Bank of America Corp. v. City of Miami

PETITIONER: Bank of America Corporation, et al.
RESPONDENT: City of Miami, Florida
LOCATION: U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida

DOCKET NO.: 15-1111
DECIDED BY:
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit

CITATION: US ()
GRANTED: Jun 28, 2016
ARGUED: Nov 08, 2016

ADVOCATES:
Curtis E. Gannon - for United States, as amicus curiae
Neal Kumar Katyal - for petitioners
Robert S. Peck - for respondents

Facts of the case

The city of Miami sued Bank of America Corporation and similar defendants under the Federal Housing Act (FHA) and argued that the banks engaged in predatory lending practices that targeted minorities for higher-risk loans, which resulted in high rates of default and caused financial harm to the city. Miami also alleged that the banks unjustly enriched themselves by taking advantage of benefits conferred by the city, that their actions denied the city of expected property and tax revenues, and cost the city money that it would not have had to pay had the banks not engaged in these predatory lending practices. The district court dismissed the FHA claims and held that Miami did not fall within the “zone of interests” the statute was meant to protect, and therefore did not have standing to sue under the FHA. The district court also held that Miami had not adequately shown that the banks’ conduct was the proximate cause of the harm the city claimed to have suffered. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit reversed and held that, as long as the plaintiffs in an FHA case would have standing to sue under Article III of the Constitution, they can sue under the FHA; the statutory standing requirement is not more narrow than Article III. The appellate court also determined that Miami had sufficiently shown that the banks’ actions were the proximate cause of the harm because the harm was reasonably foreseeable as a consequence of the actions.

Question

  1. Does the language in the Fair Housing Act that limits standing to sue to “aggrieved person[s]” mean that Congress meant to impose a more narrow standing requirement than that in Article III of the Constitution?
  2. Does the proximate cause standard in the Fair Housing Act require that the plaintiffs show more than the possibility that the defendants could have foreseen the harm that occurred through a chain of consequences?

Media for Bank of America Corp. v. City of Miami

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - November 08, 2016 in Bank of America Corp. v. City of Miami

John G. Roberts, Jr.:

We'll hear argument first this morning in Case No. 15-1111, Bank of America Corporation v. The City of Miami and the consolidated case. Mr. Katyal.

Neal Kumar Katyal:

Thank you, Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the Court: The question in this case is whether cities can sue under one of our nation's most important laws, the Fair Housing Act.

Our answer to that question is yes, sometimes, and I mean three things by that. First, the answer can't be yes always, because that would eviscerate two key doctrines of this Court: Proximate cause and zone of interests. Second, the answer can't be no, never, because cities can identify concrete harms that fall within the zone-of-interests, such as discrete expenditures to combat a particular defendant's racial misconduct. And third, this lawsuit fails both the zone of interests and proximate cause, because the injury it seeks to remedy is unrelated to the Act's purposes, and because that injury is several steps removed from any alleged acts of Petitioners. If I could start with zone of interests. This Court, in Lexmark --

Ruth Bader Ginsburg:

Could you -- before you do that, Mr. Katyal, could you please tell us: You -- you said, yes, cities can sue under the FHA, but not this -- not on -- in this scenario. Can you tell us what -- under what circumstances could a city sue?

Neal Kumar Katyal:

Absolutely, Justice Ginsburg. So we want -- our position is to preserve existing law exactly where it is, and existing law identifies two places where cities can sue.

One is a Havens-like situation in which a city, like the NGO in Havens, is combatting discrete instances of discrimination by defendant, and outlaying things, so testers or something. So if you took the allegations in this complaint and -- and when -- we made them out to be the banks were engaged in some sort of discriminatory loans, and the City had to -- had to basically expend funds to test that out to enforce its housing statutes, that looks very much like the one-to-one relationship that was at issue in Havens, both for zone of interest and for proximate cause.

Sonia Sotomayor:

I'm sorry.

In Havens, the testers were not city employees.

In Havens, they were private organizational employees whose job it was to do this. So why are you attributing the testers' work to the City directly?

Neal Kumar Katyal:

Because, Justice Sotomayor, in that case -- and this is paragraph (F) of the complaint. It's Appendix page 20 in Havens -- the complaint asks for the City's expenditures to combat -- to identify specific things, including testers and other -- you know, other enforcement things.

Sonia Sotomayor:

Why is this different than the other allegations in Havens that had to do, like here, with lost revenues, with lost tax base, which the Court cited as well? Here there are direct expenditures in terms of increased monitoring of the area by police and other services. Aren't those City expenditures?

Neal Kumar Katyal:

So those -- that's not Havens, Justice Sotomayor, with respect.

I think that's Gladstone.

Sonia Sotomayor:

I'm sorry.

I apologize.

Neal Kumar Katyal:

But -- but -- but our position is that to the extent the City cannot plead a complaint that looks like Gladstone -- and this gets back to Justice Ginsburg's question -- the second bucket in which the City can assert an injury is just like Gladstone in which there is a segregation claim that is being advanced.

There was that racial steerers, that Realtors were literally steering African-Americans out of the Village.

That is an anti-discrimination harm to the Village itself.

And so for zone-of-interest purposes, Gladstone doesn't talk about proximate cause at all, but for zone-of-interest purposes, there is absolutely nothing wrong with that.

That is, the City has identified --

Sonia Sotomayor:

I'm sorry, but you're thinking that if banks are forcing people out of a neighborhood, that that's not discrimination?

Neal Kumar Katyal:

Oh, no.

I'm saying that your -- Your Honor, to the extent that that is segregation interest, absolutely it is.

And that's what Gladstone recognizes. Here's what it doesn't recognize though.

It doesn't recognize something like this complaint, which is not that the City is pleading an anti-discrimination interest.

Rather, they are borrowing someone else's anti-discrimination interests, namely the discriminatory loans that happen. So look, our position is the direct victims can obviously sue for that, but so too can the Justice Department and HUD, because that's what Congress empowered them to do, to have a version of parens patriae standing. But what they are saying is, well, we are harmed downstream for tax revenues and things like that. That looks very much like the shareholder in Thompson that so concerned this Court.

That is, the shareholder there was not identifying an anti-discrimination injury; they were identifying an economic injury and cutting and pasting the anti-discrimination --

Ruth Bader Ginsburg:

But what about Gladstone, which is the case of a village suing? They were suing for diminished property values that -- which resulted in loss of revenue.

That -- that was -- so to that extent, these two cases seem the same to me.

The bottom line, their municipality said our tax base has been depleted. The properties have gone way down in value.