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Fla. agency must have suspicion to drug-test applicants, 11th Circuit rules

By Kyla Asbury | Dec 22, 2014

ATLANTA (Legal Newsline) - An appeals court has ruled that the Florida Department of Children and Families cannot require drug testing of suspicionless applicants.

The warrantless, suspicionless urinalysis drug testing of every Florida Temporary Assistance for Needy Families applicant as a mandatory requirement for receiving temporary cash assistance offends the Fourth Amendment, according to an opinion filed Dec. 3 in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit.

Circuit judges Frank M. Hull and Stanley Marcus; and District Judge Amy Totenberg voted in the majority, with Marcus authoring the opinion.

"On this record, the state has not demonstrated a substantial special need to carry out the suspicionless search--we see no concrete danger, only generalized public interests," the opinion states. "And the state cannot use consent of the kind exacted here--where it is made a condition of receiving government benefits--to wholly replace the special needs balancing analysis."

The panel said it respects the state's "overarching and laudable desire to promote work, protect families and conserve resources." However, above all else, the panel said it must enforce the Constitution and the limits it places on the government.

"If we are to give meaning to the Fourth Amendment's prohibition on blanket government searches, we must--and we do--hold that § 414.0652 crosses the constitutional line," the opinion states.

Luis W. Lebron, a single father of a young son, filed his class action complaint on Sept. 6, 2011, in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida.

Lebron claimed he was honorably discharged from the Navy and was pursuing a college education while caring for his son and his disabled mother.

When Lebron requested TANF benefits, it was required that he take a drug test, which he refused and, because of that, his application for benefits was denied.

"Our conclusion is consistent with the decisions of our sister circuit courts of appeal, which 'have also applied the special-needs balancing test, rather than treating consent as the sole determinant of a policy's constitutionality, in cases where the government attempted to compel consent to drug testing as a condition for obtaining some privilege,'" the opinion states.

Jeffrey Liggio, an attorney at Liggio Benrubi in West Palm Beach, Fla., said this class action lawsuit is what class action lawsuits are supposed to be about.

"This is about people vindicating their rights," Liggio said. "That is what a class action is for."

Liggio said the plaintiff attacked the Florida statute on constitutional grounds and the statute has not been invalidated.

"It's quite a bit different when you're an Air Force pilot carrying soldiers across the country and they want to make sure you're not on drugs, versus the state saying that a regular person is being denied benefits for needy children," Liggio said.

Liggio said bona fide, good class action lawsuits are a simple issue at heart.

"It takes someone saying, 'I don't think you can do this because it violates my Fourth Amendment rights,'" Liggio said. "Class actions like this can vindicate the rights of many people if they're done right."

Lebron was represented by Shalini Goel Agarwal, Randall C. Marshall and Maria Kayanan of ACLU Foundation of Florida Inc. in Miami; Randall Challen Berg Jr. of the Florida Justice Institute Inc. in Miami; John J. Dingfelder of the Public Defender's Office of the 13th Circuit in Tampa, Fla.; Joshua Aaron Glickman and Shawn Alex Heller of Social Justice Law Collective PL in Washington, D.C.; and Jason D. Williamson of the ACLU Foundation in New York.

The defendant was represented by Marion Drew Parker of the Florida Department of Children and Families in Tallahassee, Fla.; Lisa M. Raleigh, Adam Scott Tanenbaum, Allen Winsor and Jason Vail of the Office of the Attorney General in Tallahassee, Fla.; and Michael Sevi of the Executive Office of the Governor in Tallahassee, Fla.

U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit case number: 14-10322

From Legal Newsline: Kyla Asbury can be reached at classactions@legalnewsline.com.

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