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Amicus Assistance

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 intake@disabilityrightsnc.org if you would like DRNC to consider your request for amicus assistance.

Examples of DRNC’s amicus curiae participation:

Anderson, Conner, Kelliher, NC Supreme Court

These criminal cases all involve defendants who were juveniles at the time they committed serious offenses, and were give extremely long sentences that are tantamount to life without parole. The U.S. Supreme Court has long held that sentencing of juveniles must take into account the fact that children are different from adults in terms of their brain development, and has banned the use of automatic life without parole in sentencing juveniles. Our amicus, filed in all three cases, addresses the high prevalence of trauma histories among children in the juvenile justice system. Working with the National Association of Social Workers, including their NC Chapter, and the Center for Child and Family Health, we provided the Court with clinical research regarding the effects of trauma – and especially Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) – on culpability and longevity. [view brief]

Deminski, NC Supreme Court

The issue in Deminski was whether an individual child can sue where they were denied access to education by bullying or harassment. We submitted an amicus brief to address two issues: first, that students with disabilities are disproportionately subject to abuse, neglect and bullying in school (by other students and staff); and, second, that the standard for establishing a claim should not require a plaintiff to prove “deliberate indifference,” which is an onerous standard that would not protect students. The N.C. Supreme Court ruled in favor of the student, holding that interference with the state constitutional right to education is actionable. [view brief]

RHA v. Winston, NC Supreme Court

In this housing case, the tenant was evicted based on hearsay statements from a neighbor. The notice she received did not specify the facts upon which the eviction was based, but simply referred to a lease provision the landlord said she had violated. DRNC, along with the NC Justice Center, submitted an amicus brief arguing that it is critical for a tenants to know the facts underlying the eviction in order to contest it, particularly where, for example, a tenant with a disability might be entitled to accommodations that would obviate the basis for the eviction. The NC Supreme Court ruled in favor of the tenant, holding that it was not enough to refer to a lease provision being violated; a landlord must state the facts that are the basis for the alleged violation. [view brief]

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 disabilityDRNC 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. [view brief]

Armento v. Asheville Buncombe Community Christian Ministry, Inc. (4th Cir.):

This is an appeal from the Western District of North Carolina regarding the defendant’s refusal to pay the plaintiff for his work. The trial judge’s opinion in favor of the employer relied on the idea that working was for the plaintiff’s own good, or “rehabilitative.” Our amicus brief addresses the history of exploitation of individuals with disabilities based on erroneous ideas of rehabilitation, and the importance of rejecting the idea that the work of people with disabilities lacks value. [view brief]

Elledge v. Lowe’s Home Centers, LLC, No. 19-1069 (4th Cir.):

DRNC filed an amicus brief in the Fourth Circuit in support of the plaintiff in this ADA employment discrimination case. The plaintiff was denied reasonable accommodations, including reassignment, after knee replacement surgery. Our amicus brief, which was joined in by NDRN and all the other P&As in the Fourth Circuit (SC, VA, Md, WV), argued that the ADA requires that an employee be offered an open position for which they are qualified if needed as an accommodation. [view brief]

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 rentDRNC 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 enforcthe 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. [view brief]

Stephenson v. Pfizer

Pfizer terminated Ms. Stephenson, a long-time and successful pharmaceutical representativebecause she could no longer drive a car. DRNC and others argued as amiccuriae 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. [view brief]

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. [view brief 

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. [view brief]

*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. [view brief]

*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.