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Appellate Litigation Clinic Scores Two Victories

May 03, 2013

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit recently issued rulings in two cases that upheld arguments made by students and former students from the Appellate Litigation Clinic.

In one case, the court ruled that a woman fired from her job could proceed with an employment discrimination lawsuit she filed, overturning a district court decision.

Barkha Patel and Eileen Somers, both members of the Class of 2013, had argued that the lawsuit should be allowed to proceed because the woman had met a requirement to file the complaint within 90 days of receiving a "right to sue" letter from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

The district court had agreed with the woman's former employer, Starwood Hotels and Resorts Worldwide, which argued that the woman needed to prove that she had not received the "right to sue" letter within three days after the EEOC mailed it.

Patel and Somers argued persuasively in the briefs that the woman had no way of proving when the letter arrived in the post office box where she receives her mail. The students also argued that because the employer raised the issue of timeliness, it bore the burden of proving when the woman had received the "right to sue" letter.

"Barkha and Eileen worked very hard and made convincing arguments in their briefs," said Professor Amy Montemarano, who supervised their work. "The ruling is an important victory, since it affirms that something as simple as mail delivery should not be allowed to put justice out of reach."

In another case, the Third Circuit ruled that a prison inmate who wished to file a formal complaint alleging that he was being denied medical treatment was eligible for a waiver of filing fees ordinarily charged by the court.

That ruling had been sought by Alex Scanlon and Rebecca Trela, who had enrolled in the clinic before they graduated in 2012.

Under federal law, the court will waive docket fees under some circumstances. However, the law contains a "three strikes" provision so that inmates who make three or more complaints that are found to be frivolous or malicious become ineligible for waivers.

Scanlon and Trela - initially asked to raise questions about two strikes against an inmate at a Pennsyvlania's Frackville prison - gained Third Circuit approval to expand the scope of the case and argued that it was doubtful that even the first of the three strikes should apply, since one of the complaints the inmate filed had been dismissed for unclear reasons.

That the Third Circuit agreed to expand the scope of the case and then agree that the rationale for dismissals must be clear in order to count toward the three strikes speaks very highly of Scanlon and Trela's work, Appellate Litigation Clinic Director Richard Frankel said.

Frankel was not alone in his praise.

In the ruling issued on April 25, the Third Circuit attached a footnote expressing gratitude to the students and Frankel for "an excellent presentation of issues."