On Monday, the United States Supreme Court ruled that the city of Miami, FL can sue Wells Fargo and Bank of America, under federal housing law, for allegedly discriminating against minority borrowers.
The lawsuit was actually filed in 2013, when the city of Miami contended that both of these banks had targeted potential black and Latino homeowners for mortgage loans of lower favor and higher risk, which ultimately resulted in lots of defaults, foreclosures, and property values across the city.
In a 5-3 Supreme Court decision, Miami can be considered an “aggrieved person” under the Fair Housing Act. According to Justic Stephen G. Breyer, “This court has repeatedly written that the FHA’s definition of person ‘aggrieved’ reflects a congressional intent to confer standing broadly.”
He contends, “Here, we conclude that the City’s claims of financial injury in their amended complaints—specifically, lost tax revenue and extra municipal expenses—satisfy the ’cause-of-action’ requirement.”
He also goes on to explain “Nothing in the statute suggests that Congress intended to provide a remedy wherever those ripples travel. And entertaining suits to recover damages for any foreseeable result of an FHA violation would risk massive and complex damages litigation.”
Another opinion both agreed and disagreed with parts of the majority, with Justice Clarence Thomas nearly perfectly predicting that Miami will not be able to show that these banks lending practices directly resulted in these problems.
In his perspective, Thomas said, “In light of this attenuated chain of causation, Miami’s asserted injuries are too remote from the injurious conduct it has alleged,” citing that the city’s diversion of more municipal resources to specific neighborhoods had not to do with housing discrimination prevention, which was supposed to be the purpose of the Fair Housing Act in the first place.
Wells Fargo spokesman Tom Goyda, of the consumer lending unit, responded: “We believe that under the stringent standards articulated by the Supreme Court, it will be very difficult for Miami or any other municipality to show the required connection between the claimed damages and unsubstantiated allegations about our lending practices, which do not reflect how we operate in the communities we serve.”
Similarly, Bank of America spokesman Lawrence Grayson referenced this ongoing litigation with: “Bank of America is committed to the goals and intent of the Fair Housing Act. We believe these claims are without merit and we will continue to defend our interests in this matter.”