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Financial Services Law Insights and Observations

En banc 9th Circuit: FHA does not support downstream injuries

Courts Appellate Ninth Circuit Fair Housing Fair Housing Act Consumer Finance State Issues Fair Lending U.S. Supreme Court

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On September 28, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit issued an en banc decision concluding that the Fair Housing Act (FHA) “is not a statute that supports proximate cause for injuries further downstream.” As previously covered by InfoBytes, the City of Oakland sued a national bank alleging violations of the FHA and the California Fair Employment and Housing Act, claiming the bank provided minority borrowers mortgage loans with less favorable terms than similarly situated non-minority borrowers, which led to disproportionate defaults and foreclosures and caused (i) decreased property tax revenue; (ii) increased city expenditures; and (iii) neutralized spending in Oakland’s fair-housing programs. In 2020, a three-judge panel affirmed both the district court’s denial of the bank’s motion to dismiss claims for decreased property tax revenue, as well as the court’s dismissal of Oakland’s claims for increased city expenditures. (Covered by InfoBytes here.) The panel further held that Oakland’s claims for injunctive and declaratory relief were also subject to the FHA’s proximate-cause requirement and, on remand, the district court must determine whether Oakland’s allegations satisfied this requirement. The bank filed a petition for panel rehearing and rehearing en banc last year arguing, among other things, that the panel had “fashioned a looser, FHA-specific proximate-cause standard” in conflict with the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Bank of America Corp. v. City of Miami. As covered by a Buckley Special Alert, in 2017, the Supreme Court held that municipal plaintiffs may be “aggrieved persons” authorized to bring suit under the FHA against lenders for injuries allegedly flowing from discriminatory lending practices, but that such injuries must be proximately caused by, rather than simply the foreseeable result of, the alleged misconduct. 

The 9th Circuit agreed with the bank and remanded the case for dismissal of the FHA claims and proceedings consistent with the opinion. Citing the Miami decision as one of the leading factors, the panel stated that “[w]e begin where Miami began, with ‘[t]he general tendency. . .not to go beyond the first step,’” adding that “[t]here is no question that Oakland’s theory of harm goes beyond the first step—the harm to minority borrowers who receive predatory loans. Oakland’s theory of harm runs far beyond that—to depressed housing values, and ultimately to reduced tax revenue and increased municipal expenditures. Oakland thus fails a strict application of the general tendency not to stretch proximate causation beyond the first step.” The panel also affirmed the district court’s decision that Oakland failed to sufficiently plead claims related to increased municipal expenditures and reversed the district court’s denial of the bank’s motion to dismiss claims for lost property tax revenue and injunctive and declaratory relief.

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