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Federal Court Complaint Challenges Georgia City's Discriminatory Utility Policies

On May 18, 2017, Relman, Dane & Colfax, along with the National Immigration Law Center and the Southern Center for Human Rights, filed a lawsuit against the City of LaGrange, Georgia, on behalf of the Georgia State Conference of the NAACP, Troup County NAACP, Project South, and seven individual plaintiffs challenging LaGrange's utility service policies that have an unlawful disparate impact on African Americans and Latinos.

In LaGrange, residents receive electricity, gas, and water services from the City. Under City policy, if a resident owes any court debt, including court judgments or fines, LaGrange will not provide utility services to that resident. This policy of conditioning utilities on the payment of unrelated court debt has an unjustified disparate impact on African Americans, who are overrepresented among those owing court debt. One plaintiff in the case relies on an electricity-powered oxygen tank and CPAP machine to treat severe sleep apnea and congestive heart failure, but the City has repeatedly threatened to disconnect his utilities because he owes fines resulting from a citation for driving without a license. The City disconnected the services of another plaintiff, who owes court debt for a plea to possession of less than an ounce of marijuana. That plaintiff was forced to leave her home along with her three children and her disabled mother until the City resumed utility service.

LaGrange also requires a Social Security Number in order to receive utility services. Immigrants who live in LaGrange who are ineligible for Social Security Numbers -- a group that includes undocumented immigrants as well as many categories of lawfully present non-citizens -- cannot receive utility services. This significantly impedes their housing choices, prevents them from owning homes, and perpetuates segregation of Latinos by forcing many Latinos to live in the limited housing where landlords are willing to hold utility accounts for tenants. This policy has an unjustified disparate impact on Latinos, who make up a large majority of foreign-born non-citizens and people who are ineligible for Social Security Numbers in LaGrange.

Noteworthy Pleadings