Your online submission to the American Civil Liberties Union has been received

Your online submission to the American Civil Liberties Union has been received. The ACLU is a private, non-profit organization and our limited resources do not allow us to function as a general provider of legal services.  Typically, we must confine our involvement to a limited number of cases which raise new constitutional issues or which affect large numbers of people, and these are usually at the appellate level.  Our small staff is unable to do research or investigate many of the problems that come to our attention, no matter how legitimate they may be.

Even though the ACLU is not representing you, you may still have a legal claim.  You should consider contacting a private attorney or other organization in order to preserve any such claim as there are time limits that apply to bringing legal claims in court.  Your county bar association may have a lawyer referral service through which you can find a lawyer to evaluate your claim.

                Below is a list of frequently asked questions with regard to the work that the ACLU typically does and why we may be unable to assist you at this time.

What are civil liberties and civil rights?
Civil liberties include freedom of speech, press, religion, and association; due process; equal protection; and privacy. Civil rights include, for example, voting rights; discrimination based on disability, race, sex, sexual orientation, religion or national origin; police reform; and workers’ rights.

How do we choose cases?
The ACLU generally files cases that affect the civil liberties or civil rights of large numbers of people, rather than those involving a dispute between individual parties. The basic questions we ask when reviewing a potential case are:
  • Is this a significant civil liberties or civil rights issue?
  • What effect will this case have on people in addition to our client?
  • Do we have the necessary resources to take this case?

What cases affect others?
Lawsuits can affect a large number of people in two ways. First, we sometimes challenge a policy or practice that directly impacts many people. For instance, if the state cut Medi-Cal funding for abortions from the annual budget, thousands of poor women would be affected. Second, a lawsuit brought on behalf of one person can have a larger impact on others when it establishes or expands legal protections. For example, a lawsuit challenging the denial of health care at a clinic to one HIV+ person, if successful, could set a precedent for thousands of patients in the future.

Cases without serious factual disputes
We tend to take cases that do not involve complicated disputes of fact, and prefer cases that involve questions of law only. An example of a factual dispute is an employment discrimination case in which the employer claims he fired the employee because of poor job performance and has credible evidence to support that claim, but the employee disputes the evidence.

We often decide not to accept cases involving factual disputes because:
  • if a court resolves the facts against the client, it may never reach the civil liberties or civil rights issues;
  • if the decision rests upon the specific facts of a case, the case is less likely to have broad impact on many people;
  • we have so few staff attorneys that it is difficult for us to devote attorney time to resolving factual disputes.

The ACLU generally does not accept cases in which:
  • A person has been fired from a job without a good reason or just cause;
  • A person is being denied benefits, such as workers’ compensation or unemployment benefits;
  • Criminal cases, or complaints about a person’s attorney in a criminal case. We consider accepting criminal cases only in limited instances, such as, for example, when a person is being prosecuted for engaging in activity protected by the Constitution – such as participating in a political demonstration.

There are many cases of unfairness and injustice that the ACLU is simply unable to handle. We receive thousands of requests for help each year at this office alone. Therefore, we cannot accept many of the cases that fall within the guidelines discussed above.

Can the ACLU advise me about my case?
If we do not accept your case, the ACLU is unable to give you advice about your case, answer questions, or provide other types of assistance – for example, reviewing papers or conducting legal research to assist you. This policy allows us to direct the necessary resources to those cases we do accept.

Deadlines
All legal claims have time deadlines. The deadlines may be different depending on who violated your rights and which rights were violated. For some kinds of violations, you may need to file a claim with a government agency before you can sue, and these agencies have their own time deadlines. If you do not comply with the applicable statute of limitations, you may be legally barred from pursuing your claim in court. Contacting the ACLU to describe your problem does not mean that the ACLU represents you, and will not stop the statute of limitations from running. The ACLU cannot give you advice about the deadlines that apply to your case. To protect your rights, please consult an attorney promptly to find out what deadline may apply in your case.

Respectfully,

Intake Coordinator


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