By William W. Abbott
The Ninth Circuit has concluded that the improper handling of a subdivision application by a city can give rise to a claim of discrimination under the Fair Housing Act. The claim stems from city responses to an application to subdivide an existing mobilehome park. El Dorado Estates (“El Dorado”) is the owner of a mobilehome park for residents 55 and older, located in the City of Fillmore. In 2008, the city considered adopting a park rent control ordinance, and El Dorado publically discussed the opening of the park to families. El Dorado elected to pursue a different path, that being to exit as a park operator and to subdivide and sell the tenant spaces. The existing tenants were opposed, and El Dorado encountered obstacles in processing its subdivision application through the city. El Dorado sued the city twice in state court. El Dorado then filed in federal court, alleging that the city’s land use practices were discriminatory based upon family status (families with minor children). El Dorado alleged that it faced unreasonable delays and expenses as a result of the city’s allegedly discriminatory practices. The city successfully filed a motion to dismiss based upon El Dorado’s lack of standing. The district court agreed, dismissing the case, and El Dorado appealed.
The Ninth Circuit disagreed, finding that El Dorado met the minimum three elements to satisfy standing: injury in fact, causation and redressibility. The Ninth held that that El Dorado alleged sufficient injury: unreasonable delays and extralegal conditions imposed upon its land use requests. Satisfied with the allegations of injury, the court of appeals found the remaining two elements: causation could be linked back to the allegations pertaining to the city’s actions while processing the applications and redressibility in that the district could award monetary damages based upon the injuries suffered by El Dorado. Whether El Dorado can prove its claims at trial remains to be determined. More on the federal Fair Housing Act can be found here http://www.justice.gov/crt/about/hce/title8.php. Information concerning California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act can be viewed here http://www.dfeh.ca.gov/Publications_FEHADescr.htm.