Case: Easley v. Howell

6:21-cv-06125 | U.S. District Court for the Western District of Arkansas

Filed Date: Sept. 2, 2021

Case Ongoing

Clearinghouse coding complete

Case Summary

Arkansas was the only state in the country that provided landlords the option of a criminal eviction process when tenants failed to pay rent on time. Criminal charges could be brought against a tenant if three elements were met: (1) a landlord alleged that a tenant was behind on rent, regardless of the truth of the allegation and even if the tenant was only one day late; (2) the landlord notified the tenant in writing that they must leave their home because they were behind on rent; and (3) the…

Arkansas was the only state in the country that provided landlords the option of a criminal eviction process when tenants failed to pay rent on time. Criminal charges could be brought against a tenant if three elements were met: (1) a landlord alleged that a tenant was behind on rent, regardless of the truth of the allegation and even if the tenant was only one day late; (2) the landlord notified the tenant in writing that they must leave their home because they were behind on rent; and (3) the tenant "willfully and unnecessarily" remained in the home more than ten days after receiving the written notice.

On September 2, 2021, the plaintiffs in this putative class action lawsuit filed a complaint in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Arkansas against the Prosecuting Attorney for Malvern/Hot Spring County and the Sheriff of Hot Spring County, challenging the constitutionality of the state's criminal eviction statute. The plaintiffs sought class action certification for all people in the state of Arkansas who are or will be unable to afford rent and who are being or will be at risk of prosecution under Ark. Code § 18-16- 101. The named plaintiffs in this case were served with a failure to vacate eviction notice because they cannot afford to pay rent. 

The named plaintiffs, both of whom were disabled, received Social Security disability payments as their only source of income. These payments amounted to less than $1,200 per month between the two of the named plaintiffs. Additionally, due to their landlord's failure to make necessary repairs, the named plaintiffs had not had running water since August 2020. The named plaintiffs could not afford to pay rent plus the new expenses acquired to compensate for their lack of running water.

Represented by attorneys from Equal Justice Under Law and the University of Arkansas at Little Rock Bowen Legal Clinic, the named plaintiffs, on behalf of themselves and others similarly situated, alleged that Arkansas's law violated their Eighth and Fourteenth Amendment constitutional rights. Specifically, the plaintiffs argued that the defendants criminalized the plaintiffs' conduct based on their indigence in violation of the Eighth Amendment's prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment because the criminal eviction statute allows for excessive fines for each day past the ten days after receiving written notice from the landlord. The complaint alleged that such fines were grossly disproportionate to the underlying behavior of failing to pay rent, even when that failure was non-willful, and were imposed without an ability to pay determination.

The plaintiffs also alleged that the state law violated procedural due process rights because a criminal action could be brought solely on the basis of the landlord's statement and because the law did not provide a cap on the number of criminal charges or excessive fines that might be imposed. Further, the plaintiffs argued that the law violated their due process and equal protection rights by failing to require consideration of the plaintiffs' ability to pay and because the law lacked a willfulness requirement.

In their complaint, the plaintiffs sought a declaratory judgment, a judgment preliminarily and permanently enjoining the defendants from enforcing the state law, and attorneys' costs and fees.

The Sheriff of Hot Spring County moved to dismiss this case on November 8, 2021. In his motion, the defendant Sheriff stated that the Arkansas State Supreme Court had previously upheld the state law. Additionally, the defendant Sheriff claimed that the plaintiffs failed to meet the burden required for a facial constitutional challenge.

The Prosecuting Attorney named as a defendant in this case also filed a motion to dismiss on November 10, 2021. In the motion to dismiss, the defendant alleged both that the case was moot and that the defendant was entitled to Eleventh Amendment immunity and sovereign immunity.

As of January 26, 2022, the case is ongoing with a trial date set for January 30, 2023.

