Civil Litigation Clinic Successes

Posted 2020-02-24 4:28pm

The hard work of students in the Civil Litigation Clinic Fall Semester class paid off recently. A civil rights action in federal court settled favorably for one client, and an appeal of a denial of unemployment benefits was successful in gaining the restoration of those benefits for another client.

First Amendment Case

Clinic students Mitch Knerr and Pat Lipaj worked on a case referred to the Clinic by Prof. Joe Mead. The case involved a busker (street musician) who had been arrested a number of times for violating a local municipality’s ordinance against solicitation by, among other activities, playing musical instruments. The musician had filed an action pro se in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio against the municipality and certain officials alleging a violation of First Amendment rights. Prof. Mead had filed an amicus brief on behalf of the ACLU and thought the plaintiff musician should have representation.

By the time the Clinic got involved in the case, things were moving pretty quickly. The Plaintiff’s motion for an injunction had been opposed by the Defendants. Mitch and Pat did a lot of research and drafting in a relatively short time-frame and the Clinic filed a Reply Brief with a thorough discussion of similar First Amendment decisions. Thereupon, the parties agreed to mediation and began negotiations. The students extensively researched verdicts and settlements in similar litigation in order to be able to provide guidance to the client. A settlement was reached prior to the formal mediation date. In addition to a monetary settlement, the client achieved his primary goal, which was agreement by the municipality to repeal the statute.

The client has thanked Clinic students for their work on his case, saying,  “I am very happy about how this case has turned out. I enjoyed working with C|M|LAW (they were) very professional and easy to communicate with.”                               

Unemployment Compensation Case

Toward the end of the semester, the Clinic was referred a client by a former Clinic student. The client had been denied unemployment benefits after her termination from her position as a baker in a local grocery store chain. The client had initially been awarded benefits, but after appeal by the employer, she was denied and ordered to pay back the benefits she had received. After an interview of the client by Clinic student Jack Corrigan, the Clinic agreed to represent her in the upcoming Unemployment Compensation Review Committee (UCRC) hearing.

Jack then went to work.

We obtained the file from UCRC, which contained everything submitted by the parties to unemployment, including a rather long paper trail of disciplinary notices. At that point, the case did not look promising. However, Jack was able to meticulously go through each write-up with the client and learned that for each incident, she had a very different account of what had actually occurred. Also, she had never been asked for her side of the story regarding most of the incidents and had never even seen most of the write-ups. Jack was also able to talk to a former co-worker of our client who supported our client’s account of a number of the incidents and was more than willing to testify.

At the hearing, Jack was able to cross examine the employer’s managerial witness and established that most of the testimony was based on hearsay. He was then able to have our client go through each of the disciplinary write-ups and explain what actually happened and the lack of due process – and denial of union representation – accorded her by management.

The Decision by the Hearing Officer found that our client had been discharged without just cause and reversed the denial of benefits. The client will now get badly needed benefits for the months that she had been denied.

“I would like to express my sincere appreciation for the professionalism and dedication to detail that Jack Corrigan invested in my case,” the client said.

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