Ninth Circuit: City Not Entitled to Summary Judgment on Housing Discrimination Claims

GavelThe Ninth Circuit issued its decision Friday in Pacific Shores Properties, LLC v. City of Newport Beach, No. 11-55460. In the case, plaintiffs alleged that a City ordinance violated the Fair Housing Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, the California Fair Employment and Housing Act, and the Equal Protection Clause because the ordinance had the practical effect of prohibiting new group homes for recovering alcoholics and drug users from opening in most residential districts. Although the district court had granted summary judgment for the City, the Ninth Circuit today reversed that decision. It concluded that the plaintiffs had created a triable issue of fact as to whether the City enacted the ordinance to discriminate against them, and whether its enactment and enforcement harmed them.

I wrote an amicus brief on behalf of the League of California Cities, which urged the court to find that evidence of arguably discriminatory intent or motive in adopting a city ordinance was not, standing alone, enough to invalidate a facially neutral ordinance. But, the court found the district court should have taken into account circumstantial evidence of discriminatory motivation—as expressed by individual council members participating in the decision—when reviewing what was otherwise a facially neutral ordinance restricting group homes. It also found, among other things, that the plaintiffs were not required to identify similarly situated individuals who were treated better than those subjected to the ordinance.

Image courtesy of Flickr by Brian Turner (creative-commons license, no changes made).