Dowdell, et al. v. The City of Apopka, Florida et al.

698 F.2d 1181 (1983)
Download Judgment: English
Country: United States
Region: Americas
Year: 1983
Court: United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit
Health Topics: Public safety, Water, sanitation and hygiene
Human Rights: Freedom from discrimination, Right to a clean environment, Right to water and sanitation
Tags: Cleanliness, Potable water, Safe drinking water, Sewage

A group of African-American residents filed a class action lawsuit in Federal District Court against the City of Apopka, Florida (the “City”), which alleged that the City had violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the State and Local Assistance Act of 1972 by providing municipal services in a discriminatory manner in the section of the City populated predominantly by African-Americans.

The Plaintiffs alleged discrimination in the provision of seven municipal services, specifically: the paving and maintenance of streets, storm water drainage facilities, park and recreational facilities, the water distribution system, sewerage facilities, fire protection and street lighting. Pre-trial findings determined the City had in fact provided street lighting and fire protection services on a discriminatory basis and the parties reached an agreement to improve them. The remaining five issues were the subject of the District Court trial.

The District Court found the City had intentionally discriminated against African-American residents in its provision of water distribution, storm drainage and street paving. The District Court also enjoined the City from providing any new municipal services or improvements to the white neighborhoods of the City until the City rectified the inequalities in the services it provided to the black neighborhoods of the City. Further, the District Court impounded the City’s federal revenue sharing funds and required that such funds must be used to pay for capital improvements in the services provided to African-American neighborhoods of the City before any expenditures could be made on the white neighborhoods. Finally, the Plaintiffs were awarded reasonable attorneys’ fees.

The City appealed, claiming (i) the existence of a disparity in the provision of services to the City’s African-American neighborhoods does not, in and of itself, provide sufficient evidence of discriminatory intent to find a violation of the Equal Protection Clause, (ii) the district court abused its discretion when it impounded the City’s funds, and (ii) the District Court abused its discretion by awarding the Plaintiffs their attorneys’ fees. The Plaintiffs cross-appealed, asserting that the district court’s erred in denying certain of the Plaintiffs’ expenses.

The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals rejected all of the City’s arguments. The Court of Appeals found that the Plaintiffs had introduced sufficient evidence regarding the disparity in the provision of the services in question. The Court held that a finding of discriminatory intent does not require proof that racial discrimination is the sole purpose, but rather it is “the cumulative evidence of action and inaction which objectively manifests discriminatory intent.”

To that end, the Court of Appeals found that “the magnitude of the disparity, evidencing a systematic pattern of municipal expenditures in all areas of town except the black community, is explicable only on racial grounds.” For example, a City ordinance prohibited African-Americans from living in any neighborhood north of the railroad tracks until 1968. That geographic isolation, coupled with significant under-representation in administrative and elective positions in the City left the African-American neighborhood south of the railroad tracks subject to habitual and longstanding neglect with regard to the provision of municipal services. Therefore, the Court of Appeals held, the “continued and systematic relative deprivation of the black community was the obviously foreseeable outcome of spending nearly all revenue sharing monies received on the white community in preference to the visibly underserviced black community.”

The Court also found the City’s contention that the District Court abused its discretion by awarding the Plaintiffs their attorneys' fees to be meritless. If the District Court found that the inequalities in municipal services experienced by the African-Americans residents of the City was a violation of the Equal Protection Clause, then it had inherent equitable power to create a remedy commensurate to the violation. The Court also denied the City’s contention that District Court abused its discretion by awarding the Plaintiffs their attorneys' fees even for (i) issues that had been dismissed, (ii) attorneys who performed similar work, and (iii) meetings that were held prior to the formal existence of the attorney-client relationship. The Court held that the award of attorneys’ fees is left to the “sound discretion of the trial judge” which was not abused in this case.

Finally, the Court of Appeals held that the District Court applied the wrong statute in refusing to require the City to reimburse the Plaintiffs for it’s attorneys’ travel, telephone and postage expenses. Accordingly, it reversed that portion of the opinion and remanded the case to the District Court for a factual determination on whether and how much of the requested expense reimbursement is reimbursable in light of the applicable standard.

“The gravamen of Plaintiffs' claim is that Apopka has intentionally maintained a racially and geographically segregated system of municipal services as a result of which the disparities in the provision of street paving, water distribution, and storm drainage facilities have reached constitutional proportions. Discriminatory intent is not synonymous with a racially discriminatory motive.” (Page 3)

“[It does not] require proof that racial discrimination is the sole purpose...behind each failure to equalize these services. It is, rather, the cumulative evidence of action and inaction which objectively manifests discriminatory intent.” (Page 3)

“The continued and systematic relative deprivation of the black community was the obviously foreseeable outcome of spending nearly all revenue sharing monies received on the white community in preference to the visibly underserviced black community.” (Page 4)

 

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