Ensuring that Medicaid Participants Get Access to Hepatitis Treatment
Jenner & Block represented the Legal Council for Health Justice in its successful effort to end Illinois' policy of rationing Medicaid participants’ coverage of life-saving drugs to cure hepatitis C (HCV).
The deadliest infectious disease in the United States, HCV affects an estimated 3.5 million Americans, including 68,400 Illinoisans. Previously, individuals enrolled in Medicaid were required to have severe liver damage before receiving coverage for treatment that would cure them of HCV. Additionally, some Medicaid participants were required to provide proof of sobriety for six months.
In October 2018, Jenner & Block joined the Legal Council for Health Justice and the Center for Health Law and Policy Innovation at Harvard Law School in sending a formal demand letter to Illinois officials on behalf of Medicaid participants.
On November 7, 2018, the Illinois Department of Health and Family Services announced it would change its policy. Now, a recognized HCV cure—direct acting antivirals, or DAAs—is accessible to thousands of Illinoisans, many of whom were previously denied treatment until they reached end-stage disease.
Helping Home Care Aide Recover Costs for Needed Car
Partner Rachel Morse won a trial jury for a pro bono client Zlangba Doe in a car crash case, where she secured an award of twice the amount Ms. Doe had originally prayed for.
Early one Sunday morning, Ms. Doe’s car was legally parked outside her apartment building, and the defendant crashed into it so hard that her car was pushed up onto the curb and damaged beyond repair. The defendant’s car flipped over end-to-end and landed upside down. Although there was only one impact site on his car, the defendant told his insurer that some other driver hit his car first, causing the crash. On the basis of that misrepresentation, the insurance company refused to pay for the damage to Ms. Doe’s car. Ms. Doe sued pro se for $5,000.
Mandatory arbitration resulted in an award of $4,945, which the defendant rejected. Judge Alison Conlon then referred Ms. Doe to CARPLS, and Rachel picked up the case. When Rachel learned that the Kelley Blue Book value of Ms. Doe’s car was only about $3,000, she amended the complaint to add allegations regarding Ms. Doe’s lost time and earnings flowing from not having a car. Ms. Doe works as a home care aide for elderly veterans, and she worked fewer hours using public transportation than she could have with a car.
Rachel tried the case, Doe v. Neal-Guy, before a six-person jury. The jury returned a verdict of $10,174, one-third of which was for the replacement value of the car and two-thirds of which was for lost time and earnings. Rachel’s advocacy for lost time and earnings essentially tripled the award Ms. Doe would have obtained for the lost vehicle alone.
Ms. Doe is delighted with the result. With the award, Ms. Doe purchased a car and is able to work full time again.
Securing Victory on Behalf of Native American Nation
Jenner & Block helped win a victory on behalf of a Native American nation when a US district court ruled that the federal government has an affirmative obligation to provide adequate educational and mental health services at Havasupai Elementary School on the Havasupai Reservation in northern Arizona.
In Stephen C et al., al v. Bureau of Indian Education et al., a lawsuit brought by several children and the Native American Disability Law Center, the court denied the government’s partial motion to dismiss and held that the government is required to address the impact of trauma and childhood adversity so that all students have the ability to learn and participate in school.
After the federal defendants moved to dismiss several of the students’ claims, the nation enlisted Jenner & Block to draft an amicus brief supporting the plaintiffs. Partner Brandon Fox and law clerk Omar Qureshi worked with the tribal chairman and tribal council to draft a brief informing the court of the history of the nation and its federally operated school. The brief detailed not only the substandard conditions inside the school, but also decades of work by tribal officials to improve those conditions. The ruling recognizes that the federal government has been on notice of its failures for decades and will protect the rights of students at Havasupai Elementary to attend a school with enough resources, teachers and wellness services to provide a safe and effective learning environment.
Partnering with Lawyers’ Committee for Better Housing to Secure Housing Settlement
Earlier this year, the Lawyers’ Committee for Better Housing (LCBH) contacted Jenner & Block about a complex bankruptcy case. LCBH represented a Chicago renter whose apartment building, unbeknownst to her, had been sold in foreclosure.
After she was threatened with eviction, LCBH began drafting a complaint against TD REO, the California-based company that purchased the building. The complaint asserted multiple violations of the Keep Chicago Renting Ordinance, which provides protections and statutory damages for tenants renting foreclosed properties. But as they prepared the complaint, LCBH discovered that TD REO had filed bankruptcy in California, preventing LCBH from filing its lawsuit in Chicago.
