On July 10, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida dismissed with prejudice the Fair Housing Act claims in three suits filed by the City of Miami against mortgage lenders. City of Miami v. Bank of Am., No. 13-cv-24506, 2014 WL 3362348 (S.D. Fla. July 9, 2014); City of Miami v. Wells Fargo & Co., No. 13-cv-24508 (S.D. Fla. July 9, 2014); City of Miami v. Citigroup Inc., No. 13-cv-24510 (S.D. Fla. July 9, 2014). The city alleged the lenders engaged in predatory lending in minority communities, that the allegedly predatory loans were more likely to result in foreclosure, and that foreclosures allegedly caused by those practices diminished the city’s tax base and increased the costs of providing municipal services.
The court held that under the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision in Lexmark Intern., Inc. v. Static Control Components, Inc., 134 S. Ct. 1377, 1387 (2014), purely economic injury is outside the zone of interest of the Fair Housing Act. The court explained that the “policy behind the Fair Housing Act (FHA) emphasizes the prevention of discrimination in the provision of housing” while the city’s alleged “economic injury from the reduction in tax revenue . . . [and] expenditures” in contrast is not “affected by a racial interest.” Thus, the court held that the city’s claim fell outside the FHA’s zone of interest and the city lacked standing to sue. The court explained that the recent decision in City of Los Angeles v. Bank of America, which allowed that city’s FHA claim to proceed, was not persuasive because, unlike in the Ninth Circuit, controlling Eleventh Circuit precedent requires the application of the zone of interest to FHA claims.
The court also held that the city could not establish proximate causation because it did not allege facts that isolated the lenders’ practices as the cause of any alleged lending disparity, citing the independent actions of a multitude of non-parties during the financial crisis that “break the causal chain.” The court rejected the city’s statistical correlations as insufficient to support a causation claim. Finally, the court held that the city’s FHA claims were time barred and that the continuing violation doctrine did not apply to extend the time limit. For further discussion of how courts should apply Lexmark to these types of municipal FHA cases the way the court did in this case, see the article published recently by BuckleySandler attorneys Valerie Hletko and Ann Wiles.