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On January 26, President Biden issued an Executive Order (E.O.) directing the secretary of HUD to examine the effects of the September 2020 final rule amending the agency’s interpretation of the Fair Housing Act’s 2013 disparate impact standard (2013 Rule). As previously covered by a Buckley Special Alert, the final rule is intended to align its 2013 Rule with the Supreme Court’s 2015 ruling in Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs et al. v. Inclusive Communities Project, Inc. and among other things, includes a modification of the three-step burden-shifting framework in its 2013 Rule, several new elements that plaintiffs must show to establish that a policy or practice has a “discriminatory effect,” and specific defenses that defendants can assert to refute disparate impact claims. The E.O. emphasizes HUD’s “statutory duty to ensure compliance with the Fair Housing Act,” and requires the HUD secretary to take any necessary steps, “to implement the Fair Housing Act’s requirements that HUD administer its programs in a manner that affirmatively furthers fair housing and HUD’s overall duty to administer the Act (42 U.S.C. 3608(a)) including by preventing practices with an unjustified discriminatory effect.”
Recently, FTC staff submitted a comment letter in response to the CFPB’s request for information (RFI) seeking input on ways to provide additional clarity under the Equal Credit Opportunity Act (ECOA) and implementing Regulation B. As previously covered by InfoBytes, the CFPB issued the RFI last July requesting comments on ways to create a regulatory environment that expands credit access and ensures consumers and communities are protected from discrimination with respect to any aspect of a credit transaction. Included in the RFI was a request for input on whether “the Bureau should provide additional clarity regarding its approach to disparate impact analysis under ECOA and/or Regulation B.” Citing to legislative history, the FTC noted that Regulation B explicitly incorporates disparate impact, and stressed that “[a]rticulating a single approach to disparate impact analysis that covers diverse sets of present and future facts and circumstances of discrimination could be difficult and could risk being both over and under inclusive.” The FTC suggested that if the Bureau chooses to provide additional detail regarding its approach to disparate impact analysis, a disclaimer should be included that such information is not intended to “bless” any violations of ECOA and Regulation B, but is rather “intended to provide examples of how the agency might approach a fair lending matter.”
In response to the Bureau’s request for information about ways it might support efforts to meet the credit needs of small businesses, the FTC highlighted recent enforcement actions involving small businesses, including actions involving deceptively advertised financial products and unfair billing and collection practices, particularly with respect to merchant cash advances. The FTC also urged the Bureau to remind entities offering credit to small businesses that ECOA and Regulation B apply and that entities cannot avoid application of these statutes based solely on how they characterize a transaction or the benefits they claim to provide. The FTC further stressed that collecting small business lending demographic data could aid in enforcement efforts, as would encouraging small businesses to report misconduct and refer complaints to the FTC and the states. In addition, the FTC highlighted the importance of educating small businesses about different products and terms, as well as potential law violations, which could assist small businesses in comparing products resulting in less expensive financing options.
On October 25, the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts issued an order granting a preliminary injunction and stay of effective date of HUD’s disparate impact regulation under the Fair Housing Act (Final Rule). As previously covered by a Buckley Special Alert, in September, HUD issued the Final Rule, which is intended to align its disparate impact regulation, adopted in 2013 (2013 Rule), with the Supreme Court’s 2015 ruling in Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs v. Inclusive Communities Project, Inc. Among other things, the Final Rule includes a modification of the three-step burden-shifting framework in its 2013 Rule, several new elements that plaintiffs must show to establish that a policy or practice has a “discriminatory effect,” and specific defenses that defendants can assert to refute disparate impact claims.
According to the order, two fair housing organizations (collectively, “plaintiffs”) filed the action against HUD seeking to vacate the Final Rule under the Administrative Procedures Act (APA) and subsequently filed for a preliminary injunction and stay, arguing, among other things, that the changes to the 2013 Rule are “arbitrary and capricious.” The court noted that the Final Rule “constitutes a significant overhaul to HUD’s interpretation of disparate impact standards,” and that the alterations to the 2013 Rule “appear inadequately justified.” The court further explained that the Final Rule’s “massive changes pose a real and substantial threat of imminent harm” to the plaintiffs by increasing “the burdens, costs, and effectiveness of disparate impact liability.” Lastly, the court noted that HUD did not identify any “particularized” harm to the government or public should the injunction be granted. Thus, the court granted the preliminary injunction and stayed the implementation date until further order.