With complexities mounting, LCBH contacted Jenner & Block to combine pro bono efforts. Led by Partner Todd Toral and Associate John VanDeventer, with assistance from Partners Landon Raiford, Christopher Tompkins and Associate Michelle Peleg, the team worked across practice groups and offices on the case. And after tense negotiations with opposing counsel, the team was able to effectively increase TD REO’s initial settlement offer, settling the multi-state bankruptcy matter.
Ending Housing Discrimination in Southern California City
A team from Jenner & Block’s Los Angeles office helped secure a favorable settlement for a pro bono client in a lawsuit challenging a Southern California city’s discriminatory housing ordinances.
Serving as co-counsel with the ACLU, the firm represented the Victor Valley Family Resource Center (VVFRC), which provides transitional housing to individuals recently released from incarceration.
Beginning in 2016, the City of Hesperia, in California’s high desert, began issuing regular citations to VVFRC for violating a city ordinance—which hadn’t been enforced in years—barring two or more unrelated individuals on probation from living together. The City also began pressuring VVFRC’s landlords to evict the organization, relying on a new ordinance requiring landlords to evict upon notice any tenant engaged in unspecified criminal activity, regardless of whether an arrest was made or citation issued.
In response, the ACLU of Southern California filed a class action in the Central District of California against the City and the San Bernardino County Sheriff, alleging that the two ordinances were unconstitutional in that they violated state and federal equal-protection and due-process rights. Jenner & Block joined the case as co-counsel shortly after. The team worked to expand the claims to include Hesperia landlords that had expressed an interest in vindicating their rights, and whose claims would have resulted in Hesperia being enjoined from enforcing the ordinances city-wide. Ultimately, the firm and ACLU represented VVFRC, eight of VVFRC’s tenants and two Hesperia landlords as named plaintiffs on behalf of putative tenant and landlord classes in challenging the two ordinances. This case was intensely litigated against what the court itself called “obstructionist” defendants. The team eventually engaged in multiple rounds of motion practice on an expedited basis. Moreover, the defendants tried to bury the team in discovery, propounding literally hundreds of written-discovery inquiries in a case involving primarily legal issues. The Jenner & Block team exerted significant effort in managing and organizing that process.
In the spring of 2017, Hesperia’s city council repealed one of the ordinances. Later that year, the city council adopted significant revisions to the other ordinance, many of which were drafted by Associate Christopher Lindsay and our ACLU co-counsel.
As part of a settlement agreement finalized in April 2018, Hesperia also agreed to pay a substantial award to make VVFRC and our other clients whole for the costs they incurred due to the city’s enforcement of the two ordinances, rescind any outstanding fines or citations and release liens imposed against their properties. It also agreed to pay attorneys’ fees.
The ACLU honored the firm for its work on the case with its Homeless Rights Advocacy Award.
In addition to Mr. Lindsay, Associate Andrew Sullivan helped lead the firm team, with support from Partner A.J. Thomas and former associate Kate Spelman. Associates Brian Adesman, Daixi Xu and Anna Lyons also made valuable contributions. Paralegals Alonso Ponce, Diana Vuong and Julian Valenzuela and legal assistants Jennifer Rodriguez, Laura Saltzman and Kat White supported the team.
Blocking Medicaid Work Mandate in Kentucky
Jenner & Block won a significant victory in June when a federal judge blocked a plan requiring Medicaid recipients in Kentucky to work or otherwise lose their benefits.
The firm represented National Health Law Program (NHeLP), an organization that protects and advances the health rights of low-income and underserved individuals and families. NHeLP, along with Kentucky Equal Justice Center and Southern Poverty Law Center, represented 16 Kentuckians in the class action lawsuit, Stewart v. Azar. At issue was the current administration’s approval of Kentucky’s Medicaid waiver plan, called Kentucky HEALTH. The plan was set to go into effect on July 1; the ruling vacates the approval and remands the case back to the US Department of Health and Human Services.
“The Secretary never adequately considered whether Kentucky HEALTH would in fact help the state furnish medical assistance to its citizens, a central objective of Medicaid,” Judge James Boasberg said in his opinion. “This signal omission renders his determination arbitrary and capricious.”
The judge also commented that the Secretary failed to consider the 95,000 people who would lose coverage under the plan. He went on to say that the Secretary did not request “additional information related to the project’s impact on recipients or offer any information refuting plaintiffs’ substantial documentary evidence that the action would reduce healthcare coverage.”
Partner Ian Heath Gershengorn, chair of the Appellate and Supreme Court Practice, argued on behalf of NHeLP. Other team members included Partners Thomas Perrelli and Devi Rao and Associates Lauren Hartz and Natacha Lam.
