SCOTUS: Fair housing case dismissed

Magner v Gallagher, a civil rights case regarding the impact of municipal housing codes on minorities’ access to rental housing, has been dismissed by agreement of both sides. The case asked whether the federal Fair Housing Act prevented local governments from enforcing housing codes in a way that had a disparate impact on minorities, even if unintentional. It was to be argued on February 29.

Lyle Denniston at SCOTUSBlog writes:

The case pitted city officials and their housing code enforcement agency against current and former owners of private rental properties, whose customers were mainly individuals or families with low incomes, with a large share of them — perhaps 60 to 70 percent — African-American tenants.  The property owners had sued, contending that the city agency used aggressive tactics, including inspection “sweeps,” in order to check out code violations even when there were no complaints.  Correction of the code violations the city found sometimes required expensive renovations.

A federal judge concluded that the property owners could pursue a claim of “disparate impact,” but ruled that they had not proved their claim.  But, even if the enforcement policies did fall more heavily upon African-American tenants, the judge declared, the city had legitimate reasons for its approach.  The Eighth Circuit Court disagreed, and ruled for the property owners.

The federal government, in joining in the case in the Supreme Court, argued that the Circuit Court was right in allowing the disparate-impact claim and in laying out the standard it would use to judge the claim, but that its ruling should be overturned because the Circuit Court had misapplied its standard.   It argued that the property owners had not offered enough evidence to survive the city’s motion to dismiss the case without a full trial.


The case had drawn a significant amount of interest among civil rights groups, arguing that disparate-impact claims were important to maintaining equality in access to housing.  Twelve states had also joined in supporting the property owners.   Some business organizations and conservative legal advocacy groups had entered the case to support St. Paul officials.

Click here for more information on the case.