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Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Fair Housing Case Dismissed, Magner v. Gallagher (USSCT)

On November 9, 2011, we reported that the U.S. Supreme Court granted cert in Magner v. Gallagher, a case involving a challenge by rental property owners to the City of St. Paul’s housing code that imposes obligations on landlords to maintain and repair rental properties.  The rental property owners claimed that the ordinance has a disparate impact on minorities because the housing code requirements will increase their costs and decrease the number of rentals available to low-income households.  The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals had ruled against the City and allowed the disparate impact suit to move forward under the Fair Housing Act.  The case was set for oral argument on February 29, but the City withdrew its appeal last week.

The appeal involved two questions:  (1) whether disparate impact claims are recognized under the Fair Housing Act; and if so (2) what test should be used to analyze these claims.   The key issue was whether the Fair Housing Act prohibits local governments from enforcing housing code violations in a way that would negatively impact minorities, even if there is no intentional bias.  The case was being closely monitored by local governments and civil rights and housing advocates.  More than a dozen amicus briefs had been filed in the case, including briefs of the NAACP and ACLU on behalf of the rental property owners and briefs of the International Municipal Lawyers Association (IMLA) and American Bankers Association on behalf of the City of St. Paul, among others.

A Twin Cities newspaper reported that the City of St. Paul withdrew its appeal because "a victory could substantially undermine important civil rights enforcement throughout the nation." Mayor Chris Coleman said that, if the city had won, it could have eliminated "disparate impact" civil rights enforcement under the Fair Housing Act, which, among other things, forbids individuals from making housing "unavailable...to any person because of race, color, religion, sex, familial status, or national origin."

Post Authored by Julie Tappendorf, Ancel Glink


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