Non-Hispanic Landlord Can Sue City for Race Discrimination Challenging Overcrowding Ordinance

The United States Court of Appeals, Eleventh Circuit reversed a dismissal that had thrown out a lawsuit by a non-Hispanic landlord suing Juniper, Florida for race discrimination in violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment because of its enactment of an Overcrowding Ordinance and enforcement only against properties that housed Hispanic immigrant tenants.   

The Overcrowding Ordinance stated that no more than five persons, not related by blood or marriage, could occupy a single housing unit.  The Overcrowding Ordinance did provide an exemption for children less than eighteen years old.  

The Eleventh Circuit held that the non-Hispanic landlord could sue the Juniper for race discrimination because it suffered financial injury on lost rent and the lost sale of its property, the injuries were caused by the enactment of the Overcrowding Ordinance, and the damages sought in the lawsuit would remedy the injuries.  The Eleventh Circuit also held that the non-Hispanic landlord had third party standing to assert the rights of the Hispanic tenants.  The Eleventh Circuit dismissed the district court’s finding that “a non-Hispanic landlord lacks standing to bring a race discrimination claim on behalf of its Hispanic residents.” 

Keep reading for GZB’s summary of Young Apartments, Inc. v. Town of Jupiter, Florida, U.S. Court of Appeals, 11th Circuit, No. 07-12076, decided June 5, 2008.  

Young Apartments, Inc. (“Young Apartments”) owned two apartment buildings containing thirty rental units in an area of Juniper, Florida called “Center Street”.  Center Street contained more than one hundred rental units and was known to be primarily occupied by Hispanic immigrant workers.  Center Street was also known as a gathering place for these workers to wait to be picked up by employers to be transported to their daily jobs.  Responding to concerns of certain Juniper residents, Juniper adopted an Overcrowding Ordinance as part of an alleged effort to eliminate available and affordable housing for Hispanic immigrant workers. 

The Overcrowding Ordinance stated that no more than five persons, not related by blood or marriage, could occupy a single housing unit.  The Overcrowding Ordinance did provide an exemption for children less than eighteen years old.  

After it enacted the Overcrowding Ordinance, Juniper officials conducted a pre-dawn raid at Young Apartments without prior consent or an inspection warrant.  As a result of the raid, Young Apartments was cited for multiple violations of the Overcrowding Ordinance.  Because of the raid and the citations, Young Apartments lost tenants and lost a contract to sale of the entirety of its rental properties. 

Young Apartments sued Juniper alleging claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for race discrimination in the enactment of the Overcrowding Ordinance and in its selective enforcement by Juniper against properties that housed Hispanic immigrant tenants.  On a motion to dismiss, the district court concluded that “a non-Hispanic landlord lacks standing to bring a race discrimination claim on behalf of its Hispanic residents” and dismissed the lawsuit for lack of standing.  The Eleventh Circuit reversed. 

Landlord Has Standing to Challenge Its Own Injury 

The Eleventh Circuit noted that Young Apartments was suing for its own mistreatment, which it claimed resulted from Juniper’s discriminatory targeting of Hispanic tenants.  As such, Young Apartments had standing under § 1983 to vindicate it owns rights, distinct from the rights of its Hispanic tenants.   

To meet standing requirements, a plaintiff must show:  (1) sufferance of an actual or threatened injury; (2) that the injury is fairly traceable to the challenged conduct of the defendant; and, (3) that the injury is likely to be redressed by a favorable ruling.  Under this review, the Eleventh Circuit held that Young Apartments fulfilled all three constitutional requirements.   

Young Apartments had suffered a financial injury based on lost rent and the lost sale of its property.  The injuries were alleged to be caused by the enactment and enforcement of the Overcrowding Ordinance and would be remedied by a favorable by the damages sought in the lawsuit.   

Courts have routinely found that a business has standing to bring § 1983 claims against state officials who are harming its business by discriminating against its customers.  This rule of law is based on the uncontroversial principle that it is unconstitutional for a state actor, motivated by discriminatory animus, to interfere with an individual’s right to contract or associated with members of a protected class.  The Eleventh Circuit rejected the district court’s contention that Young Apartments did not possess standing because it was non-Hispanic.  Even as a non-minority, Young Apartments’ own injury was sufficient to confer standing, separate from the question of whether it also had standing to vindicate the rights of its Hispanic tenants.   

Landlord Has Third-Party Standing to Assert Rights of Its Tenants 

The Eleventh Circuit noted that the district court wrongly concluded that to the extent the claims of Young Apartments implicate the rights of its Hispanic tenants prudential considerations prevent it from bringing the claims.  

Ordinarily, a plaintiff is denied standing to assert the rights of a third party.  However, an exception to this rule exists to allow businesses to advocate on behalf of their clients and customers against discriminatory actions that interfere with that business relationship. For this exception to apply, a business must:  (1) have suffered an “injury-in-fact” giving it a “sufficiently concrete interest” in the outcome of dispute; (2) a close relation to the third party; and, (3) there must exist some hindrance to the third party’s ability to protect his or her own rights.  Under this review, the Eleventh Circuit held that Young Apartments fulfilled all three criteria.   

Young Apartments’ own pursuit of economic damages was sufficient to ensure that it would be an effective advocate in the dispute and its interest and that of its tenants were sufficiently aligned to ensure that Young Apartments would properly frame the issues in the lawsuit.  Because Juniper was allegedly targeting Hispanic immigrants by taking actions against their landlords, it would be difficult, if not impossible for Young Apartments to vindicate its own rights fully without implicating the rights of its tenants, there was a sufficiently close relationship between the landlord and its tenants.  Because of the hostility and fear Hispanic tenants allegedly faced, Young Apartments was an appropriate plaintiff because the tenants may have been reluctant to raise their own claims. 

You can download a copy of Young Apartments, Inc. v. Town of Jupiter, Florida here. 

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: