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Sunday, June 16, 2024 | Back issues
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Court Kills Last Hope|for Homeless Shelter

(CN) - The D.C. Circuit dismissed the third lawsuit from evicted tenants of a closed D.C. homeless shelter, finding their federal discrimination claims foreclosed because they did not raise them in their previous state cases.

Franklin Shelter was an overnight facility for homeless men in downtown Washington D.C. In 2008, the City Council passed the Franklin Shelter Closing Requirements Emergency Act, requiring the mayor to make detailed certifications before closing the place.

But Mayor Adrian Fenty closed the shelter before the Act passed and made none of the certifications.

The evicted residents' belongings were moved to a homeless shelter in southwest D.C. and residents were encouraged to move to shelters outside the rapidly gentrifying Northwest area.

To "mitigate any loss of shelter space," the city created a program to provide long-term housing services to the chronically homeless.

Evicted residents and the Committee to Save Franklin Shelter sued the city in Superior Court for failing to provide notice and an opportunity to be heard before closing the shelter.

During litigation, the plaintiffs sought a stay, claiming that new evidence of race and disability discrimination raised federal causes of action.

But the D.C. Superior Court denied the stay and granted the District's motion for summary judgment. The appellate court affirmed, finding that the anti-discrimination claims "could have been filed in the instant action and [plaintiffs] offer no persuasive reason why they were not."

The plaintiffs sued again, in Federal Court, which dismissed, finding that the Superior Court had ruled on the merits.

On appeal, the D.C. Circuit affirmed, and dismissed for res judicata.

In the request for a stay, "plaintiffs asked the Superior Court to 'stay proceedings on defendant's motion for dismissal or summary judgment ... pending plaintiffs' submission of federal [anti-discrimination] claims' in federal court. In plain English, plaintiffs asked the Superior Court to stay all pending claims, both D.C. and federal. This was not an England reservation," Judge David Tatel wrote the three-judge panel. (Brackets in original.)

Pursuant to the Supreme Court ruling in England v. Louisiana State Board of Medical Examiners, "a party asks the state court to resolve an antecedent state law issue so that it can return to federal court and have its federal claims heard. Here, plaintiffs asked the Superior Court to stay all claims and never signaled a desire to proceed in federal court after the Superior Court ruled on any claim, much less an antecedent question of D.C. law," the judge wrote.

Even though plaintiffs raised new causes of action in their federal case, "res judicata turns on a suit's factual context, 'not the theory on which a plaintiff relies.' Because these claims 'could have been raised' in [plaintiffs' state case], they are precluded."

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