Jul 6, 2009

Ho. v. HUD

Chak Man Fung was the owner of an apartment that rented to three individuals one of them was Jennifer Ho. Ho acted as Ho’s agent when choosing renters. When Diana Lin decided to move out before her lease was up she found Meki Brachen to move in. Lin said she would not rent to blacks, additional Fung would also not allow Brachen to move in and barred any attempts. Ho and Meki Brachen filed racial discrimination charges against Fung and Lin.
Several notifications by first class mail and Fed Ex were sent out and neither defendant answered. Finally after a fourth notification, Ho, but not Fung showed up for a hearing on remedies. Ho appeared without counsel and asked for a postponement because she realized that she needed counsel but her attorney was unavailable for the date. Additionally she explained that she had not wanted to read the legal notices and had just opened them days before the hearing. The ALJ denied the motion for a continuance, observing that Ho had only herself to blame for not opening the letters earlier and postponement would waste the time of assembled witnesses. Compensatory damages for mental distress and financial injury were awarded to Bracken for $49,284 and Lin for $25,345.
Ho claimed that that the agency violated the due process clause of the Fifth Amendment by not providing her with adequate notice of the proceedings and not postponing the hearing when she eventually opened the letters. However, the Constitution does not require that an effort to give notice succeed. See, e.g., Dusenbery v. United States, 534 U.S. 161 (2002). If it did, then people could evade knowledge, and avoid responsibility for their conduct, by burning notices on receipt—or just leaving them unopened, as Ho did.
Additionally Ho was ordered to pay the maximum civil penalty of $11,000 in additional compensatory damages. The ALJ concluded that the maximum penalty is appropriate because Ho not only set out to discriminate but also was truculent after being told of the conduct’s illegality. The ALJ deemed Ho’s decision to barricade the door against Bracken an egregious form of discrimination. Ho claimed that the penalty was egregious because they did not look at her finances, one of six factors the agency finds relevant. The agency was never given this information because a person who fails to supply information forfeits any complaint that the decisionmaker was uninformed on some issue.
Fung claimed that the ALJ had to prove a prima facie case of liability for discrimination. However Fung misunderstands how HUD handles defaults. A regulation provides that “failure to file an answer to the complaint shall be deemed an admission of all matters of fact recited therein. The ALJ concluded that the admitted facts do show liability. Fung apparently thinks that a prima facie case of liability depends on live testimony. Not at all; admissions are better evidence than testimony, because admissions are incontestable.
Fung additionally claims that he is entitled to discriminate by 42 U.S.C. §3603(b)(1). However that caption is an exemption which makes it an affirmative defense which must be timely asserted unusual in the answer and certainly at the trial. Fung did not answer or participate in the trial waiving this right. Addionally, Fung rented it to three unrelated persons; that’s not a single family by anyone’s definition. Then there is the fact that Ho acted as Fung’s agent, something that Fung admitted by failing to answer the complaint, which alleged that an agency relation existed.

Jun 22, 2009

HUD AND FAIR HOUSING PARTNERS REPORT RECORD NUMBER OF HOUSING DISCRIMINATION COMPLAINTS

A record 10,552 fair housing discrimination complaints were filed in fiscal year 2008, according to a report just released by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The report, which is produced for Congress each year, shows that a large portion of the complaints, 44 percent, were filed by persons with disabilities. Thirty-five percent, or 3,699, of the complaints alleged discrimination based on race. Click Here to read the full article

Justice Department Files Lawsuit Alleging Racial Discrimination at Mobile Home Park in Gulfport, Mississippi

Justice Department Files Lawsuit Alleging Racial Discrimination at Mobile Home Park in Gulfport, Mississippi

Mar 31, 2009

Younger Doctrine and Federal Intervention into State Court Criminal Action

Safe Haven Sober Houses v. City of Boston, 517 F.Supp.2d 557 (D.Mass. 2007).
When Boston brought criminal proceedings against the owners and operators of homes for recovering alcoholics and drug users, those Defendants filed a preliminary injunction to stay the state criminal court proceedings. The Defendants argued that the court should analyze the motion under the traditional four-part test 1) likelihood of success on the merits 2) irreparable harm 3) balancing of the equities, and 4) the effect on the public interest of either the granting or denial of the injunction. The court analyzed the case under the Younger doctrine which prohibits a federal court from intervening in a state court criminal proceeding except under the following unusual circumstances: 1) "a statute that is 'flagrantly and patently violative of express constitutional prohibitions in every clause, sentence and paragraph, and in whatever manner and against whomever an effort might be made to apply it' (2) state prosecutions brought in bad faith without 'any expectation of securing valid convictions' or (3) when it 'plainly appears' that pursuing claims in pending state proceedings 'would not afford adequate protections.'" Id. at 561-62 (quoting Younger v. Harris, 401 U.S. 37 (1971))

The court summarily dismissed the first prong of the analysis and spent more time on the second. Relying on Dombrowski "the seminal bad faith prosecution case identified in Younger" the court recited the two-prong analysis for state prosecutions brought in bad faith: (1) "'a prosecution has been brought without reasonable expectation of abtaining a valid conviction;'and (2) the defendants cannot adequately assert their claims because of an unavailable or biased state forum." Safe Haven, F.Supp 2d at 562-63. Finding that the city was not harassing the housing providers as it was responding to the providers' violations of zoning and building regulations. The court found this prong inapplicable as well.

Further, the court elaborated on the third prong, the adequacy of state protections, as applicable "(1) when a state forum is biased or (2) when a state forum cannot provide a remedy." Id. at 566. The court found this prong inapplicable. The motion for the preliminary injunction was denied.

