Legal Victory Won!
A Statement from Ishmael Muhammad,
Counsel in Sylvester v. Boissiere,
Staff Attorney,Advancement Project and
Appearing on behalf of the Grassroots Legal Network
This is a clear-cut victory for the people in a long-standing
battle waged by the most victimized population of the Katrina
disaster against government entities and landlords around the
right of the people to return home.
Victory has come.
Who sued who
Loyola Law Clinic, Advancement Project, as part of the
Grassroots Legal Network and in partnership with the People’s
Advocacy Center, and New Orleans Legal Assistance (NOLAC) brought
suit against the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and its
component Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), Orleans
Parish, and Jefferson Parish on behalf of the People’s Hurricane
Relief Fund, UNITE-HERE Local 50-2, SEIU Local 21, ACORN New
Orleans, and individual tenants being victimized by landlords
What the suit is about
Plaintiffs focused their attack on the shabby procedure used by
landlords to notify displaced renters of eviction proceedings—by
“tacking” or posting up a sheet of paper on the door of displaced
person’s home. Plaintiffs declared that this notification
procedure by “tacking” was not reasonably calculated to actually
reach displaced tenants. Plaintiffs declared that this procedure
denied them their basic constitutional right to due process and
their human right to be able to return to their home.
The facts—what displaced people on the ground are actually
Our lead plaintiff, Janeice Lisa Sylvester, an Orleans Parish
resident, is a displaced tenant who got “tacked.” After Hurricane
Katrina, Ms. Sylvester was evacuated to LaPlace, Louisiana, but
came home to New Orleans on November 4, 2005 to check on her
apartment. To her dismay and shock, she found all of her stuff out
on the street and a notice for an eviction hearing set for
November 3, 2005—the day before she was able to return to New
Orleans!—tacked to her door. The worst part of it for Ms.
Sylvester was that she had made an effort to tell her landlord
where she had been evacuated to, but her landlord did not make any
effort to contact her personally—even though her landlord knew
where she was!—before going to court and evicting her.
What we won
Because of the immense pressure that has been placed on the
government and the landlords by the people, Plaintiffs were able
to achieve the following result from this lawsuit:
1. All evictions in Orleans and Jefferson Parishes are
immediately stayed—meaning, all eviction proceedings in Orleans
and Jefferson Parishes stop immediately against residents who are
not in the area and whose whereabouts are unknown to landlords.
2. Under the judge’s order, FEMA is required, upon request, to
provide to the Orleans and Jefferson Parishes, current contact
information for the tenants who landlords are seeking to evict.
Upon this contact information being provided by FEMA, the Parishes
have to provide written notice of eviction to the tenants at the
tenants’ most current addresses. Tenants then have at least 45
days from the date of the mailing of the notice respond to the
What this victory means
This victory means that displaced people have an almost
two-month reprieve from having to face loss of their personal
property and their homes.
This victory also means that for the first time FEMA has
finally agreed to provide information to protect survivors. This
But overall, this case is just another step that the Grassroots
Legal Network has taken to bring recognition that people who have
suffered the worst impact by the natural and government disaster
of Hurricane Katrina have a right to return to their homes.
Winning this stop to evictions for almost two months provides
the opportunity for legal advocates and grassroots people to file
additional lawsuits for wrongful evictions that deny people their
right to return.
Finally, this victory also provides an opportunity for
political and social rights activists to organize with grassroots
people to assert pressure on those in power to respect their
Thanks go out to:
* All the members of the legal team: Judith Browne, Bill
Quigley, Judson Mitchell, Miles Granderson, Carol Sobel, Marc
* The People’s Hurricane Relief Fund and their volunteers.
* From the Lake to the River Coalition for their help in
investigating this claim.
And the greatest thanks goes to the people for raising their
voices and being heard.
THE GRASSROOTS LEGAL NETWORK
For more information, please contact:
Judith Browne at firstname.lastname@example.org
Ishmael Muhammad at email@example.com
Bill Quigley at firstname.lastname@example.org