Summary Authors

deleted-Bijlani (1/26/2022)

People

For PACER's information on parties and their attorneys, see: https://www.courtlistener.com/docket/60335266/parties/easley-v-howell/


Judge(s)

Hickey, Susan Owens (Alaska)

Attorneys(s) for Plaintiff

Baker, Natasha (District of Columbia)

Pritchard, Amy Marie (Alaska)

Telfeyan, Phil (District of Columbia)

Judge(s)

Hickey, Susan Owens (Alaska)

Attorneys(s) for Plaintiff

Baker, Natasha (District of Columbia)

Pritchard, Amy Marie (Alaska)

Telfeyan, Phil (District of Columbia)

Documents in the Clearinghouse

Document

Docket [PACER]

Sept. 17, 2021 Docket
2

Complaint

Sept. 2, 2021 Complaint
13

Motion to Dismiss for Failure to State a Claim

Nov. 8, 2021 Pleading / Motion / Brief
15

Defendant Howell's Motion to Dismiss

Nov. 10, 2021 Pleading / Motion / Brief

Resources

Title Description External URL

Cynthia and Terry Easley v. Hot Spring County

Equal Justice Under Law

Arkansas is the only state that criminalizes failure to pay rent. Our lawsuit aims to end this draconian law (known as the failure to vacate statute, or Ark. Code §18-16-101), claiming the scales of … Sept. 2, 2021 https://equaljusticeunderlaw.org/easley-v-hot-spring-county

Docket

See docket on RECAP: https://www.courtlistener.com/docket/60335266/easley-v-howell/

Last updated May 12, 2022, 8 p.m.

ECF Number Description Date Link
1

CIVIL COVER SHEET for case initiated by Cynthia Easley, Terry Easley. Please proceed with filing your case initiating document(s).If the case initiating documents are not filed by Close of Business the next business day your case may be terminated. (mjm) (Entered: 09/02/2021)

Sept. 2, 2021 PACER
2

COMPLAINT with Jury Demand against Mike Cash, Teresa Howell ( Filing fee $ 402.00 receipt number AARWDC-2453175), filed by Cynthia Easley, Terry Easley. (Attachments: # 1 Exhibit 1: Cynthia Easley Declaration, # 2 Exhibit 2: Failure to Vacate Notice)(mjm) (Entered: 09/02/2021)

1 Exhibit 1: Cynthia Easley Declaration

View on PACER

2 Exhibit 2: Failure to Vacate Notice

View on PACER

Sept. 2, 2021 Clearinghouse
3

Magistrate Notice/Consent Form. (mjm) (Entered: 09/02/2021)

Sept. 2, 2021 PACER

TEXT ONLY CLERK'S NOTICE re Multiple Attorneys Listed on Complaint 2 lists multiple attorneys appearing for the filer. The following attorneys, who did not sign the pleading, must enter a separate Notice of Appearance in order to receive electronic notification of future activity in the case: Phil Telfeyan, Natasha Baker. (mll)

Sept. 3, 2021 PACER
4

NOTICE of Appearance by Phil Telfeyan on behalf of All Plaintiffs. (Telfeyan, Phil) (Entered: 09/03/2021)

Sept. 3, 2021 PACER

Clerk's Notice re Multiple Attorneys Listed on Pleading

Sept. 3, 2021 PACER
5

MOTION for Attorney Natasha Baker to Appear Pro Hac Vice (PHV Application fee paid $ 100; receipt number AARWDC-2454643) by Cynthia Easley, Terry Easley. (Baker, Natasha) (Entered: 09/07/2021)

Sept. 7, 2021 PACER
6

THE DOCUMENT IS RESTRICTED TO COURT USERS. Summons Requested as to Teresa Howell for service of the following document: 2 Complaint,. (Baker, Natasha) (Entered: 09/07/2021)

Sept. 7, 2021 PACER
7

THE DOCUMENT IS RESTRICTED TO COURT USERS. Summons Requested as to Mike Cash for service of the following document: 2 Complaint,. (Baker, Natasha) (Entered: 09/07/2021)

Sept. 7, 2021 PACER
8

THE DOCUMENT IS RESTRICTED TO COURT USERS AND CASE PARTICIPANTS. Summons Issued as to Mike Cash, Teresa Howell and returned to attorney or plaintiff for service. YOU MUST PRINT THIS ISSUED SUMMONS, WHICH IS THE MAIN DOCUMENT. PAPER COPIES WILL NOT BE MAILED. (jlm) (Entered: 09/08/2021)

Sept. 8, 2021 PACER
9

TEXT ONLY ORDER granting 5 Motion to Appear Pro Hac Vice. Natasha Baker appearing for all Plaintiffs. Signed by Honorable Susan O. Hickey on September 17, 2021. (cha) (Entered: 09/17/2021)