Housing Authority Attempts to Evict Mentally Disabled Man

Boston Housing Authority v. Bridgewaters, 2009 WL 26765 (Mass.)
Defendant was a mentally disabled man living with his brother in an apartment under the Boston Housing authority. He was not on his medication for manic depression and was transitioning between doctors when he assaulted his brother. The housing authority brought eviction proceedings. BHA got judgment for possession of the apartment. Court vacates and remands. Under 3604(f)(3)(B) discrimination includes "a refusal to make reasonable accommodations in rules, policies, practices, or services." The court found that the Defendant made a request when he expressed a desire to continue his tenancy and that there were no "magic words" required in making this request. Further, the BHA had to accept that his disability caused the violence if they were unable to prove otherwise.

City Ordinance Prohibiting Children in SRO Unit Does Not Violate the FHA

Sierra v. City of New York, 579 F.Supp.2d 543 (N.D.N.Y, 2008)
Plaintiff, mother of two children, challenged the constitutionality of a NYC Housing Maintenance Code. She brought suit under 3604(a) claiming that the law which forbids children from living in SRO’s is facially discriminatory on the basis of family status. She sought to have the ordinance declared invalid and to enjoin its future enforcement. The court held that the city code did not violate the FHA because it furthered legitimate state interests in “health, safety and welfare of children that cannot be achieved through other alternatives” at 554. The court agreed that SROs are unsafe for children because occupants of several units share bathroom and kitchen facilities. The defendant offered “extensive evidence demonstrating concrete physical and psychological effects of SRO living on children, rather than merely generalizations and conclusory assertions.” at 551.

Subjective Fees Have Disparate Impact

Hoffman v. Option One Mortgage Corp. & H & R Block Mortgage Corp., 589 F.Supp. 2d 1009 (N.D.Ill. 2008).
Plaintiff may assert a disparate impact claim on the basis of discretionary pricing. Under these financing practices, minority buyers are substantially more likely to be charged more in discretionary fees than are white buyers, even when controlling for risk-related factors. Defendants' motion to dismiss denied.

Mar 27, 2009

St. Bernard Parish, Louisiana violated the Fair Housing Act (FHA)

http://www.pili-law.org/AlumniSpotlights.htm#lopez
The United States District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana issued its ruling that St. Bernard Parish, Louisiana violated the Fair Housing Act (FHA) and a prior consent decree of the court in enacting a moratorium on apartment development in response to a developer proposing low income housing tax credit multifamily housing complexes in St. Bernard. The ruling points out that the moratorium was passed with the intent of, and had the effect of, discriminating against potential minority residents of St. Bernard, which is only 7.6 percent African-American as opposed to neighboring Orleans Parish, which is 67.3 percent African-American.
http://www.munsch.com/lists/lt.php?id=MB8GUFRTU1dEUAEHSggDUVZR

Mar 22, 2009

Expiration of Housing Voucher Does Not Toll Limitations Period

In Ortega v. Housing Authority of the City of Brownsville, 572 F.Supp.2d 829, (S.D. Tex. 2008) the Plaintiff's application for a housing voucher expired when he was unable to prove legal guardianship of his grandson. The Plaintiff alleged discrimination based on familial status in violation of 42 U.S.C. Sec. 3602(k). This section defines "familial status" as "one or more individuals...being domiciled with (1) a parent or another person having legal custody of such individual or individuals; or (2) the designee or such parent or other person having such custody, with the written permission of such parent or other person.

The court had to decide whether the two year limitations period began to run on July 19, 2004 when the housing voucher was issued by the agency or whether it began to run on December 21, 2004 when the agency issued a letter to inform the Plaintiff that the voucher had expired and his application was canceled. The Plaintiff filed suit in December of 2006.

The Plaintiff argues that because he was injured again in May of 2006 when he reapplied and no voucher was issued, the continuing violation doctrine tolled the limitations period. The court rejected this argument. In its analysis, the court relied on Huckabay v. Moore, 142 F.3d 233, 238-39 (5th Cir. 1998) where that court "reasoned the continued violations doctrine was useful where individual acts or events may not be evident of discrimination except in cumulation over time." It also relied on Berry v. Bd. of Supervisors of L.S.U., 715 F.2d 971, 981 (5th cir. 1983) where that court laid out three reqirements for continuing violations: 1) similar subject matter; 2) frequent violations; and 3) a minor degree of permanence.

The third requirement was most persuasive here as the Ortega court held that the violation of the voucher in 2004 "was sufficiently permanent to create a cause of action and put a reasonable person on notice that he could act to protect his rights."

Mar 20, 2009

Mortgage Brokers and Discretionary Pricing

In Taylor v. Accredited Home Lenders, 580 F.Supp.2d 1062 (S.D. Cal. 2008) the Plaintiffs alleged a facially neutral "discretionary pricing policy" had a disparate impact on African American borrowers. At issue was whether the injury suffered was the result of a single incident violation which would have placed the Plaintiff's complaint beyond the two year statute of limitations or whether the injury was the result of a continuing violation.

42 U.S.C. Sec.3613(1)A) requires that actions must be commenced "no later than 2 years after the occurrence or the termination of an alleged discriminatory housing practice." The court agreed with the Plaintiffs and held that the issuance of each mortgage statement containing the inflated amount due constituted a new violation and that each payment of that inflated figure was a new violation. The court rejected the defendant's single incident theory that "the violation occurred and terminated when the loan closed." Id. at 1065.

The court relies on Havens Realty Corp. v. Coleman, 455 U.S.363(1982) and its explanation of the continuing violation doctrine.