On September 18, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia denied a national bank’s motion to dismiss claims that the bank and its subsidiaries’ (collectively, “defendants”) mortgage originating and servicing practices and policies had a disparate impact on, and resulted in disparate treatment of, minority borrowers, in violation of the Fair Housing Act (FHA). The plaintiffs, three Georgia counties, filed a second amended complaint raising two disparate impact claims and one disparate treatment claim under the FHA, claiming the defendants’ lending and servicing practices—which included allegedly targeting minority borrowers for higher cost loan products, approving unqualified minority borrowers for loans they could not afford, and providing less favorable terms for loan modifications—were “designed to reduce the overall equity minority borrowers located within their counties had in their homes.” The practices, among other things, allegedly caused African-American and Latino borrowers to receive disproportionately higher cost mortgage loans than similarly situated white, non-Latino borrowers, creating an increase in defaults and foreclosures, and causing the plaintiffs to incur alleged damages, including out-of-pocket foreclosure-related costs and increased municipal expenses, and loss of property tax revenues due to decreased home values.
The defendants moved to dismiss, asserting, among other things, that the plaintiffs failed to properly allege their disparate impact claims under Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs v. Inclusive Communities Project, Inc. (covered by a previous Buckley Special Alert). The defendants also argued that the plaintiffs’ municipal “economic injuries were not proximately cause by the [d]efendants’ discriminatory policies under [City of Miami Garden v. Wells Fargo & Co.]” (covered by InfoBytes here), and that the plaintiffs failed to allege specific allegations within the FHA’s two-year statute of limitations.
The court granted the motion in part and denied it in part. With respect to the disparate impact claims, the court applied Inclusive Communities and held that the plaintiffs identified several specific policies that caused the alleged disparate impact. The court also rejected the statute of limitations arguments and held that the plaintiffs “‘can prove a set of facts’ showing a timely violation of the FHA.” The court dismissed certain of the counties’ injury claims—the plaintiffs’ attempts to recover franchise tax and municipal expenses (police, fire, and sanitation services related to vacant or foreclosed-upon properties)—ruling that plaintiffs failed to establish proximate cause and “explain how their municipal services injuries ‘are anything more than merely foreseeable consequences’ of [the d]efendants’ discriminatory acts.”
The Department of Housing and Urban Development earlier this month issued a final disparate impact regulation under the Fair Housing Act (Final Rule). HUD’s new Final Rule is intended to align its disparate impact regulation, adopted in 2013 (2013 Rule), with the Supreme Court’s 2015 ruling in Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs v. Inclusive Communities Project, Inc. (Inclusive Communities). While the new Final Rule is a notable development, the relatively recent Supreme Court decision makes it unclear to what extent courts and federal agencies will look to the rule for guidance.
On September 4, HUD released the final rule amending agency’s interpretation of the Fair Housing Act’s disparate impact standard (also known as the “2013 Disparate Impact Regulation”). The final rule, among other things, seeks to (i) codify the burden-shifting framework from the 2015 Supreme Court ruling in Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs v. Inclusive Communities Project, Inc. (covered by a Buckley Special Alert); (ii) create a uniform standard for determining when a policy or practice has a discriminatory effect in violation of the Fair Housing Act; and (iii) codify HUD’s position that its rule is not intended to infringe on the states’ regulation of insurance. Based on public feedback, the final rule largely adopts the August 2019 proposed rule (covered by InfoBytes here) with a number of clarifying and substantive changes.
A Special Alert from Buckley on the details of the final rule will soon be available.
On November 22, the Democratic members of the House Financial Services Committee sent a letter to Secretary of HUD Ben Carson, opposing the agency’s proposed rule amending its interpretation of the Fair Housing Act’s (FHA) disparate impact standard (also known as the “2013 Disparate Impact Regulation”). The letter argues that the proposed rule would “make it harder for everyday Americans who find themselves victims of housing discrimination to get justice.” As previously covered by InfoBytes, in August, HUD issued the proposed rule in order to bring the rule “into closer alignment with the analysis and guidance” provided in the 2015 Supreme Court ruling in Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs v. Inclusive Communities Project, Inc. (covered by a Buckley Special Alert) and to codify HUD’s position that its rule is not intended to infringe on the states’ regulation of insurance. Specifically, the proposed rule codifies the burden-shifting framework outlined in Inclusive Communities, adding five elements that a plaintiff must plead to support allegations that a specific, identifiable policy or practice has a discriminatory effect. Moreover, the proposal provides methods for defendants to rebut a disparate impact claim.
The letter urges Secretary Carson to “immediately rescind” the proposed rule, calling the proposal a “huge departure from a standard and framework that has been expressly supported by HUD…[and] a deviation from decades of legal precedent, including a Supreme Court decision affirming the legitimacy of the disparate impact standard under the [FHA].” Moreover, the letter argues that “[i]n 2018, Black homeownership rates reached the lowest they had since before the [FHA] was passed,” and that HUD’s mission to build inclusive and sustainable communities will be “seriously compromised” with this proposed rule.
