• CIVIL RIGHTS

“The very essence

of civil liberty

certainly consists in the right

of every individual to claim

the protection of the laws whenever

he receives an injury.

One of the first duties of government

is to afford that protection.”

– Chief Justice John Marshall

CIVIL RIGHTS

The Steve Harvey Law firm represents clients in matters involving constitutional law violations, civil rights law violations, and statutory and regulatory disputes with local, state, and federal governments. Steve Harvey began his career as a trial attorney in the Federal Programs Branch of the Civil Division of the U.S. Department of Justice in Washington, D.C. He entered the DOJ through its prestigious Honors Program. He defended the federal government in lawsuits alleging that the government violated federal law, including the Constitution. As a DOJ lawyer, he represented federal agencies and officers in federal court litigation, including the Executive Office of the President, Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC), Department of Agriculture, Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), and Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).

After leaving the DOJ to become a private practice civil rights lawyer, Steve continued to litigate the limits of government’s authority, but now as a lawyer for the plaintiffs in civil rights cases against federal, state, and local governments. Steve has successfully handled numerous civil rights cases involving political asylum, prison inmates, religious liberty, the right to vote, and discrimination based on sexual orientation. He had an important role as one of the major players in a significant 2005 religious liberty victory, Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District, 400 F. Supp. 2d 707 (M.D. Pa. 2005), the landmark case that held that it is unconstitutionality to teach “intelligent design” in public school science class. More recently, in 2013 Steve scored a major victory on behalf of the family of then ten-year-old Sarah Murnaghan against Secretary of HHS Kathleen Sebelius that required Sarah to be treated fairly in the national organ allocation system.

Steve Harvey Law advises and represents clients, including citizens who have been injured or aggrieved by government action, as well as government officials and bodies in matters involving constitutional and statutory claims at both the federal and state level.

There are a few main types of civil rights actions and government claims. The first type is a claim against persons acting under color of state in accordance with 42 U.S.C. § 1983, the federal civil rights statute. A similar theory of recovery is available against federal officials who violate federal rights under a Supreme Court case called Bivens v. Six Unknown Named Agents, 403 U.S. 388 (1971). This type of civil rights claim permits recovery by a plaintiff of money damages against officials who violate that plaintiff’s rights under federal law, including rights protected under the U.S. Constitution, such as the First Amendment, which prohibits law respecting an establishment of religion, impeding the free exercise of religion, abridging the freedom of speech, infringing on the freedom of the press, interfering with the right to peaceably assemble, or prohibiting the petitioning for a governmental redress of grievances; the Fourth Amendment, which prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures; the Fifth Amendment, which protect the right to due process, both procedural due process and substantive due process; the Eighth Amendment, which prohibits excessive fines and excessive bail, as well as cruel and unusual punishment; and the Fourteenth Amendment, which also protects the right to due process and equal protection under the law. We pride ourselves on our government civil rights claims practice.

Section 1983 permits recovery of damages against municipalities under limited circumstances. Section 1983 claims have been a powerful tool in the fight for civil rights, but their use has been hampered by a series of rulings from the U.S. Supreme Court over the years, and there are many limits on them that need to be considered carefully in any given case. For example, there is a doctrine of qualified immunity that protects state actors from liability for the violation of an individual’s federal constitutional rights where the actions, even if later found to be unlawful, did not violate “clearly established law.” Likewise, under Monell v. Department of Social Services, 436 U.S. 658 (1978), local government can only be liable in damages when its official policy or custom was responsible for the plaintiff’s constitutional deprivation. Unlike private employers, local government cannot be liable for the actions of its employees under the doctrine of respondeat superior. For section 1983 claims, however, there is an attorneys fee mechanism under 42 U.S.C. § 1988.

The second type of action we bring is a claim against the federal government under the Administrative Procedures Act, 5 U.S.C. § 702, for an injunction to set aside or declare null and void government action that exceeds government authority, violates civil rights, or represents an arbitrary and capricious abuse of authority. There is an attorneys fee mechanism under federal law for this type of case too, under the Equal Access to Justice Act, 28 U.S.C. §2412(d)(1)(A).

