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Case Examples

The following are examples of the types of cases Civil-Criminal Litigation Clinic students litigate.

Civil-Criminal Litigation Clinic Wins Deportation Case

It took nine years and three trips to the Sixth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, but clinic students stopped the deportation of a mentally retarded man who had come to the United States with his family at age 14 and lived here for 33 years. Nearly 40 students worked on the case in the Immigration Court, the Board of Immigration Appeals, the Federal District Court in Detroit, and the Sixth Circuit in Cincinnati. At the final hearing, the immigration judge granted a waiver of deportation, restoring the client's permanent resident status. Students are now helping the client gain U.S. citizenship.

Civil-Criminal Litigation Clinic Students Assist Urban Farming Movement

Prof. Kim Thomas

Prof. Kim Thomas

Peter Thomason is no ordinary farmer. As part of the growing national movement to find a more environmentally friendly and sustainable way of life, Thomason began raising goats and chickens on his 1/10th-acre lot in downtown Ypsilanti, Michigan. He did this to bring attention to the movement and as a challenge to a city ordinance that prohibited such activities. Students litigated issues of first impression through the trial and appellate process while Thomason and others continued to press the city to permit urban farming. Using the leverage of the lawsuit and public support for Thomason's activities, the city ultimately changed its ordinance permitting residents to raise chickens and bees within city limits. Thomason aptly noted that "the case helped generate support for, and raise awareness of, urban agriculture while, at the same time, giving students a tremendous learning opportunity serving the behind-the-scenes needs of a significant social movement."

Helping Get a Life Back on Track

Civil-Criminal Litigation Clinic students came to the aid of a woman who wanted to clear up a criminal misdemeanor bench warrant. After investigation, students found that she had not one, but at least seven bench warrants for misdemeanors, mostly traffic offenses, going back many years. Her student attorneys tackled her cases one by one, appearing in three different courts more than a dozen times. They eventually secured placement for her in an alternative program. Through creativity and persistence, they helped the client resolve the outstanding cases in a way that permitted her to keep working to support her family.

Clinic Students Win Federal Habeas Case

The clinic persuaded a federal district court that a state prisoner had been unconstitutionally denied effective assistance of counsel. The state appealed and the students not only wrote the brief to the Sixth Circuit, which covered questions of constitutional law and complex habeas procedure, but one student also co-argued the case. The three-judge panel of the Sixth Circuit reversed the district court's grant of the habeas petition. Undeterred, a new student attorney filed a motion for rehearing en banc, which was granted. With the assistance of students, the case was re-argued in front of the entire Sixth Circuit, which ultimately granted the habeas petition. Since his release from prison, the client is busy taking care of his elderly parents and playing with his grandkids.

Impact Litigation in Michigan's Prisons and Beyond

For nearly three decades, students in the Civil-Criminal Litigation Clinic have spearheaded "impact" cases seeking broad change in prison policy and the way prison inmates are treated. One example is a multiple-year fight to stem the hepatitis C epidemic in Michigan's prisons and prevent its spread outside prison walls. With the aid of medical experts, students filed four federal lawsuits including a class action seeking better testing and treatment of inmates with the disease. The state ultimately acquiesced, implementing up-to-date testing and treatment protocols similar to the ones drafted by students as part of the class action. The students' pleadings were used as models by litigators across the country seeking to file similar lawsuits.

Prof. David Santacroce

Prof. David Santacroce

Preserving Low-Income Housing

In litigation that lasted almost six years and involved two federal lawsuits and a bankruptcy court adversary action, students helped prevent the demolition of a 144-unit low-income housing project in Ypsilanti, Michigan. Under the terms of the final settlement agreement, HUD awarded 144 Section-8 vouchers to the Ypsilanti Housing Commission to provide rent subsidies to current and former Parkview Apartments residents. HUD also conveyed the property to the Commission for a nominal fee and agreed to provide up-front redevelopment grants of up to $5.76 million. Renovation is now underway, in a public-private partnership.

Political Asylum for Forced Marriage and Female Genital Mutilation

A 20-year-old woman came to the clinic after fleeing her home country under threat of genital mutilation in preparation for a forced marriage to a 60-year-old man. Students conducted an exhaustive investigation and obtained statements from multiple witnesses and experts. Based on that work, students prepared and filed an application for asylum, tackling novel legal issues and showing that their client would not be protected by her government if she were forced to return to her homeland. The client was granted asylum and enjoys her new life in the United States.

The Case of the Fraudulent "Ex"

In this case, a client's ex-wife opened a credit card in the client's name and ran up $17,000 in debt. The client first learned of the debt when the creditor sued him. Clinic students investigated and persuaded the creditor's lawyer to dismiss the case and reimburse the fees the client had been required to pay.

Students Settle Prisoner's First Amendment Case

A prisoner got into an argument with staff over a grievance he had filed about slow mail service. Within days he was transferred to a prison in the Upper Peninsula, 250 miles from his family. The transfer interrupted his therapy, which was required for his upcoming parole. Students took the case to federal district court, alleging that the transfer was in retaliation for the exercise of First Amendment rights. They deposed the staff and supervisors at both prisons, subpoenaed all the transfer records, and used that evidence to defeat the state's motion for summary judgment. The case settled for $25,000, even though the prisoner had been returned to the first prison after just 10 days.

Saving Homes

A disabled woman in her sixties was faced with a tax foreclosure on the home she had inherited from her mother. Clinic students filed a probate court action to give her clear title to the home and persuaded government authorities that she was eligible for property tax reductions. With clear title and reduced taxes, the woman was able to keep her home. In another case, an elderly woman suffering from a mental disability was referred to the clinic by a community organization because she had been evicted. Clinic students determined that the eviction was invalid and brought a motion to set aside the eviction. Using their investigation and legal research, students were able to negotiate a settlement in which the landlord agreed to move the client into a new apartment.

Major Civil Rights Cases

To see pleadings filed in several of the clinics' major civil rights cases, please visit the Civil Rights Litigation Clearinghouse.