On October 18, 22 state attorneys general submitted comments opposing HUD’s proposed rule amending the agency’s interpretation of the Fair Housing Act’s disparate impact standard (also known as the “2013 Disparate Impact Regulation”), arguing the proposal would “render disparate impact liability a dead letter under the Fair Housing Act (FHA).” As previously covered by InfoBytes, in August, HUD issued the proposed rule, to bring the rule “into closer alignment with the analysis and guidance” provided in the 2015 Supreme Court ruling in Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs v. Inclusive Communities Project, Inc. (covered by a Buckley Special Alert) and to codify HUD’s position that its rule is not intended to infringe on the states’ regulation of insurance. Specifically, the proposal codifies the burden-shifting framework outlined in Inclusive Communities, adding five elements that a plaintiff must plead to support allegations that a specific, identifiable, policy or practice has a discriminatory effect. Moreover, the proposal provides methods for defendants to rebut a disparate impact claim.
In the comment letter, the attorneys general argue that the proposal ignores “the Supreme Court’s binding interpretation of the FHA” in Inclusive Communities, stating that the Court “emphasiz[ed] the continued importance of the FHA’s disparate impact theory of liability in advancing the nation’s efforts to advance justice and equality.” Additionally, the attorneys general suggest that the proposal ignores HUD’s statutory mandate and is “arbitrary and capricious in light of its numerous substantive defects.” The attorneys general assert that no changes to the rule are necessary, as there are no revisions “that would add clarity, reduce uncertainty, decrease unwarranted regulatory burdens, or otherwise assist in determining lawful conduct.” The letter concludes with a threat of a “meritorious legal challenge” should HUD approve the changes.
Similarly, on October 16, FTC Commissioner, Rohit Chopra, voiced his concerns with the proposal in a comment letter, stating that it “appears to fundamentally misunderstand how algorithms, big data, and machine learning work in practice,” and that “it would provide safe harbors to the same technologies at issue in HUD’s own action against [a social media company].” Chopra opposes HUD’s proposal for three reasons: (i) algorithms can provide discriminatory results because they are not neutral; (ii) safe harbors should not be created “around technologies that are proprietary, opaque, and rapidly evolving”; and (iii) incentives are distorted by “outsourcing [the] liability for algorithmic discrimination to third parties.” Chopra concludes that the proposal should not be finalized because it “moves enforcement against discrimination backwards.”
On August 22, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California granted in part and denied in part a national bank’s motion to dismiss an action by the City of Sacramento (City) alleging violations of the Fair Housing Act (FHA) and California Fair Employment and Housing Act. In its complaint, the City alleged that the bank violated the FHA and the California Fair Employment and Housing Act by providing minority borrowers mortgage loans with less favorable terms than similarly situated non-minority borrowers, leading to disproportionate defaults and foreclosures causing reduced property tax revenue and increased costs for municipal services for the city. The bank moved to dismiss the action. In reviewing the motion, the court looked to the 2017 Supreme Court decision in Bank of America v. City of Miami (previously covered by a Buckley Special Alert), which 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. The court rejected the majority of the bank’s arguments, denying the motion as to the City’s tax revenue claims and non-economic claims. The court concluded that “there is ‘no reason to think as a general matter that the City’s [tax revenue] claims are out of step with the ‘nature of the statutory cause of action’ and the remedial scheme that Congress created’” in the FHA. Conversely, as for the claims for increased municipal services costs, such as police, fire fighting, and code enforcement, the court found that the claims “rely on conclusory allegations and a foreseeability-only theory without establishing proximate cause” and granted the bank’s motion to dismiss, but allowed the City leave to amend the complaint to establish proximate cause.
On July 30, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit dismissed the City of Miami Gardens (City) Fair Housing Act (FHA) suit against a national bank for lack of standing. This decision was the result of the appeal of a lower court decision previously covered by InfoBytes in June 2018. In the prior decision, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida granted the national bank’s motion for summary judgment. This was a loss for the City, which had argued that the bank made loans that were more expensive for minority borrowers as compared to non-minority borrowers, resulting in greater rates of default and foreclosure and leading to reduced property values and tax revenue for the City. The district court granted the national bank summary judgment based on the City’s failure to present sufficient evidence of discriminatory lending.
On appeal, the bank argued that the district court should have dismissed the claims for lack of standing because “‘the undisputed evidence confirmed that none of the 153 loans originated by [the bank] [within the limitation period] foreclosed,’ so the City could not have suffered an injury as a result of any of [the] loans.” The 11th Circuit agreed that the City lacked standing, concluding that the City’s evidence that certain loans may go into foreclosure at some point in the future “does not satisfy the requirement that a threatened injury be ‘imminent, not conjectural or hypothetical.’” Moreover, although the City referenced ten loans that had gone into foreclosure, the appellate court ruled that “the City did not produce any evidence of the effect of these foreclosures on property-tax revenues or municipal spending,” nor that the loans were issued on discriminatory terms. Accordingly, the 11th Circuit vacated the district court’s award of summary judgment, and held that the district court should have dismissed the action on standing grounds.