Tuesday, September 26, 2023
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Court Reinstates Latino Lawsuit Against Modesto

(CN) - The 9th Circuit revived parts of a lawsuit accusing Modesto, Calif., of refusing to annex four predominantly Latino neighborhoods, leaving the communities without proper city infrastructure such as sewer and police services.

The neighborhoods of Bret-Harte, Hatch-Midway, Robertson Road and Rouse Colorado lie outside the city's borders, but remain in its "sphere of influence," according to the ruling.

These urban developments were built in the 1940s, before builders were required to include infrastructure such as sewers, street lights, sidewalks curbs and gutters.

By 2000, all four neighborhoods were majority Latino.

Two community organizations, on behalf of the four neighborhoods, filed suit in 2004, claiming the city and Stanislaus County failed to annex the neighborhoods into their municipal systems because the residents are mostly Latino.

The district court dismissed the case in its entirety, saying the county's actions "can be explained by a myriad of community and planning concerns having nothing to do with ethnicity."

The San Francisco-based appellate panel disagreed with several aspects of the lower court's decision.

Though it affirmed dismissal of the plaintiffs' equal protection claims over sewer access and infrastructure, it noted that police officers took a full minute longer to respond to the Latino neighborhoods.

"This court cannot agree that ... a difference of one minute can be characterized as not making a 'meaningful difference' when one is waiting at one's home for law-enforcement or emergency personnel to arrive," Judge Pollak wrote, referring to a defense expert's opinion that the response delay didn't matter.

The court reversed and remanded the issue for a jury to decide.

The three-judge panel also concluded that defendants may have discriminated by excluding the Latino neighborhoods from a master tax-sharing agreement used to outline how the city and county would split taxes from annexed communities.

The neighborhoods claimed that their exclusion "creates a disincentive" for the county to build infrastructure in those neighborhoods, because the county's not sure if the city will annex the neighborhoods and agree to share the taxes in those areas.

A reasonable juror could find that this exclusion "is indeed a barrier to annexation" that other neighborhoods don't face, the court concluded.

And because it overturned parts of the lower court's ruling, the appeals court vacated a more than $36,000 cost award for the defendants.

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