Stopping Wealth-Based Banishment

In September of 2016, the City of McCrory Arkansas passed a Trailer-Banishment Ordinance, forbidding anyone within the city limits from residing in a mobile home or trailer worth less than $7,500. Those whose homes do not qualify must either move outside McCrory or pay fines of up to $500 per day.

Engaged couple David Waltington and Lindsey Hollaway (Equal Justice Under Law’s clients) live in McCrory. They want to begin their marriage in McCrory to be near their families and close to Lindsey’s work at the local labeling and packaging plant. Even though they live below the federal poverty line, Lindsey and David pay rent on their land and have managed to keep the trailer up to all health and safety codes. However, because they live in a trailer that is worth approximately $1,500, McCrory Police Chief, Defendant Paul Hatch, has ordered the couple to leave the county.

David and Lindsey’s only “crime” is being too poor to afford a more expensive home. McCrory’s attempt to banish its most impoverished residents is unconscionable discrimination. David and Lindsey own their own trailer, pay rent on their property, and are being forced out of their home simply because McCrory considers them undesirable. McCrory should invest in its residents rather than criminalizing poverty.

There has never been a more important moment in American history to fight against the criminalization of poverty. In a free society, there should be no place for any kind of wealth-based banishment.

Along with Little Rock law firm McMath Woods P.A., Equal Justice Under Law filed a first in its kind federal lawsuit challenging McCrory’s policy as unconstitutional. Our complaint sought an injunction from a federal court to prevent the City and the McCrory Police Chief from enforcing the ordinance. Our Class Action Complaint and TRO brief argue that the Trailer-Banishment Ordinance is unconstitutional on five grounds: (1) it violates substantive due process by infringing on residents’ fundamental right not to be forcibly expelled from their place of residence; (2) it discriminates on the basis of wealth status without any rational connection to a legitimate government interest in violation of the Equal Protection Clause; (3) it criminalizes poverty and thus violates the Constitution’s proscription against criminalization of status; (4) it violates the Eighth Amendments excessive fines clause because any fine simply for being poor is excessive; and (5) it ignores procedural due process by imposing punishment without any process whatsoever.

Because of the lawsuit, McCrory repealed its Trailer-Banishment Ordinance and ended this discriminatory practice.

On November 28, 2017, Equal Justice Under Law finalized a settlement in the case. As part of the agreement, the City obtained a court order eliminating all of the fines the City had assessed against Mr. Watlington and has agreed to provide the plaintiffs with an additional monetary payment. In return, David and Lindsey will dismiss their lawsuit.

We will continue to fight hard to eliminate wealth-based discrimination and ensure that no city is allowed to banish people for being poor.

To learn more, you can read our Complaint, our TRO brief, our Amended Complaint, and follow us to hear updates.

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