winn-Dixie Stores, Inc., 257 F. Supp. 3d 1340 (S.D. Fla. 2017)

 

 

 

Can You Even Do That? What Happens When a Judge is Sued and the Defense of Absolute Judicial Immunity is Raised

Posted on: February 6th, 2019

By: Jake Loken

It is a rare sight to see a judge being sued, so what happens when one is? The process is generally the same as any other lawsuit, but one important doctrine can get in the way: absolute judicial immunity.

The doctrine of absolute judicial immunity was recently discussed in McCullough v. Finley, 907 F.3d 1324 (11th Cir. 2018). In McCullough, residents of Alabama sued municipal judges, along with a mayor and two police chiefs. The residents alleged the judges had violated federal anti-peonage statutes, which prohibit forced labor by coercive means, and the law of false imprisonment by “unlawfully depriving them of their liberty for their failure to pay fines.”

In response, the judges asserted absolute judicial immunity, but the district court denied immunity. Normally, only final decisions can be appealed, but when a district court denies the defense of absolute judicial immunity, this denial may be immediately appealed as a “final decision.” The denial is a “final decision” because if the court would allow the defense of immunity to stand, then the case would end, as immunity would prevent the suit from moving forward against the judges.

In reviewing the denial of absolute judicial immunity, the Court worked through a four-factor analysis “to determine whether the nature and functions of the alleged acts [were] judicial.” The Court found that the judges’ acts were judicial as they involved sentencing the residents to jail time, which is a normal judicial function that occurred in court.

The Court also determined the judges did not act in the “‘clear absence of all jurisdiction,’” because “[a] judge acts in ‘clear absence of jurisdiction’ only if he lacked subject matter-jurisdiction.” The Court made it clear that only in “rare circumstance[s]” would immunity not apply.

When a judge is sued, the judge can raise the powerful defense of absolute judicial immunity. So to answer the question found in the title, “can you even do that?”—with “that” being sue a judge—yes, a judge can be sued, but absolute judicial immunity can stop the suit in its tracks.

If you have any questions about this case, absolute judicial immunity, or other types of immunity, please contact Jake Loken at [email protected].

Eleventh Circuit Holds That Debt Collector Did Not Violate FDCPA Even Though It Misstated Name of Creditor In Collection Letter

Posted on: November 19th, 2018

By: Bill Buechner

The Eleventh Circuit very recently affirmed a district court’s ruling that a debt collector did not violate the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act even though the collection misstated the name of the creditor to whom the consumer owed the debt.

In Lait v. Medical Data Sys., 2018 U.S. App. LEXIS 31814 (11th Cir. Nov. 9, 2018) (per curiam), the plaintiff incurred medical expenses provided to him by Enterprise Medical Center. A debt collector sent the plaintiff a letter seeking to collect on the debt. The letter indicated that the debt collector was seeking to collect on the “accounts indicated below.” After two intervening paragraphs, the letter listed “Medical Center Enterprise” next to a service date, the plaintiff’s name, and an outstanding balance of $412. The letter did not expressly refer to Medical Center Enterprise as the plaintiff’s creditor.  Id. at *2.

The plaintiff alleged that the collection letter violated 15 U.S.C. § 1692g, which requires that debt collectors provide in writing certain information to a consumer in either the initial communication or within five days thereafter, including the name of the creditor to whom the debt is owed. The plaintiff did not contend that the different word order of the hospital in the letter caused him any confusion. Instead, the plaintiff asserted that the letter failed to “meaningfully convey” the name of the creditor to whom he owed the debt.

The Eleventh Circuit assumed, without deciding, that the plaintiff’s claim was governed by the least sophisticated consumer standard. Under this standard, the court presumes that the consumer “possess[es] a rudimentary amount of information about the world and a willingness to read a collection notice with some care.” Id. at *5 (citing cases).  Applying this standard, the Eleventh Circuit concluded that, because the plaintiff acknowledged that he had received medical treatment at a hospital called “Enterprise Medical Center,” the least sophisticated consumer “could be expected to connect the dots on a collection letter that lists the name ‘Medical Center Enterprise’ next to an outstanding balance.” Id. In other words, “[a] consumer who had been a patient at a hospital would surely understand the hospital to be the creditor when its name was listed next to the amount of the debt.” Id. at *5-6. Accordingly, the Eleventh Circuit held that the letter complied with § 1692g.

The Eleventh Circuit has applied the least sophisticated consumer standard to other sections of the FDCPA, including 15 U.S.C. §§ 1692e and 1692f.  Other circuits, including the Third, Sixth and Ninth Circuit have applied the least sophisticated consumer standard to claims brought pursuant to § 1692g as well. The Eleventh Circuit has suggested in at least one previous unpublished decision that it did not disagree with these other circuit decisions. The panel in Lait, however, suggested that concerns about obscuring information required to be disclosed under § 1692g could be addressed in other sections of the FDCPA. Lait, 2018 U.S. App. LEXIS 31814, at *4 n.2.

Thus, it remains an open question in the Eleventh Circuit as to whether the least sophisticated consumer standard applies to claims under § 1692g, or whether courts should simply consider whether the collection letter contains the information required by § 1692g without considering whether the least sophisticated consumer would understand it.

If you have any questions or would like more information, please contact Bill Buechner at [email protected].