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Case Name Lewis v. Bentley PB-AL-0016
Docket / Court 2:16-cv-00690-RDP ( N.D. Ala. )
State/Territory Alabama
Case Type(s) Public Benefits / Government Services
Attorney Organization NAACP Legal Defense Fund
Case Summary
On April 28, 2016, the Alabama chapter of the NAACP, Greater Birmingham Ministries, and two African-American plaintiffs filed this lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Alabama. The plaintiffs sued the Governor and Attorney General of the State of Alabama in their official ... read more >
On April 28, 2016, the Alabama chapter of the NAACP, Greater Birmingham Ministries, and two African-American plaintiffs filed this lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Alabama. The plaintiffs sued the Governor and Attorney General of the State of Alabama in their official capacities under the Fourteenth Amendment’s equal protection clause and 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The plaintiffs sought declaratory and injunctive relief that would prohibit the defendants from enforcing a state law that nullified a city minimum wage law. The plaintiffs claimed that the defendants had violated their rights under the Fourteenth Amendment.

Specifically, the complaint described the efforts of the Alabama legislature to undermine the City of Birmingham’s ordinance raising its minimum wage to $8.50 per hour (later adjusted to $10.10) as an effort to prevent the City from helping its African-American residents. At the time, Birmingham was the only city in Alabama that had raised its minimum wage above the federal minimum wage. At the beginning of the Alabama Legislature’s 2016 legislative session, the House of Representatives, with only white representatives voting in favor, approved a bill preventing cities from raising the minimum wage. The state Senate fast-tracked the bill through committees within 36 hours and passed it via a roll call vote on February 25, 2016, with only white state senators voting in favor. The Governor signed the bill 90 minutes after its passage.

On June 2, 2016 the case was reassigned from a Magistrate Judge to Judge R. David Proctor.

On June 30, 2016, the plaintiffs filed an amended complaint that added ten plaintiffs and three defendants. The additional plaintiffs included the Alabama Legislative Black Caucus and its members, including several members of the Alabama House of Representatives and state Senate, as well as registered voters in the City of Birmingham. The additional defendants included the State of Alabama, the City of Birmingham, and the Mayor of Birmingham in his official capacity for the purpose of providing complete relief. The complaint additionally alleged violations of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act; a de jure policy of maintaining white control over black majorities in violation of the Equal Protection Clause, the Privileges and Immunities Clause, the Fifteenth Amendment, and the Thirteenth Amendment; de jure segregation in violation of the Equal Protection Clause; and intentional racial discrimination in violation of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act and the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments.

Judge Proctor denied the defendants’ motion to dismiss without prejudice on July 1, 2016 and the case proceeded over the course of the summer of 2016. On February 1, 2017, Judge Proctor dismissed the case for, among several reasons, failure to sue the correct defendants, failing to state a claim under Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act and failing to plausibly plead an equal protection claim. Judge Proctor determined that the plaintiffs lacked standing to sue the Attorney General and Mayor and City of Birmingham; that the complaint did not implicate the Voting Rights Act; and that the plaintiffs failed to adequately allege an equal protection violation because the amended complaint made conclusory allegations unsupported by specific factual allegations. Judge Proctor also determined the complaint did not implicate the Thirteenth and Fifteenth Amendments, and that the plaintiffs previously conceded their privileges and immunities claim.

On March 2, 2017, the plaintiffs appealed Judge Proctor’s dismissal. On July 25, 2018, the 11th Circuit affirmed the dismissal on all but one count. The court found that the plaintiffs stated a plausible claim that nullification by Governor Bentley of the $10.10 minimum wage requirement had the purpose and effect of discriminating against black citizens of Birmingham. While the court found that plaintiffs had standing to sue the attorney general and the State of Alabama for injuries under the Minimum Wage Act, the court found the City of Birmingham to be an improper defendant.

To analyze the validity of the plaintiff’s intentional discrimination claim, the court looked to the Minimum Wage Act’s impact. Given that the Act affected 10% more black wage workers than white wage workers and the hourly pay disparity between black and white workers, the court found it plausible that the act bore more heavily on black workers. The court cited the fact that the Act denied a significant increase in pay to around 40,000 Birmingham residents, most of whom are black.

