Individuals must pay their unrelated LaGrange Municipal court fines and fees before gaining access to basic utility services. Further, the City charges $50 for a public defender. Unable to pay for a public defender, most people plead guilty or nolo contendere. Individuals are required to pay administrative fees and court costs for each offense which usually increased the total original fine by 30- 60%. When unable to pay, individuals are placed on probation which has a $44 monthly supervision fee. Any debt unpaid at the end of probation is sent to collections.
In some instances, the City allows the person to open utility accounts but then it adds the court debt to the individual’s monthly bill. Failure to pay results in threats of utility termination. Court debt added to the account usually comes from convictions such as driving without a suspended license, failure to appear, loitering, playing the radio too loudly, and cursing in public. Several of the convictions were more than 10 years old when the City added the court fines and fees to customer’s utility accounts.
The plaintiffs also attacked a second policy which required a valid social security number and government-issued identification in order to receive utilities.
Case dismissed for failure to state a claim under the Fair Housing Act, and the plaintiffs did not have sufficient standing FHA requires discrimination at the time of acquisition and most plaintiffs alleged discrimination after acquisition. Also, the one plaintiff that brought an action about discrimination prior to acquisition, did not apply for the utilities because he knew he was unable to meet the requirements. The plaintiffs’ appeal to the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals is pending.
You can find a detailed summary and case documents on University of Michigan Law School’s Civil Rights Litigation Clearinghouse.