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PJC Files Three Briefs, On Behalf of an Employee, A Nursing Home Resident, and a Prisoner

The economy may have slowed, but the Public Justice Center's Appellate Advocacy Project has entered 2009 with a blitz of activity: in just over two weeks, Murnaghan Appellate Advocacy Fellow Matt Hill filed three briefs for the PJC in appellate courts on behalf of our nation's most vulnerable and disenfranchised populations.
In Parham v. DLLR, the PJC represents Ms. Parham, who is appealing the denial of her claim for unemployment benefits.  The PJC's brief highlighted procedural advantages that employers have in unemployment benefits cases that particularly affect low-income Marylanders.  The PJC argued that Ms. Parham's employer's hearsay statements, although admissible, were not sufficiently reliable to form the sole basis of the decision to deny benefits, and the denial should be reversed.  Oral argument is scheduled for May 2009.
On January 27, 2009, the PJC filed an amicus curiae brief in Addison v. Lochearn, in the Maryland Court of Appeals.  Ms. Addison was the victim of a "foreclosure rescue scam" by staff in the nursing home where she lives, and other staff had deliberately delayed the submission of her application for Medicaid benefits in order to continue to collect higher rates from her.  The nursing home claimed it cannot be sued because Ms. Addison had signed an arbitration agreement.  On appeal, Ms. Addison argues that the arbitration agreement only covered malpractice claims and that she never expected it to cover the deliberate, fraudulent conduct by nursing home staff outside the realm of professional care services.  The PJC's friend of the court brief, joined by the Maryland Consumer Rights Coalition, the Maryland Employment Lawyers Association, and the National Association of Consumer Advocates, stressed the importance of the rights and interests that consumers and employees lose in arbitration and how these losses weigh heavily on the most economically vulnerable populations in Maryland.  The PJC urged the Court of Appeals to construe ambiguities in the scope of the arbitration agreement against the agreement's drafter, and to hold that Ms. Addison did not consent to arbitrate her claims against the nursing home.
The PJC also represents Mr. Brown before the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit in Brown v. N.C. D.O.C., et al. Mr Brown, a prisoner in North Carolina, filed a pro se [without attorney] complaint against three prison guards alleging that the guards knew that another inmate posed a serious threat to Mr. Brown's safety, and yet the guards knowingly put Mr. Brown in harm's way and did nothing to prevent the ensuing vicious assault.  When Mr. Brown's complaint was dismissed, the PJC appealed, aruging that federal courts have a duty to liberally construe pro se civil rights complaints in order to protect the access to justice of individuals living in poverty, and that Mr. Brown alleged sufficient facts to be entitled to have his case proceed.

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