Newell-Davis v. Phillips
Social Workers Shouldn’t Have to Ask for a Government Permission Slip to Serve Their Community
After earning her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in social work, Ursula Newell-Davis has devoted her entire career to helping her New Orleans community. As a hospice social worker, she provided end-of-life support to patients and their families. Then she spent several years managing a behavioral health center that provides outpatient mental health services.
In 2018, Ursula started a consulting business to advise mental health agencies, schools, churches, and others who work with special needs populations. Through her work, she often encounters children who have poorer backgrounds or who are from homes where parents and caregivers often work odd hours or night shifts, which means that many of these children find themselves at home alone. Between the lack of supervision and their disabilities, some children struggle to complete such basic tasks as doing homework, preparing meals, or even bathing. Ursula is particularly concerned that unsupervised teenagers with behavioral problems may fall in with the wrong crowd and turn to criminal activity.
Believing that she could make a difference in her community, she decided to open a business to provide respite services to families with special needs children—that is, services teaching children basic life skills to help them thrive and stay off the streets while their parents are away.
Louisiana requires providers to first apply for Facility Need Review approval, which means that the applicant must prove that the proposed services are “necessary.” Despite evidence showing an increase in crimes by juveniles, pleas by city officials for more early intervention efforts for juveniles, and studies showing that respite care can improve outcomes for both children and their families—including lower incidence of negative behavior in the community—state health officials denied Ursula’s FNR application and prohibited her from starting her business. In fact, she received the same denial form letter as 86 other applicants who had also hoped to launch such services in 2019 and 2020.
Studies show that laws like FNR regulations do not protect health or safety; rather, they artificially reduce supply of critically necessary services, drive up costs, and worsen outcomes—all to protect existing businesses from competition.
The Constitution protects the right to earn a living free of irrational and arbitrary government restrictions. The state cannot simply deny some people economic opportunity in order to insulate incumbent businesses from new competitors like Ursula.
In this federal lawsuit, Ursula is standing up to government and advocating for children in her community who need her help. Pelican Institute, with assistance from the Pacific Legal Foundation, represents her free of charge. A win would vindicate her constitutional right to earn a living and create opportunities for others to join her in helping families in need.
Ursula is appealing her case to the Supreme Court. Read the Petition for Certiorari.
- Complaint. On January 12, 2021, Ursula’s complaint was filed in the Eastern District of Louisiana. The case was assigned to Judge Nanette Jolivette Brown.
- Opposition to Motion to Dismiss. On March 16, 2021, an Opposition to the Government’s Motion to Dismiss was filed.
- Order. On August 2, 2021, the district court issued its Order and Reasons on the Motion to Dismiss.
- Opposition to Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment. On February 2, 2022, an Opposition to Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment was filed.
- Order. On March 22, 2022, the district court issued its Order and Reasons on the Motions for Summary Judgment.
- Appellate Brief. On June 6, 2022, an Opening Brief was filed in the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit on behalf of Ursula.
- Decision. On December 13, 2022, the Fifth Circuit issued its decision affirming the district court’s decision.
- Decision for Rehearing En Banc. On February 10, 2023, the Fifth Circuit issued its decision denying rehearing en banc.
- Petition for Certiorari. On June 12, 2023, Pelican Institute and Pacific Legal Foundation filed a Petition for Certiorari to the United States Supreme Court.
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The Center for Justice is a public-interest law firm that represents at no cost clients seeking to advance freedom and opportunity in Louisiana and the Fifth Circuit.