Another type of action we can bring against the federal government is government contract claims, defined as a claim for money damages based on a contract or an unlawful taking of property through the Tucker Act, 28 U.S.C. § 1491, which permits such claims seeking over $10,000 to be brought in the United States Court of Federal Claims. People suing under this statute usually are seeking government compensation for some alleged government action or inaction based on a federal contract or 5th Amendment takings claim.

We often partner with civil rights organizations, like the Americans Civil Liberties Union, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, and other leaders. We are interested in many different types of government claims and civil rights involving the federal civil rights laws, environmental justice, climate change, internet freedom, and religious liberty, and we are open to considering a range of different matters. For some government claims and civil rights matters we will rely on the statutory fee mechanisms for payment, but we also work on an hourly rate and contingent fee basis.

NOTEABLE ENGAGEMENTS

  • Represented a disabled and formerly homeless woman who was mistakenly declared dead after a body found on the street was identified as her and as a result her social security benefits including healthcare were terminated, and in April 2014 convinced the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas, Orphans Court Division, to rescind the death certificate so that she could obtain federal benefits to which she is legally entitled. See Lawyers Convince Court Client Never Died.
  • Submitted an amicus brief to the U.S. Supreme Court on behalf of the National Conference for Community and Justice in Town of Greece v. Galloway (September 2013).
  • Served as lead counsel for Sarah Murnaghan and Javier Acosta in two actions brought in federal court to require the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to cease application of a policy that effectively prevented these children from receiving donated lungs needed to save their lives (June 2013).
  • Filed a petition to intervene in the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court in a lawsuit seeking to require the Pennsylvania Secretary of State and Commissioner of Elections, Commissions, and Legislation to enforce a rule prohibiting voters from entering the voting booth wearing buttons or other materials considered to be “passive electioneering” on the grounds that it infringed the right to vote. See Kraft v. Harhut, No 451 MD 2008 (reported at http://www.aclupa.org/our-work/legal/legaldocket/kraft-v-harhut/).
  • Served as co-lead counsel for the plaintiffs in Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District, 400 F. Supp. 2d 707 (M.D. Pa. 2005), the landmark case testing the constitutionality of teaching “intelligent design” in public school science class.
  • Obtained a jury verdict in a federal court civil rights action for a state court prisoner mauled by a dog while handcuffed.
  • Challenged a school district policy that discriminated against employees based on their sexual orientation and as a result the school district entered into a consent decree changing the policy. See Weissmann v. State College Area School District, No. 11-cv-00940-JEJ (M.D. Pa. 2011).
  • Represented the estate of a state court prisoner who died in prison as a result of deliberate indifference to a medical condition.
  • Litigated the constitutionality of the Prison Litigation Reform Act of 1995 in trial court and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. See Collins v. Montgomery County Board of Prison Inspectors, 176 F.3d 679 (3d Cir. 1999).
  • Obtained political asylum for an academic who was subjected to serious physical attacks in his home country based on his religious identity and practices.
  • Represented a 10-year-old boy from Ghana who sought protection under federal immigration laws after appearing unsupervised and alone in JFK Airport. See Yeboah v. Immigration and Naturalization Services, No. 01-CV-3337, 2001 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 17360 (E.D. Pa. Oct. 26, 2001), aff’d, 345 F.3d 216 (3d Cir. 2003).
  • Defended the U.S. Department of Agriculture in a lawsuit challenging regulations and enforcement program directed at the egg industry. See Rose Acre Farms, Inc. v. Madigan, No. 90-cv175 (S.D. Ind.), 1991 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 8691 (S.D. Ind. June 5, 1991), rev’d, 956 F.2d 670, 675-77 (7th Cir.1992).
  • Defended the Secretary of Health and Human Services in action challenging regulations of the Medicare reimbursement system. See Universal Health Services of McCallen, Inc. v. Sullivan, 770 F. Supp. 704, 710 (D. D.C. 1991).
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