The plaintiffs had to show on the face of the complaint that the enactment of the Act had a discriminatory purpose. The court found that plaintiff’s allegations that the Act was introduced by a white representative and was objected to by all black members of the state legislature and that the Act was accelerated without opportunity for public comment or debate were sufficient to withstand a motion to dismiss. Additionally, the court affirmed the importance of considering Alabama’s historic effort to disenfranchise black citizens. When looking to the district court’s dismissal of the complaint, the court of appeals strongly criticized the lower court’s standard of allowing “only the clearest proof” to suffice. The court of appeals asserted that this extraordinary standard has no place in equal protection law given the implicit nature of modern discrimination.

The 11th Circuit granted an en banc rehearing and the case is ongoing as of November 2019.

Dani Bernstein - 01/27/2019
Richa Bijlani - 11/16/2019


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Issues and Causes of Action
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Issues
Constitutional Clause
Equal Protection
Slavery/Involuntary servitude
Defendant-type
Jurisdiction-wide
Discrimination-basis
Race discrimination
General
Disparate Impact
Plaintiff Type
Non-profit NON-religious organization
Non-profit religious organization
Private Plaintiff
Race
Black
Causes of Action 42 U.S.C. § 1983
Declaratory Judgment Act, 28 U.S.C. § 2201
Defendant(s) Attorney General for the State of Alabama
City of Birmingham
Governor of Alabama
Mayor of the City of Birmingham
State of Alabama
Plaintiff Description African-American voters in the City of Birmingham, the Alabama NAACP, the Greater Birmingham Ministries ("GBM"), and the Alabama Legislative Black Caucus ("ALBC").
Indexed Lawyer Organizations NAACP Legal Defense Fund
Class action status sought No
Class action status granted No
Filed Pro Se No
Prevailing Party None Yet / None
Public Int. Lawyer Yes
Nature of Relief None
Source of Relief None
Filing Year 2016
Case Ongoing Yes
Additional Resources
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  See this case at CourtListener.com (May provide additional documents and, for active cases, real-time alerts)
Docket(s)
2:16-cv-690 (N.D. Ala.)
PB-AL-0016-9000.pdf | Detail
Date: 07/13/2017
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
General Documents
Complaint [ECF# 1]
PB-AL-0016-0001.pdf | Detail
Date: 04/28/2016
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Amended Complaint [ECF# 18]
PB-AL-0016-0002.pdf | Detail
Date: 06/30/2016
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Memorandum Opinion [ECF# 52] (N.D. Ala.)
PB-AL-0016-0003.pdf | Detail
Date: 01/31/2017
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Opinion [Ct. of App. ECF# 139] (896 F.3d 1282)
PB-AL-0016-0004.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Date: 07/25/2018
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
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Judges Proctor, R. David (N.D. Ala.) show/hide docs
PB-AL-0016-0003 | PB-AL-0016-9000
Plaintiff's Lawyers Blacksher, James U. (Alabama) show/hide docs
PB-AL-0016-0002 | PB-AL-0016-9000
Carlson, Mary Joyce (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
PB-AL-0016-0001 | PB-AL-0016-0002 | PB-AL-0016-9000
Clemon, U. W. (Alabama) show/hide docs
PB-AL-0016-0002 | PB-AL-0016-9000
Connor, Glen M. (Alabama) show/hide docs
PB-AL-0016-0001 | PB-AL-0016-0002 | PB-AL-0016-9000
Davies, George N. (Alabama) show/hide docs
PB-AL-0016-0001 | PB-AL-0016-0002 | PB-AL-0016-9000
Davis, James William (Alabama) show/hide docs
PB-AL-0016-9000
Rouco, Richard P (Alabama) show/hide docs
PB-AL-0016-0001 | PB-AL-0016-0002 | PB-AL-0016-9000
Still, W Edward (Alabama) show/hide docs
PB-AL-0016-0002 | PB-AL-0016-9000
Stroup, Robert H (New York) show/hide docs
PB-AL-0016-0001 | PB-AL-0016-0002 | PB-AL-0016-9000
Whatley, Joe R. Jr. (Alabama) show/hide docs
PB-AL-0016-0002 | PB-AL-0016-9000
Defendant's Lawyers Byrne, David Bryson Jr. (Alabama) show/hide docs
PB-AL-0016-9000
Fullerton, Frederic L II (Alabama) show/hide docs
PB-AL-0016-9000
Lawrence, Kayla Shardae (Alabama) show/hide docs
PB-AL-0016-9000
Parker, William G. Jr. (Alabama) show/hide docs
PB-AL-0016-9000
Strange, Luther J (Alabama) show/hide docs
PB-AL-0016-9000

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