Law School Case Brief
Bank of Am. Corp. v. City of Miami - 137 S. Ct. 1296 (2017)
Proximate cause under the Fair Housing Act requires some direct relation between the injury asserted and the injurious conduct alleged. A damages claim under the statute is analogous to a number of tort actions recognized at common law, and judicial precedent repeatedly applies directness principles to statutes with common-law foundations. The general tendency in these cases, in regard to damages at least, is not to go beyond the first step. What falls within that first step depends in part on the nature of the statutory cause of action and an assessment of what is administratively possible and convenient.
Plaintiff City of Miami filed suit against defendants Bank of America and Wells Fargo (Banks), alleging violations of the Fair Housing Act (FHA or Act). The FHA prohibited, among other things, racial discrimination in connection with real-estate transactions, and permitted any “aggrieved person” to file a civil damages action for a violation of the Act. The City's complaints charged that the Banks intentionally targeted predatory practices at African-American and Latino neighborhoods and residents, lending to minority borrowers on worse terms than equally creditworthy nonminority borrowers and inducing defaults by failing to extend refinancing and loan modifications to minority borrowers on fair terms. The City alleged that the Banks' discriminatory conduct led to a disproportionate number of foreclosures and vacancies in majority-minority neighborhoods, which impaired the City's effort to assure racial integration, diminished the City's property-tax revenue, and increased demand for police, fire, and other municipal services. The District Court dismissed the complaints on the grounds that the harms alleged fell outside the zone of interests the FHA protected, and that the complaints failed to show a sufficient causal connection between the City's injuries and the Banks' discriminatory conduct. The Eleventh Circuit reversed.
- Did the harm contemplated fall within the ambit of FHA?
- Did the complaints sufficiently establish causal connection between the City’s injuries and the Banks' discriminatory conduct?
The United States Supreme Court held that a City's claimed lost tax revenue and extra municipal expenses that resulted from the Banks' alleged predatory practices aimed at African-American and Latino neighborhoods and residents fell within the zone of interests protected by the FHA since the allegations of resulting concentrations of foreclosure and vacancies in those neighborhoods were similar to injuries that were previously acknowledged as within the FHA's zone of interests. Anent the second issue, the Court held that foreseeability alone was not sufficient to establish proximate cause under the FHA where the housing market was interconnected with economic and social life, and thus, an FHA violation could have caused ripples of harm to flow far beyond the banks' misconduct. Because of this, the Court held that a remand was necessary for the lower courts to define, in the first instance, the contours of proximate cause under the FHA and decide how the standard applied.
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