On May 3, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit held that the City of Miami plausibly alleged that two national banks’ lending practices violated the Fair Housing Act (FHA) and led to defaults, foreclosures, and vacancies, and eventually reduced property values and corresponding property tax revenues. The court did so by finding “some direct relation” between the City’s tax revenue injuries and the Bank’s alleged violations of the FHA. The case returned to the 11th Circuit after having been appealed to and resolved in part in the U.S. Supreme Court in 2017, where the Court held that municipal plaintiffs may be “aggrieved persons” authorized to bring suit under the FHA against lenders for injuries allegedly flowing from discriminatory lending practices (previously covered by a Buckley Special Alert). According to the appellate court opinion, the Court “declined to ‘draw the precise boundaries of proximate cause under the FHA and to determine on which side of the line the City’s financial injuries fall,’” leaving to the lower courts the issue of how the principles of proximate cause function when applied to the FHA and the facts of the complaints.
The appellate court concluded that the district court erred in dismissing the City’s claims against the banks in their entirety, with the 11th Circuit finding “a logical and direct bond between discriminatory lending as a pattern and practice applied to neighborhoods throughout the City and the reduction in property values.” However, the appellate court concluded that the City’s allegations fell short of establishing a direct relationship between the alleged misconduct and the City’s purported increase in its municipal services expenditures, noting that the U.S. Supreme Court “has told us that foreseeability alone is not enough.” The appellate court emphasized that at the motion to dismiss stage it was only addressing the plausibility that the alleged conduct violated the FHA, and remanded the case back to the district court.