New York Federal Court Dismissed FHA Claim Against Housing Authority

The United States District Court for the Western District of New York recently granted the Rochester Housing Authority’s (the “RHA”) motion dismissing an action against it alleging violations of the Fair Housing Act (the “FHA”).  See Byrd v. Rochester Hous. Auth., 2018 WL 2739790 (W.D.N.Y. June 7, 2018).  In the case, plaintiff alleged that that the RHA refused to place her on a waiting list for public housing for discriminatory reasons in violation of the FHA, which prohibits discrimination in the sale or rental of property based on “race, color, religion, sex, familial status, or national origin.”  See 42 U.S.C. §§ 3604-3606.  The RHA denied the allegations and filed a motion to dismiss, which the Court converted to a motion for summary judgment.

The Court granted the RHA’s motion.  Under the FHA, the plaintiff must make a prima facie case of housing discrimination by alleging “(1) the plaintiff is a member of a protected class; (2) the plaintiff sought and was qualified to rent or purchase the housing; (3) the defendant denied the plaintiff the opportunity to rent or purchase the housing; and (4) the housing opportunity remained available to other renters or purchasers.”  Once the plaintiff establishes the prima facie case, the burden shifts to the defendant to “assert a legitimate, nondiscriminatory rationale for the challenged decision.”  The burden then shifts back to the plaintiff to prove defendant’s rationale was pretext.  Here, the Court found that, even if plaintiff could make a prima facie case, the RHA demonstrated that it denied plaintiff’s rental application because of prior lawsuits filed against her by a landlord, one of which resulted in a judgment.  Accordingly, the Court held “Plaintiff has failed to show that a reasonable jury could conclude that unlawful discrimination was the real reason her rental application was rejected by RHA” and granted the RHA’s motion dismissing the action.

For a copy of the decision, please contact Michael O’Donnell at modonnell@riker.com, Michael Crowley at mcrowley@riker.com, or Dylan Goetsch at dgoetsch@riker.com.