Supporting Chicago Museums in Obama Presidential Center Dispute
Jenner & Block filed an amicus brief, pro bono, on behalf of all 11 museums located on Chicago parkland. In Protect Our Parks, Inc. v. Chicago Park District, the plaintiffs allege that creating the Obama Presidential Center in Jackson Park—and allowing the Obama Foundation to operate the Center under an agreement that the Chicago City Council unanimously approved—would violate the Public Trust Doctrine and certain other laws.
The City of Chicago and the Chicago Park District moved to dismiss the complaint, arguing that the Obama Center’s creation and operation is consistent with the Public Trust Doctrine and all other federal and state laws. The amici supported that motion by offering their unique insight and perspective. In particular, the museums provided the court with historical context about the long tradition of locating museums in Chicago’s public parks and highlighted the potential practical consequences that may result if the Obama Presidential Center is not allowed to open on parkland.
“The Park Museums believe the Obama Presidential Center will be a cultural and economic treasure for Chicago that will bring new amenities and positive development to the surrounding community, boost the local economy, and serve as a magnet for visitors to the City and the region,” the brief says. “It will serve as an enduring and powerful symbol of the promise of America and the American Dream.”
Briefing is currently underway in the district court.
The 11 museums that currently operate on parkland in Chicago include the Adler Planetarium, Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago History Museum, DuSable Museum of African American History, The Field Museum of Natural History, Museum of Contemporary Art, Museum of Science and Industry, National Museum of Mexican Art, National Museum of Puerto Rican Arts and Culture, The Chicago Academy of Sciences/Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum and John G. Shedd Aquarium.
Assisting Former Students of ITT Technical Institute Recover from “Predatory Practices”
The firm won a victory that will affect 750,000 former students of the now-defunct ITT Technical Institute, a for-profit college chain that went bankrupt in 2016. Working as co-counsel with Harvard Law School’s Project on Predatory Student Lending, the team represented a class of students who filed claims against ITT in bankruptcy court in 2017.
In January of 2018, a federal bankruptcy judge in Indianapolis approved a preliminary settlement in which nearly $600 million in student debt would be wiped out.
In November, the judge gave final approval to the settlement, which cancels all of the debt those students owed directly to ITT. The agreement also returns $3 million to students who made loan payments to the school after it closed two years ago. It covers students who attended ITT between 2006 and 2016.
In a statement, the Project on Predatory Student Lending said the settlement “acknowledges that student borrowers were harmed by the predatory practices of ITT.”
News of the final approval was reported in multiple outlets including Washington Post, Inside Higher Ed and Indianapolis Business Journal. The Turnaround Management Association’s Chicago/Midwest chapter recognized the firm’s efforts by honoring the team with its “Pro Bono of the Year” award.
Breaking Ground on Homes for the Homeless
After a hard-fought mediation, Partner Mike McNamara and former partner G. Thomas Stromberg secured an agreement to allow pro bono client FlyawayHomes to move forward with a project to build homes for the homeless in South Los Angeles.
This particular permanent supportive housing (PSH) project, completed in September 2018, is unique—it repurposes shipping containers from the Port of Los Angeles to manufacture modular housing units, which drastically reduces the time and cost of completion compared to traditional construction.
“It’s cheaper for shipping companies to leave them here than to ship them back,” Kevin Hirai, chief operating officer of FlyawayHomes, said in a local news feature about the project. “Therefore, you’ve got all these one-time-use containers that are essentially brand new,” he added. In addition, the PSH is 100 percent privately funded and does not use taxpayer money for development, which amounts to about $3 million to build the three-story, 33-person capacity structure. “It’s a beautiful model, if you think about it,” Mr. Hirai said. “You can invest money, make a modest return and house our most vulnerable neighbors.”
It took months of difficult negotiations for the parties to enter into an agreement to move forward with building the homes. Lawry J. Meister, president of FlyawayHomes, thanked Mike and Tom for their efforts: “We truly never would have reached an agreement if it weren’t for your diplomacy, determination and dedication to getting it done.”
Raising Funds for St. Jude
Partner Joseph Bisceglia, with the firm’s support, serves as co-chair of the largest fundraiser of its kind in Chicago, which benefits the work of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.
The “Four Stars of Chicago” restaurant extravaganza event is attended annually by more than 900 people and has raised more than $12 million for St. Jude since the event’s inception in 1994. The money directly contributes to St. Jude’s work as the world leader in the fight against childhood cancer. Since the hospital’s inception in 1962, St. Jude has played a pivotal role in an increase from 20 to 80 percent in overall childhood cancer cure rates in the United States as a result of its cutting-edge research and treatment protocols which it freely shares with the greater medical community both in the United States and across the world.