A recent U.S. District Court decided in favor of Post Properties, who had been sued by the Equal Rights Center (ERC) for violations of the Fair Housing and Americans with Disabilities Acts. The judge granted the defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment and ruled that the plaintiff did not have legal standing in a court of law.
In both cases, advocacy groups filed suit after visiting rental properties to determine whether they were up to code and were then dismissed. We’ll start with the facts of each case and then move onto our opinion of the opinion.
Although neither the stories from the Atlantic Business Journal nor the NAA disclosed the specifics of the case, we believe that the case was very similar to a case we wrote about in 2008, Garcia v. Brockway. In that case, the same ‘failure to comply’ allegations were brought against a developer whose apartment complex did not include federally mandated disability access features, such as curbside cut-outs.
The Garcia v. Brockway case was dismissed after the judge ruled that the plaintiff’s interpretation of the statute of limitations, (that interpretation [that the statute of limitations for liability was 2 years from the date of the first occupant and not 2 years from the date of the discovery of the problem] extended liability to virtually all individuals and corporations involved in the construction and ownership of the building) was antithetical to the purpose of their lawsuit.
In the Equal Rights Center v. Post Properties case, the judge ruled that the ERC had no standing in court because the plaintiff’s injury “occurred as a result of its decision to investigate Post [Properties].”
A Summary Judgment occurs when the judge, not the jury, makes a determination on either a specific point or the entire case. Basically, the (usually) defense is asking the judge to act as the entire jury because there is some kind of ‘point of procedure’ that needs to be addressed. Juries are employed only to hear the facts of a case, not to address obscure points of law. In this case, the judge ruled on whether or not, according to the law, the plaintiff had legal standing.
Above we have two different court cases, both with the same allegations and both dismissed by a judge and never making it in front of the jury. Both judges essentially ruled that both plaintiff’s were abusing the legal system.
In the first case, the plaintiff, the Disabled Rights Action Committee, by arguing that all individuals and entities involved with the construction where all liable for damages discovered within 2 years of the discovery, if upheld, would drastically increase the amount of people that advocacy groups could sue.
In the second case, the plaintiff, the Equal Rights Center, by arguing that they had sustained injury by taking it upon themselves to inspect buildings for compliance with the FHA, would incentivize those organizations to be like people who make a living by stepping in front of cars.
This is not to say that those advocacy groups do not serve well their members and causes, merely that those groups that use their resources in such a way are not legally appropriate.