What is amicus curiae?
One of the ways that DRNC protects and advocates for the rights of people with disabilities in North Carolina is to participate in cases as amicus curiae. Amicus curiae is Latin for a “friend of the court.” When we participate in cases as amicus curiae, we file a brief with the court. The brief describes our specialized knowledge (legal, scientific, otherwise) to help the court make its decision. We explain why the issue the court is deciding is important to the rights of people with disabilities. We also offer our position on the outcome in the case.
Amici are sometimes permitted to participate in oral arguments in the case. But our participation usually begins and ends with the brief. We hope the court will look at our brief when deciding the case and to use this information to craft its decision. Our goals is that the court’s decision will expand, or at least not harm, the rights of people with disabilities.
Cases appropriate for DRNC involvement as amicus curiae are cases which:
- affect important and unique rights of people with disabilities;
- have a high likelihood of success and are likely to result in a favorable legal opinion;
- allow DRNC to provide an important perspective on disability rights, culture, and history; and
- do not promote the segregation or institutionalization of people with disabilities.
Requesting DRNC to participate as amicus curiae:
DRNC will consider requests from other organizations and litigants to participate as amicus curiae. All cases must meet the criteria outlined above. In limited circumstances, DRNC will consider joining another organization’s brief as amicus curiae in cases where the issues in controversy do not include the rights of individuals with disabilities but the outcome of the case will directly impact the rights of people with disabilities. Please e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like DRNC to consider your request for amicus assistance.
Examples of DRNC’s past amicus curiae participation:
State of North Carolina v. Sides:
DRNC and amici curiae supported Ms. Side’s request to reinstate her right to be present and to participate in criminal proceedings against her. The trial court determined that Ms. Sides had been voluntarily absent from court and waived her right to participate in proceedings while she was involuntarily committed and receiving in-patient treatment following a suicide attempt. DRNC explained that suicidal ideation and suicide attempt are not “voluntary” action sufficient to waive the right to participate in proceedings when they are the manifestation of a mental health disability. DRNC also argued that people with mental illness are entitled to accommodations for their disability to access the judicial process, including accommodations that permit them to be present in court proceedings.
Winston Affordable Housing, LLC, d/b/a Winston Summit Apartments v. Roberts:
Ms. Roberts challenged the cancellation of her rent subsidy and resulting eviction for non-payment of rent. DRNC joined with amici curiae in support of Ms. Robert’s challenge to her eviction because she and nearly one-fourth of all tenants receiving rent subsidies are people with disabilities, of whom more than half can expect to experience housing discrimination based on disability. DRNC and amici argued that it is critical for North Carolina courts to enforce the robust due process protections afforded to tenants of public housing, and to join with all other states in requiring review of a tenant’s claim that the landlord improperly terminated their federal rent subsidy before proceeding with an eviction based on non-payment.
Stephenson v. Pfizer:
Pfizer terminated Ms. Stephenson, a long-time and successful pharmaceutical representative, because she could no longer drive a car. DRNC and others argued as amici curiae that driving was not an essential function of Ms. Stephenson’s job, it was instead the ability to travel and attend sales meetings. Amici further argued that providing Ms. Stephenson with a driver was a reasonable accommodation similar to the provision of a reader or sign language interpreter in that the driver could not perform the essential functions of Ms. Stephenson’s job, he or she merely facilitated Ms. Stephenson’s ability to travel to physicians’ offices where she performed the essential function of conducting sales meetings with physicians. The Fourth Circuit agreed that the determination of which parts of the job are “essential functions” are a question of fact for the jury, reversed summary judgment in favor of Pfizer, and remanded the case for a trial on whether driving or travelling was an essential function of Ms. Stephenson’s job.
Eastern Carolina Regional Housing Authority-Brookside Manor v. Lofton:
Ms. Lofton claimed that the public housing authority and the courts must take fairness (“unconscionability”) into account before evicting her from public housing based on the illegal drug activity of her children’s caregiver. DRNC supported Ms. Lofton’s argument as amicus curiae because more than half of public housing households include people with disabilities who, like the young members of Ms. Lofton’s household, rely on friends, family, and paid caregivers for help with activities of daily living. These households typically have limited choices of caregivers and limited control over the caregiver’s conduct. The North Carolina Supreme Court did not agree that “fairness” must be considered during public housing eviction proceedings, but did order public housing authorities to exercise discretion before evicting tenants based on the conduct of these third parties.
McCrann v. North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services:
Mr. McCrann challenged a denial of his long-time services under the CAP MR/DD (now “Innovations”) home and community-based Medicaid waiver. DRNC argued as amicus curiae that DHHS failed to follow rigorous administrative rule-making requirements in developing its new CAP MR/DD service definitions. As a result, DHHS could not rely on these new service definitions to make decisions about which services it would authorize and deny for individual waiver participants like Mr. McCrann. DRNC also argued as amicus curiae that the provisions of the waiver are subject to reasonable modification requirements of Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act. The Court of Appeals agreed that DHHS failed to follow administrative rule-making procedures as required by state law and thus improperly relied on the new CAP MR/DD service definitions to deny Mr. McCrann (and other waiver participants) services.
*Please excuse the outdated, offensive terminology used in this brief. DRNC supports the use of “intellectual disability” in its place.
State of North Carolina v. Brown:
DRNC supported Mr. Brown’s petition for habeas corpus seeking his immediate release him from a psychiatric hospital. Fourteen years earlier, a criminal court deemed Mr. Brown incompetent to stand trial because of an intellectual disability and ordered him to be involuntarily committed. Mr. Brown remained in the hospital though he did not meet the involuntary commitment criteria of being a danger to himself or others. There was also no indication that Mr. Brown would ever become competent to stand trial. After years of being stuck in limbo, Mr. Brown was successful in his petition for habeas corpus and was finally released to live in the community of his choice.
*DRNC participated in this case under our previous legal name, Carolina Legal Assistance. Also, please excuse the outdated, offensive terminology used in this brief; DRNC supports the use of “intellectual disability” in its place.
The state of the law discussed in these amicus briefs may no longer be accurate. Please do not rely on any of the arguments or statements contained in these briefs without conducting an independent review of the legal authority applicable to your situation.