Aggrieved Person or Aggrieved Business?

Joseph Cottingham- Congress designed the Fair Housing Act of 1068 (FHA) to forbid “discriminating against any person in the terms, conditions, or privileges of sale or rental of a dwelling, or in the provision of services or facilities in connection therewith, because of race …” The FHA permits any “aggrieved person” to file a civil action for a violation of the statute. Recently, the Supreme Court significantly expanded who is considered an “aggrieved persons,” under the FHA, to include entities like local governments and potentially businesses.

In Wells Fargo & Co. v. City of Miami, the City of Miami sued Wells Fargo and Bank of America for discriminatory loans offered to minority borrowers at significantly higher rates than the loan rates offered to nonminority borrowers. These discriminatory loans, led to high foreclosure rates in minority neighborhoods throughout Miami. As a result of these foreclosures, the City of Miami experienced lower property values and diminished property-tax revenue. The foreclosures also led to an increased demand for municipal services, such as, police, fire, and building and code enforcement services to combat urban blight and dangerous conditions created from the foreclosure epidemic. The City of Miami alleged it fell within the zone of interest that the FHA protects as an “aggrieved person.”

The Court determined that Congress intended the FHA to confer standing broadly because of Congress’ acquiescence to the Court’s broad interpretation of the FHA previously. The Court then held that the City of Miami was an “aggrieved person” under the FHA and was able to bring suit under the statute.

The majority opinion concerningly glances over, and fails to adequately address, the potential windfalls this holding could create. It could theoretically allow a restaurant, plumber, or any participant in the local economy to bring suit against the banks to recover damages for lost business from the financial fallout in their neighborhoods. These issues were considered in oral arguments, with Justice Kagan asking about restaurants and dry cleaners, Justice Sotomayor asking about corner grocers, and Justice Breyer asking about publishers. However, the majority dismisses these concerns with little guidance in their opinion.

Justice Thomas, writing for the dissent, found it concerning that the majority dismissed this issue. Because of this, Justice Thomas stated that the Court’s decision should be interpreted narrowly and not read to permit local businesses to file suit for the same injuries the City of Miami sued for in its case against Wells Fargo. If interpreted broadly, the Courts’ opinion could allow any business to assert injury from decreased property value, foreclosures, urban blight, or municipal budgetary strains. These businesses are parties that Congress certainly could not have intended to fall within the “aggrieved persons” category. To prevent this, Justice Thomas argues that “aggrieved person” should only include the traditional prospective home buyer or lessee discriminated against during the home buying or leasing process, and should not be expanded to encompass cities and various business entities.

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