Housing Discrimination Case in Calif. Revived
(CN) - The city of Fillmore, Calif., must face claims that it held up the subdivision of seniors' trailer park to keep families with young children out, the 9th Circuit ruled Tuesday.
Residents of the El Dorado Estates Mobile Home Park set the dispute in motion with their 2008 petition to Fillmore for a rent-control ordinance.
El Dorado reacted to the ordinance by deciding to exit the rental business by subdividing and selling individual lots to residents.
This measure met with opposition from the park's older residents, who allegedly worried that the change would lead to a family park conversion.
El Dorado said Fillmore officials then twice rejected El Dorado's application to subdivide as incomplete, forcing it to meet additional standards "not contemplated by California law," as summarized by the federal appeals court.
After El Dorado obtained a state court order vacating most of the additional requirements, the city approved the subdivision on the condition that the park performed environmental review in compliance with the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).
El Dorado claimed that Fillmore officials hinted that they would waive environmental testing if El Dorado agreed to keep the park seniors-only. El Dorado countered with another state court suit, but the court upheld the CEQA review.
In a federal complaint, the park accused Fillmore of discriminating against families in violation of the Fair Housing Act (FHA) and causing "unreasonable delays and costly, extralegal conditions" to prevent it from opening the park to families, the court summarized.
A federal judge nevertheless dismissed the action for lack of jurisdiction after finding that El Dorado lacked Article III standing.
Parties have Article III standing when they can show that they suffered particular harm because of a defendant's conduct, and that the requested relief may redress such harm.
In reviving the park's case Tuesday, a three-judge panel with the 9th Circuit said El Dorado may show that Fillmore's interference with the subdivision application caused "concrete, actual injury."
Though the lower court had said El Dorado's ability to offer homes to families was only theoretical, the appellate panel noted that "El Dorado's alleged injury is not its inability to make housing available (whether potentially or not) to families." (Parentheses in original.)
"Rather, its alleged injury consists of the expenses incurred through unreasonable delays and extralegal conditions imposed by the city in processing the subdivision application, allegedly in the belief that El Dorado would be opening the park to families after subdivision," Judge Richard Clifton wrote for the court. "In other words, the city's interference with El Dorado's subdivision application directly injured El Dorado, regardless of El Dorado's intent with regard to providing housing for families."
El Dorado also achieves standing because it is challenging alleged housing discrimination against families, which is a "constitutionally cognizable legal interest," according to the 10-page ruling.
The delays and expenses Fillmore allegedly imposed on El Dorado fulfill the causation prong, the court found, pointing out that redress of these injuries was available by awarding El Dorado sufficient damages to cover the extra costs or forcing Fillmore to process its application without imposing additional requirements.
Robert Coldren and Mark Alpert with Hart, King & Coldren of Santa Ana argued for El-Dorado. A representative with Hart King told Courthouse News that the firm is "very gratified [that] the court has reversed the District Court's decision throwing the park owner plaintiff out of court. This new decision means the merits of the park owner's claims can now be pursued."
Jeffrey Malawy with Aleshire & Wynder of Irvine represented Fillmore. That firm has not returned a request for comment.
Judges Alfred Goodwin and Raymond Fisher joined Clifton on the panel.