Sept. 17, 2021 PACER

Order on Motion to Appear Pro Hac Vice

Sept. 17, 2021 PACER
10

NOTICE by Cynthia Easley, Terry Easley of Constitutional Challenge of Statute (Baker, Natasha) (Entered: 10/21/2021)

Oct. 21, 2021 PACER
11

AFFIDAVIT of Service for Summons and Complaint, filed by All Plaintiffs. Mike Cash served on 10/19/2021, answer due 11/9/2021. (Baker, Natasha) (Entered: 11/01/2021)

Nov. 1, 2021 PACER
12

AFFIDAVIT of Service for Summons and Complaint, filed by All Plaintiffs. Teresa Howell served on 10/21/2021, answer due 11/12/2021. (Pritchard, Amy) (Entered: 11/08/2021)

Nov. 8, 2021 PACER
13

MOTION to Dismiss for Failure to State a Claim by Mike Cash. (Attachments: # 1 Exhibit Brief In Support, # 2 Exhibit 1, # 3 Exhibit 2, # 4 Exhibit 3, # 5 Exhibit 4, # 6 Exhibit 5, # 7 Exhibit 6, # 8 Exhibit 7, # 9 Exhibit 8, # 10 Exhibit 9)(Hopkins, George) (Entered: 11/08/2021)

Nov. 8, 2021 Clearinghouse
14

NOTICE of Appearance by Vincent Perry France on behalf of Teresa Howell. (France, Vincent) (Entered: 11/10/2021)

Nov. 10, 2021 PACER
15

MOTION to Dismiss for Lack of Jurisdiction by Teresa Howell. (Attachments: # 1 Exhibit Teresa Howell Affidavit, # 2 Exhibit State Docket Reports)(France, Vincent) (Entered: 11/10/2021)

Nov. 10, 2021 Clearinghouse
16

MEMORANDUM BRIEF in Support of 15 MOTION to Dismiss for Lack of Jurisdiction by Teresa Howell. (France, Vincent) (Entered: 11/10/2021)

Nov. 10, 2021 PACER
17

Unopposed MOTION for Extension of Time to File Response/Reply as to 13 MOTION to Dismiss for Failure to State a Claim, 15 MOTION to Dismiss for Lack of Jurisdiction by Cynthia Easley, Terry Easley. (Baker, Natasha) (Entered: 11/15/2021)

Nov. 15, 2021 PACER
18

ORDER granting 17 Motion for Extension of Time to File Response/Reply to 11/29/2021. Signed by Honorable Susan O. Hickey on November 19, 2021. (mjm) (Entered: 11/19/2021)

Nov. 19, 2021 PACER
19

RESPONSE IN OPPOSITION TO Motion re 13 MOTION to Dismiss for Failure to State a Claim, 15 MOTION to Dismiss for Lack of Jurisdiction filed by Cynthia Easley, Terry Easley. (Attachments: # 1 Exhibit Pritchard Decl., # 2 Exhibit Sample Arrest Warrant)(Baker, Natasha) (Entered: 11/29/2021)

Nov. 29, 2021 PACER
20

REPLY to Response to Motion re 15 MOTION to Dismiss for Lack of Jurisdiction filed by Teresa Howell. (France, Vincent) (Entered: 12/03/2021)

Dec. 3, 2021 PACER
21

NOTICE of Appearance by Joseph Wayne Price, II on behalf of Mike Cash. (Price, Joseph) (Entered: 12/06/2021)

Dec. 6, 2021 PACER
22

NOTICE of Appearance by Sarah Katherine Calvert on behalf of Mike Cash. (Calvert, Sarah) (Entered: 12/06/2021)

Dec. 6, 2021 PACER
23

Unopposed MOTION for Extension of Time to File Response/Reply as to 19 Response to Motion, by Mike Cash. (Calvert, Sarah) (Entered: 12/06/2021)

Dec. 6, 2021 PACER
24

TEXT ONLY ORDER granting 23 Motion for Extension of Time to File Response/Reply to December 10, 2021. Signed by Honorable Susan O. Hickey on December 8, 2021. (cha) (Entered: 12/08/2021)

Dec. 8, 2021 PACER

Order on Motion for Extension of Time to File Response/Reply

Dec. 8, 2021 PACER
25

REPLY to Response to Motion re 13 MOTION to Dismiss for Failure to State a Claim filed by Mike Cash. (Attachments: # 1 Exhibit 10, # 2 Exhibit 11)(Price, Joseph) (Entered: 12/10/2021)

