Jones v. Alfred H. Mayer Company

RESPONDENT: Alfred H. Mayer Company
LOCATION: Alfred Realty Company

DECIDED BY: Warren Court (1967-1969)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit

CITATION: 392 US 409 (1968)
ARGUED: Apr 01, 1968 / Apr 02, 1968
DECIDED: Jun 17, 1968

Facts of the case

Jones, a black man, charged that a real estate company in Missouri's St. Louis County refused to sell him a home in a particular neighborhood on account of his race.


Did the defendant violate 42 U.S.C. Section 1982 which guarantees equal rights to all citizens making real estate transactions?

Media for Jones v. Alfred H. Mayer Company

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - April 02, 1968 in Jones v. Alfred H. Mayer Company

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - April 01, 1968 in Jones v. Alfred H. Mayer Company

Earl Warren:

Number 645, Joseph Lee Jones, et al., Petitioner, versus Alfred H. Mayer Company et al.

Mr. Liberman.

Samuel H. Liberman:

Mr. Chief Justice and may it please the Court.

This case arises on a petition for certiorari to the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals on a judgment which simply affirmed a holding by the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri dismissing the amended complaint in these actions for failure to state the cause of action upon which relief can be granted.

Therefore, the facts which are well pleaded in the First Amendment complaints set out in the appendix are the facts which we are dealing with.

These facts alleged that the respondents, a group of related corporations and one individual or developers of a subdivision known Paddock Woods in St. Louis County, Missouri.

They also are developers of adjacent subdivisions known as Paddock Estates, Paddock Meadows, Paddock Hills, and Wedgwood and perhaps some others.

They received permission from various estate agencies to build these divisions including Paddock Woods.

They layout the streets and the sewers and the recreation facilities and various other facilities and then they plot out certain lots and they sell houses and lots to the public.

The method of selling is by buildings and display houses of different types on the -- at the location of the subdivision.

And then the public looks at the display house and the buyer, if he likes one of the houses, will enter into a contract by which the respondents will build a certain house according to the choice of the buyer on a certain lot.

And when it's completed, the transfer of the property is then made.

It's further alleged that the estate in the various governmental subdivisions of the estate are involved with the building of the subdivision both in the approval and the assistance which they give to the builder and from the standpoint of the function -- community functions which they delegate to the builder with respect to the government of this community.

The facts out of this case in particular arose from Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Jones, the petitioners went out to the subdivision and saw a house which they wanted to buy and attempted buy it, and it is alleged that the respondents refused to deal with them or to sell them a house solely because Mr. Jones is a Negro.

The question presented has led to certain refusal solely because of the raise of the prospective buyer is in violation of the law of the United States.

In our brief, this question took two forms, firstly, whether the conduct is prohibited by Section 1978 of the revised statutes 42 U.S.C., Section 1982.

Secondly, whether regardless of the statute on the particular facts of the case due to the nature of the subdivision, the developer would be barred from discriminating in excluding Negroes even without a statute because of the amount of state action which would be involved in the building of the subdivision.

Also in our brief, we broke down the question concerning the statute into its interpretation and as to whether if interpreted as barring this kind of conduct by developer whether that would be a constitutional -- constitutionally valid statute.

Actually, it has been conceded by the respondents that such interpretation would be constitutional and in fact the court below, the Court of Appeals, Judge Blackmun held in his opinion there was a matter of interpretation of the statute rather than a constitutional question.

So, addressing my first -- myself first to the statutory question rather than the constitutional question, we think that the statute by its plain terms bars a builder of a private subdivision from excluding persons from buying and living in that subdivision because of their race.

Do you apply the individual house zoning?

Samuel H. Liberman:

Your Honor, that question is not before the Court in this case because --

That's your view of the statute.

Samuel H. Liberman:

In my view of the statute, it would apply to an individual house owner as well but of course that and we have here a subdivision developer in which bar make it much broader type of exclusion as it's pointed out in the brief of United States.

The question concerning the interpretation can be looked at from the standpoint of the history and from a standpoint of what the statute says.

The history of the statute is set out at length in the brief filed by the respondents and there's more of it set out in the petitioner's brief, in the amicus brief filed by the United States and in the amicus filed by the group of organizations and by the National Committee against Discrimination in Housing.

We think that the history, it shows abundant awareness on the part of the drafters of this law but it would apply to individual action as well as to action only by the state.

The -- although there are some mentioned in the debates concerning this law of the problem of state action looked at in the historical standpoint.

I do not think you can interpret it as meaning that would only cover state action.

In other words, the Congress at that time was concerned with state action from the standpoint that they have no doubt under the accepted constitutional doctrine in the McCulloch versus Maryland and Prigg versus Pennsylvania that they can do what they wished with respect to controlling the conduct of individuals in violation of constitutional rights.