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Students in the Civil Legal Assistance Clinic recently participated in cases including the following:


Ms. W, a young disabled woman, had moved into an apartment that had been represented as accessible but was not. Building common areas, including the leasing office, were inaccessible to Ms. W. The walls and doors of her own apartment were also too narrowly built to accommodate her wheelchair and became damaged as she attempted to negotiate her way. When she attempted to pay her rent online, as she could not visit the office to pay in person, she was fined a late charge after a computer malfunction. Clinic students researched the federal and state Fair Housing Acts, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and North Carolina Unfair and Deceptive Trade Practices Act. They then assisted Ms. W in negotiating with the building owner to obtain accommodations of the client's disability, including return of any late fees, and, ultimately, an end to her lease without any penalty or excess charges.


Students represented a woman who had bought a used car. She had numerous mechanical problems and, to make matters worse, her car was wrongfully repossessed. At the time the car was repossessed, the client had $1,000 in the glove compartment, money she was using to pay bills - including the payment on the repossessed car. Students brought suit on behalf of the woman for wrongful repossession and unfair and deceptive trade practices. They obtained a judgment for all payments made on the car, plus the money in the glove box. This amount was trebled and the clinic was awarded attorneys' fees. The clinic attorney fee funds are used to assist clients with expenses of litigation that they are unable to pay.

Unemployment Insurance

Ms. C has struggled with substance addiction for two decades. This year, she pursued this struggle with new energy. She entered a residential treatment facility and then, once she completed her stay, connected with off-site counselors who helped her to stay on track. But, she found that following through fully on her treatment program interfered with her work schedule, and decided that, at least temporarily, she needed to devote herself full time to her recovery. Ms. C informed her supervisor at Target, where she was employed, about her condition and the dangers of relapsing, and explained that pursuing treatment would conflict with the work schedule, so she would need to resign. Ms. C then applied for unemployment insurance but was denied. Clinic students represented Ms. C in an appeal of that decision. North Carolina's unemployment insurance law provides benefits for employees who leave work due to a disability or health condition, and the students argued that substance addiction is a form of such disability. The students supplemented their client's testimony with that of her social worker and medical texts supporting her opinion. Happily, the students prevailed, and the Appeals Referee issued a finding in favor of our client, awarding her full benefits.

Employment Discrimination

Mr. J worked as a security guard for roughly a decade, and when he applied for such a position with Employer N, he believed he had a good chance. In fact, he received notice that he had been approved for the position and needed only to undergo a medical exam. During his medical interview, he admitted he suffered from diabetes. On the basis of this condition, with no further analysis, the employer rejected Mr. J's application for employment. Clinic students received the case when it was already scheduled for mediation, so they worked quickly to develop rapport with their client, learn as much as they could about his condition and its limits, research the Americans with Disabilities Act, and assemble the records of Mr. J's condition. After a full day of negotiations, followed by several weeks of hammering out details, the students reached a very favorable settlement for their client. Mr. J was immediately placed into the position for which he applied, plus retroactive salary and other payments totaling $40,000.

Open Government

Plaintiffs in Wilner v. NSA are lawyers who have reason to believe they were targeted for surveillance by the National Security Agency (NSA), under the agency's formerly-secret Terrorist Surveillance Program, on the basis of the lawyers' representation of Guant?namo Bay detainees. Represented by the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) and the private firm of Butler, Rubin, Saltarelli and Boyd, the lawyers filed Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests with the NSA and the Department of Justice, seeking records of any such surveillance. When the agencies refused to release the requested records, the plaintiffs filed a FOIA complaint in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, and Professor Sabbeth joined the case as co-counsel. The government defendants then refused to confirm or deny the existence of any records of surveillance of the plaintiffs, and moved for partial summary judgment, citing the Glomar doctrine, under which some government programs are recognized as so secret that their very existence is protected. The district court granted defendants' motion, and plaintiffs appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.

This past year, clinic students prepared the case for oral argument. They researched FOIA, national security law, and underlying constitutional law. They conducted numerous mock arguments, taking turns playing the roles of plaintiffs' and government counsel, as well as the judges. Oral argument before a panel of the Court of Appeals was held. On December 30, 2009, the panel issued an opinion authored by Judge Cabranes, affirming the decision below. A petition for certiorari has since been filed with the Supreme Court of the United States.

UNC School of Law | Van Hecke-Wettach Hall | 160 Ridge Road, CB #3380 | Chapel Hill, NC 27599-3380 | 919.962.5106

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