Legal Aid Files Class Action Lawsuit Against Minneapolis Landlord

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Following the Minnesota Attorney General’s announcement of the State’s civil suit in Hennepin County District Court this month, Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid (MMLA) has filed a class action lawsuit on behalf of the current tenants of Steven Meldahl. As with the AG’s suit, MMLA alleges that Meldahl, landlord of twenty five properties in North Minneapolis, charges excessive rents and late fees beyond the statutory cap, aggressively files evictions on tenants that get behind in rent, fails to make repairs to his properties, coerces tenants to repair his properties and retaliates or evicts tenants that call city housing inspectors.


Speaking with Insight News, Mark Iris, staff attorney with Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid, said “Meldahl has been profiting off the backs of low-income tenants in North Minneapolis. These are people that already have few options and even fewer resources to assert their rights to safe and healthy housing. Our lawsuit is merely an attempt to restore Meldahl's tenants with the fundamental housing rights that all other tenants in Minnesota are afforded: raising children in a home without exposure to mold or lead, being able to call on maintenance to have working appliances, paying a consistent and predictable monthly rent. We are optimistic that both lawsuits will have a direct impact on improving the housing conditions of Meldahl's tenants and indirectly benefit tenants across the state.” Read more in the Star Tribune.

Minnesotans With Disabilities Obtain Significant Legal Victory in Federal Class Action Lawsuit

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Minnesotans with disabilities obtained a significant legal victory on September 27, 2019, when a U.S. Federal District Court declared that the policies and practices of the Minnesota Department of Human Services (DHS) are violating their constitutionally protected due process rights. The ruling from the Court came in the lawsuit of Murphy v. Harpstead, which was filed by a group of individuals with disabilities who live in group homes, called corporate foster care, and who seek changes to Minnesota’s Medicaid service system so that they may live more independent and integrated lives in the community. In granting Plaintiffs’ Motion for Summary Judgment, U.S. Senior District Court Judge Donovan Frank determined that DHS is violating the due process guarantees of the Fourteenth Amendment and the Medicaid Act by failing to inform persons with disabilities that they are being denied a service to help them move to and live in the community. As the Court noted, DHS’s current policies and practices unlawfully force individuals to “wait indefinitely for requested services, never receiving an explanation on the status of the request, and without an opportunity to appeal” those service denials.

Judge Frank also denied DHS’s attempt to have the rest of the case dismissed, determining that Plaintiffs’ legal claims under the Americans with Disabilities Act and Medicaid Act will be allowed to proceed to trial. In denying DHS’ Motion for Summary Judgment, Judge Frank determined that “a systemwide remedy is the only way to provide relief” to improve the lives of people who seek to move out of group homes but are unable to do so under Minnesota’s current system. MMLA’s Litigation Director Justin Perl, lead counsel for the Plaintiffs, stated, “Actions speak louder than words. For decades, DHS has made promises to our clients to provide services in the most integrated setting, and yet it has failed to honor that legal obligation, even though it is responsible for running the very program at issue in the suit. The current system is chock full of problems, and we are prepared to take the case to trial to protect the rights of the class members who have waited too long for DHS to do its job. We believe this case will improve the lives of all individuals living in group homes, by informing them of their housing options and supporting people with disabilities in an integrated setting in the community, just like people without disabilities. We need a consistent statewide system, as Judge Frank recognized, not one that is often dependent on the county in which one lives. It is time for DHS to stop shirking its responsibility to some of the most vulnerable members of our society. If it chooses not to do so, we are prepared to take the matter to trial in order to protect the rights of our clients.”

Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid’s Disability Law Center is representing the Plaintiffs in the lawsuit with co-counsel Anthony Ostlund Baer & Louwagie P.A and Nichols Kaster PLLP.

Pro Bono Attorney Got Her Start at Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid

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Now an employment law associate at Best & Flanagan, LLP, Ashleigh Leitch credits her early experiences with Legal Aid in Willmar and the Minnesota Disability Law Center (MDLC) as crucial to her awareness of disparity and her commitment to justice.

Her inspiring story and subsequent work are featured in this month’s Attorney at Law Magazine Minnesota. In Getting It Done For Legal Aid, by Leykn Schmatz, Leitch recalls the guidance she received from deputy director Ann Cofell and how her work with clients changed her mind and heart. “Working at Legal Aid in my hometown helped me to recognize my privilege,” says Leitch.

Today Leitch is more committed than ever in supporting the mission of Legal Aid. After several years as a firm captain in The Fund for Legal Aid’s Associates’ Campaign, she joined the co-chair team last year. “The private bar needs to pick up as much funding and pro bono work as we can. We all took the same oath, we’re in it together, and we need to do our part to support Legal Aid. It’s our obligation.” Read the full article.

SMRLS' CEO Explains Why LawHelpMN is a Boon for the Legal Aid Community

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The September edition of the Ramsey County Bar Association’s (RCBA) Barrister Newsletter includes a feature by Jessie Nicholson, chief executive officer of Southern Minnesota Regional Legal Services, in which she writes about the importance of LawHelpMN.org as a singular and comprehensive resource for civil legal issues in Minnesota.

In her article, A Boon for the Legal Aid Community: The New LawHelpMN.org (page 4), Nicholson focuses on the site’s primary functions, and notably, its newest tool, the LawHelpMN Guide. Created to give users a custom experience, the Guide matches them with the most relevant legal information and referrals based on their specific question, circumstances, and location.

“The staff here at Southern Minnesota Regional Legal Services (SMRLS) have enthusiastically embraced the new LawHelpMN and are involved firsthand in making sure information about our services at SMRLS is up-to-date, accurate, and immediately available, ensuring that those who need us can find us. As a nonprofit we are sometimes limited in the services we can provide. LawHelpMN’s Provider and Clinics Directory puts targeted referrals and specific information about other organizations at our fingertips.”