Disability Law

11th Circuit rules against lawyer disbarred for failing to comply with mental health requirements of conditional bar admission

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A federal appeals court has ruled against a Florida lawyer who challenged her disbarment for failing to comply with mental health requirements of her conditional admission to the bar.

The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals at Atlanta ruled against former lawyer Sherri Renner in a May 25 unpublished opinion.

Renner had claimed that her conditional admission and disbarment violated the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.

The appeals court ruled that the Florida Bar and the Florida Supreme Court were protected by 11th Amendment immunity on Renner’s ADA claims. The 11th Circuit found that there was no Rehabilitation Act violation because it applies only to entities that receive federal funding. The Florida Bar and the Florida Supreme Court do not receive such funding.

Renner had been conditionally admitted to the bar in 2005. One of the conditions, imposed through a consent agreement, required Renner to consult at least monthly with a mental health professional who would submit quarterly reports to the bar. Renner also had to submit quarterly statements, along with a $75 monitoring fee, to report that she was complying with the conditions.

The bar allowed the conditions to be lifted if Renner practiced law for five years and if she submitted to a comprehensive exam by a bar-approved psychiatrist who recommends unconditional admission. Renner sought to have the conditions lifted, but two psychiatrists who examined her did not recommend that the conditions be removed.

Renner then strategically defaulted on the terms of her conditional admission to spur bar action, which resulted in her disbarment by the Florida Supreme Court.

The 11th Circuit said Congress allowed lawsuits against state entities under the ADA for “irrational disability discrimination” that violations the 14th Amendment’s equal protection and due process clauses.

But the failure to remove the mental health conditions didn’t violate the 14th Amendment, and the disbarment didn’t violate the due process clause, the appeals court said.

The 11th Circuit said there was no irrational disability discrimination.

“The conditions were properly imposed when Renner was admitted due to her past mental health treatment in order to protect the public and administer justice, which is a rational basis to impose the restrictions,” the appeals court said. “It is a rational basis for the continued imposition of those conditions until a medical evaluator deems otherwise.”

There was no due process violation for disbarment without a hearing, the appeals court said, because there was no factual dispute that had to be resolved.

In addition, Renner was given a meaningful opportunity to be heard because the Florida Supreme Court had issued an order to show cause why she should not be disciplined, the 11th Circuit said.

Hat tip to Law360, which had coverage of the opinion.

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