In a decision that may have far-reaching implications throughout the apartment industry, the U.S. District Court for the District Of Columbia threw out a suit brought by the Washington, D.C-based Equal Rights Center (ERC) against Atlanta-based Post Properties for alleged violations of the Fair Housing Act.
In the ruling, issued Monday, U.S. District Judge Richard J. Leon stated that the ERC lacks the necessary standing to bring this action and threw the case out. The case had been in limbo since 2006, when ERC first filed the suit, alleging that Post “designed, constructed, and operated its complexes in a manner making them inaccessible to persons with disabilities in violation of the Fair Housing Act.” Post countered that the ERC didn’t have standing as an organization representing the disabled.
“The judge ruled that the ERC didn’t have the right to bring the case against Post, essentially because they weren’t damaged,” says Christopher Hanback, a partner in the Washington, D.C., office of the Holland & Knight law firm that defended Post. “That’s an important legal concept that requires that the courts only adjudicate cases between parties that have real disputes. Just because a public interest group doesn’t like the law and wants to change the law, the group can’t go into court and try to find a claim.”
Because he dubs the case an “ongoing litigation matter,” ERC’s Executive Director Dan Kahl wouldn’t comment extensively, but he did issue a statement to Multifamily Executive.
The Equal Rights Center is deeply disappointed in the recent ruling in the Post Property matter. This ruling reverses a prior ruling of this same court and ignores the consistent rulings in favor of the ERC on the same issue by every other federal district courts in the region. But more importantly, we believe that the ruling fails to address a substantial amount of evidence that was before the court in this case, and does not correctly apply the law announced by both Supreme Court and several other Courts of Appeals. The Equal Rights Center continues to analyze the Court’s ruling and will take the appropriate actions in due course.
Since 2005, the ERC has filed suit against many of the apartment industry's heavyweights, including Archstone, AvalonBay Communities, Equity Residential, Post Properties, CB Richard Ellis Group/ Trammell Crow Co., The Bozzuto Group, Camden Property Trust, Lion Gables Realty Limited Partnership (Gables), Kettler, and Trammell Crow Residential. It has reached settlements with Archstone, Bozzuto, CB Richard Ellis Group/Trammell Crow Co., Kettler, Camden Property Trust, and Trammell Crow Residential.
“I think this case is going be very beneficial to the apartment industry because it will affirm what people probably thought, which is that the ERC just can’t necessarily file a lawsuit and then go on a fishing expedition and threaten the defendant with the costs of defending the case, even if there’s no claim,” Hanback says.
Still, Hanback believes this won’t be the last battle between the ERC and the apartment industry. “This is another round in a continuing battle," he says.