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Financial Services Law Insights and Observations

Housing discrimination lawsuit against national bank can proceed

Courts Fair Housing Act Disparate Impact

Courts

On July 18, the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland denied defendants’ motion to dismiss claims that they violated the Fair Housing Act’s anti-discrimination provisions by allegedly failing to properly maintain bank-owned properties in African American and Latino neighborhoods. According to the plaintiffs—a group of private fair housing organizations along with three individual homeowners—the bank and its maintenance contractor regularly maintained similar bank-owned properties in white neighborhoods, while properties in minority neighborhoods were allowed to fall into disrepair. The plaintiffs cited claims for discrimination under both disparate treatment and disparate impact theories, and asserted that the conduct allegedly depreciated the property values of current residents, discouraged buyers from purchasing homes in a particular neighborhood, and limited available housing. The defendants argued, however, that the fair housing organizations do not have standing to sue because they failed to trace their alleged injury to the conduct at issue or to sufficiently demonstrate they were harmed by the alleged conduct. Moreover, the defendants asserted that the Maryland court does not have jurisdiction over the dispute and that the claims were untimely.

The court found that the plaintiffs did sufficiently plead an injury-in-fact, stating, “[h]ere the scope and specificity of the plaintiffs’ investigation and the alleged precision with which its proffered regression analysis can attribute the plaintiffs’ injuries to the defendants’ actions, provide plausible proximate cause.” The court also reasoned that it had jurisdictional authority because, even though none of the fair housing organizations are Maryland entities, some of the alleged conduct has occurred in Maryland and state residents have alleged harm. As to the question of timeliness, the court noted that the statute of limitations concerns are “obviated by the continuing violation doctrine.”

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