Systemic Civil Rights Litigation

At ArchCity Defenders, we are engaging in systemic civil rights litigation challenging police misconduct, debtors’ prisons, cash bail, inhumane jail conditions, inadequate shelter for unhoused residents, and violations of Freedom of Speech, Due Process, and Equal Protection.

As a result of this litigation in support of community advocacy, municipalities throughout the region have begun to curb unlawful and predatory practices, revenues from for-profit courts are down, and thousands of people across the region have received over $8 million in monetary settlements.

Debtors’ Prisons

In early 2015, ArchCity Defenders filed its first class-action debtors’ prison lawsuits against the cities of Jennings and Ferguson on behalf of residents targeted primarily with traffic tickets on the basis of poverty and race, and then jailed for their inability to pay court debts. The settlement in the Jennings suit resulted in wholesale changes in the city’s practices, and a monetary settlement of $4.75 million for a class of roughly 2,000 people. Since that time, ACD has brought similar claims against upwards of 25 municipalities and counting, stretching as far south as Jefferson County and as far west as St. Charles County. This advocacy has helped to create significant regional change in local court and jail policies and we continue the fight to make these changes permanent and universal. We have been proud to collaborate on this litigation with local partners like SLU Law Clinics, national nonprofits like Civil Rights Corps, and major national firms like White & Case, Arnold & Porter, and Tycko & Zavareei.

Fines and Fees

An important feature of the debtors’ prison landscape in the St. Louis region has been the proliferation of overly burdensome fines and fees. In addition to the federal debtors’ prison litigation, ACD has brought numerous state court challenges to illegal fees collected through the municipal court system. Working with co-counsel from the St. Louis University School of Law Civil Advocacy Clinic and Campbell Law, ACD has helped to recoup more than $2 million for people forced to pay these unlawful fees.

Cash Bail

Cash bail and pretrial detention are major drivers of mass incarceration locally and across the country. On both the municipal and state court level, ACD is bringing challenges to cash bail practices that violate the constitutional rights of individuals accused of crimes and result in arbitrary wealth-based detention.


Those experiencing homelessness and housing insecurity in the St. Louis region sit at the intersection of several issues core to ACD’s work: criminalization of poverty, targeting by law enforcement, and inadequate access to resources and services. From challenges to the inadequate provision of emergency shelter to claims against police practices and other public policies disproportionately impacting people who are unhoused, ACD continues to advocate for the well-being of the most vulnerable members of our community.

Housing and Tenants’ Rights

At ArchCity Defenders, we believe that housing is a human right, and we understand that the protection of tenants’ rights is critical to achieving racial, economic, and social justice. In addition to helping people remain in their homes through direct tenant representation, ACD also engages in affirmative litigation to protect and expand the rights of low-income renters in the St. Louis region. In 2018, one of ACD’s cases resulted in a decision by the Missouri Supreme Court that expanded the ability of renters to raise a warranty of habitability defense without first having to post a monetary bond.

Jail Conditions and Detainees’ Rights

People who are incarcerated, whether pretrial or post-conviction, are far too often subjected to various forms of neglect and abuse. In our continuing efforts to combat the criminalization of poverty and structural racism, ACD has engaged in strategic litigation to protect the rights of people being detained by the state, including clients subjected to inadequate medical care, physical abuse, and inhumane jail conditions.

First Amendment and Protesters’ Rights

Beginning with the Ferguson Uprising in 2014, ArchCity Defenders has been committed to protecting the First Amendment right of individuals to engage in peaceful protest. Not only has ACD represented many people charged with protest-related offenses, but we have also brought litigation defending their constitutional rights and challenging practices that threaten those rights.

Police Misconduct

Whether in the context of peaceful protest or everyday experience, ACD has engaged in litigation to support our clients and their communities in fighting back against state violence, particularly targeted against poor people and people of color in the St. Louis region. Our individual and class-action lawsuits challenge use of excessive force, unlawful seizures, false arrest, and retaliatory charges.