On March 26, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois issued a ruling that Cook County (the County) may move forward with a lawsuit against a national bank (the Bank) for allegedly violating the Fair Housing Act (FHA) by engaging in discriminatory lending practices, holding that the County “‘is entitled to a chance to prove its case’” and establish proximate cause. In 2015, the district court dismissed the County’s complaint against the Bank on the grounds that the alleged facts did not fall within the scope of the FHA, and that the County itself was not an “‘aggrieved person’ entitled to sue under the [FHA].” However, the County filed a second amended complaint after the Supreme Court issued a 2017 ruling (previously covered in a Buckley Sandler Special Alert), which 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, but that such injuries must be proximately caused by the alleged misconduct rather than simply a foreseeable result.
In granting in part and denying in part the Bank’s motion to dismiss the County’s second amended complaint, the district court ruled that the County may proceed on its FHA claims only “to the extent they allege that [the Bank’s] equity-stripping practice directly resulted in increased expenditures” by the County, “in connection with administering and processing an increased number of foreclosures.” According to the court, foreclosures in majority-minority neighborhoods were more likely to occur than in neighborhoods with fewer minority residents. “Statistical analysis could establish the likelihood that a loan modification denial would lead to foreclosure, and therefore could help a factfinder assess how many unnecessary foreclosures [the] County processed as a result of [the Bank’s] conduct,” the district court stated. Other claims such as “lost property tax revenue, increased demand for County services” including housing-related counseling, and “diminished racial balance and stability” were dismissed because they would require estimating too many variables. Additionally, in response to the Bank’s challenge that the County’s suit was barred by the FHA’s statute of limitations, the district court ruled that the challenge is premature because it is not apparent when the County “‘knew or should have known’” that the Bank’s equity-stripping practice was an actionable violation under the FHA.