Dec. 10, 2021 PACER
26

INITIAL SCHEDULING ORDER: Rule 26(f) Conference to be conducted on or before 1/11/2022. JOINT Rule 26(f) Meeting Report due by 1/18/2022. Jury Trial set for the week of 1/30/2023 @ 09:00 AM in Hot Springs -- 3rd flr (Rm 360) before Honorable Susan O. Hickey. Signed by Honorable Susan O. Hickey on December 14, 2021. (rwg) (Entered: 12/14/2021)

Dec. 14, 2021 PACER
27

MOTION to Stay Filed Jointly by Defendants by Teresa Howell. (France, Vincent) (Entered: 01/10/2022)

Jan. 10, 2022 PACER
28

MEMORANDUM BRIEF in Support of 27 MOTION to Stay Filed Jointly by Defendants by Teresa Howell. (France, Vincent) (Entered: 01/10/2022)

Jan. 10, 2022 RECAP
29

JOINT REPORT of Rule 26(f) Planning Meeting by Cynthia Easley, Terry Easley. (Telfeyan, Phil) (Entered: 01/18/2022)

Jan. 18, 2022 PACER
30

ORDER; re: Response to 27 MOTION to Stay Filed Jointly by Defendants filed by Teresa Howell. Response to Motion due by no later than 10:00 a.m. Central Standard Time 1/21/2022. Signed by Honorable Susan O. Hickey on January 19, 2022. (lw) (Entered: 01/20/2022)

Jan. 20, 2022 PACER
31

RESPONSE IN OPPOSITION TO Motion re 27 MOTION to Stay Filed Jointly by Defendants filed by Cynthia Easley, Terry Easley. (Telfeyan, Phil) (Entered: 01/20/2022)

Jan. 20, 2022 PACER
32

ORDER denying 27 Motion to Stay. Signed by Honorable Susan O. Hickey on January 21, 2022. (cnn) (Entered: 01/21/2022)

Jan. 21, 2022 RECAP
32

ORDER denying 27 Motion to Stay. Signed by Honorable Susan O. Hickey on January 21, 2022. (cnn) (Entered: 01/21/2022)

Jan. 21, 2022 RECAP
33

Final Scheduling Order

Feb. 17, 2022 PACER
34

Certify Class

March 31, 2022 PACER
35

Extension of Time to File Response/Reply

April 8, 2022 PACER

Order on Motion for Extension of Time to File Response/Reply

April 11, 2022 PACER
37

Response to Motion

April 28, 2022 PACER
38

Response to Motion

April 28, 2022 PACER
39

Leave

May 6, 2022 PACER
40

Leave

May 6, 2022 PACER

Order on Motion for Leave

May 9, 2022 PACER
43

Reply to Response to Motion

May 9, 2022 PACER
44

Reply to Response to Motion

May 9, 2022 PACER

State / Territory: Arkansas

Case Type(s):

Criminal Justice (Other)

Key Dates

Filing Date: Sept. 2, 2021

Case Ongoing: Yes

Plaintiffs

Plaintiff Description:

All people in the state of Arkansas who are or will be unable to afford rent and who are being or will be at risk of prosecution under Ark. Code § 18-16- 101.

Plaintiff Type(s):

Private Plaintiff

Attorney Organizations:

Equal Justice Under Law

Public Interest Lawyer: Yes

Filed Pro Se: No

Class Action Sought: Yes

Class Action Outcome: Pending

Defendants

Hot Spring County Sheriff (Hot Spring), County

Malvern/Hot Spring County Prosecuting Attorney (Malvern, Hot Spring), County

Hot Spring County (Malvern, Hot Spring), County

Defendant Type(s):

Law-enforcement

Case Details

Causes of Action:

42 U.S.C. § 1983

Constitutional Clause(s):

Cruel and Unusual Punishment

Equal Protection

Due Process

Excessive bail/fines

Due Process: Procedural Due Process

Availably Documents:

Trial Court Docket

Complaint (any)

Outcome

Prevailing Party: None Yet / None

Nature of Relief:

None yet

Source of Relief:

None yet

Issues

General:

Poverty/homelessness