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WALLACE v. CHICAGO HOUSING AUTHORITY

June 16, 2004.

DIANE LINK WALLACE, ANGELA MAPLES, LISA TAYLOR, MARY E. SISTRUNK, PANDORA MEADORS, ANNIE R. SMITH, and NICHELLE HART, on behalf of themselves and all others similarly situated, Plaintiffs,
v.
THE CHICAGO HOUSING AUTHORITY, an Illinois Municipal Corporation, and TERRY PETERSON, in his official capacity as Chief Executive officer of the CHA, Defendants.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: RUBEN CASTILLO, District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

This opinion addresses Plaintiffs Diane Link Wallace, Angela Maples, Lisa Taylor, Mary E. Sistrunk, Pandora Meadors, Annie R. Smith, and Nichelle Hart's ("Plaintiffs") Motion to Reconsider Section I of this Court's December 23, 2003 Memorandum Opinion and Order. (R. 31-1.) Plaintiffs ask the Court to reconsider only the portion of our decision that limits Plaintiffs' Fair Housing Act ("FHA") claims to any acts that occurred within the FHA's two-year statute of limitations.*fn1 (R. 27, Dec. 23, 2003 Order at 7.) Specifically, Plaintiffs challenge our holding that "any acts occurring more than two years before the filing of the initial complaint on January 23, 2003 are time-barred." (Id.) Plaintiffs argue that we should reconsider our prior order because: (1) their FHA claims rest on Defendant Chicago Housing Authority's ("CHA") on-going practices, which under a continuing-violations theory, would allow acts occurring before the FHA's two-year statute of limitations to survive; and (2) CHA's practices were not interrupted by the Relocation Rights Contract. For the reasons set forth below, we agree with Plaintiffs' first argument but disagree with the second; we therefore grant Plaintiffs' motion to reconsider in part and deny it in part. (R. 31-1.)

ANALYSIS

  Whether to grant a motion to reconsider is a matter squarely within the Court's discretion. Caisse Nationale de Credit Agricole v. CBI Indus., Inc., 90 F.3d 1264, 1270 (7th Cir. 1996). Typically, the Court will not reconsider a prior order unless the movant presents newly discovered evidence, establishes a manifest error of law or fact, or demonstrates that the Court has "patently misunderstood" its position. Bank of Waunakee v. Rochester Cheese Sales, Inc., 906 F.2d 1185, 1191 (7th Cir. 1990). In our prior order, however, we indicated that we might revisit our decision regarding the statute of limitations if Plaintiffs could establish that they intended to proceed under a pattern-or-practice theory and that proceeding under that theory would alter our application of the statute of limitations to Plaintiffs' claims. (R. 27, Dec. 23, 2003 Order at 7 n. 1.) In their motion to reconsider, Plaintiffs argue that they can properly bring a pattern-or-practice theory as private litigants, and they assert that proceeding under that theory brings acts that occurred prior to 2001 into the statute of limitations period under a continuing-violations theory. Therefore, we will address Plaintiffs' motion to reconsider those issues in full. I. Private Parties May Bring A Pattern-or-Practice Claim Under The FHA

  The text of the FHA gives private litigants the right to enforce the FHA in court: "[a]n aggrieved person may commence a civil action . . . not later than 2 years after the occurrence or the termination of an alleged discriminatory housing practice . . ." 42 U.S.C. § 3613(a)(1)(A) (emphasis added). The FHA also allows the Attorney General to commence a civil action where "any person or group or persons is engaged in a pattern or practice" of violating the rights granted under the FHA. 42 U.S.C. § 3614(a). This section's specific reference to the Attorney General's authority to prosecute pattern-or-practice claims does not contradict nor diminish the ability of "any aggrieved person" to bring such claims under § 3613(a)(1)(A). The Supreme Court has held that similar language in an earlier version of the FHA merely "serves to describe the suits that the Attorney General may bring, and not to limit suits that private parties may bring[.]"*fn2 Havens Realty Corp. v. Coleman, 455 U.S. 363, 381 n. 23 (1982). Thus, a private litigant may properly bring a pattern-or-practice claim under the FHA. Id.

  II. Plaintiffs' Pattern-or-Practice Theory

  In their motion to reconsider, Plaintiffs assert that their disparate impact, perpetuation of segregation, and racial steering claims are all necessarily grounded in a theory that CHA had a pattern or practice of violating the FHA. (R. 31-1, Mot. to Reconsider at 3.) Plaintiffs clarify that unlike their § 1983 claims, which stem solely from CHA's alleged on-going failure to provide adequate relocation services, their claims under the FHA also arise from CHA's alleged practices of racial steering and wrongfully displacing Plaintiffs from their homes. (Id. at 2-3.) Plaintiffs argue that this distinction impacts our prior holding regarding the application of the statute of limitations to their claims because the Supreme Court's decision in Havens, rather than National Railroad Passenger Corporation v. Morgan, 536 U.S. 101 (2002), applies to their FHA claims. (Id. at 1-2.)

  A. Both Havens and Morgan Inform Our Analysis of Plaintiffs' Pattern-or-Practice Claims Under The FHA

  Upon reconsideration, we find that both Havens and Morgan inform our analysis of whether acts that occurred prior to the two-year limitations period are actionable as part of an alleged pattern or practice of conduct in violation of the FHA. In Morgan, the Supreme Court considered whether a plaintiff suing under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended by 42 U.S.C. § 2000e, may bring claims based on events that fall outside of that statute's limitations period. 536 U.S. at 104-05. The Court focused on the text of Title VII, which states that a suit must be filed "within one hundred and eighty days after the alleged unlawful employment practice occurred." Id. at 109 (emphasis in original) (quoting 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(e)(1)). Based on that language, the Court held that Title VII precludes claims for discrete acts of discrimination that occur outside of the limitations period, and that, for purposes of a hostile work environment claim, acts that occur prior to the limitations period are actionable as long as an act constituting part of the hostile work environment occurs within the limitations period. Id. at 113-14, 116-18. The Court made this distinction between hostile work environment claims and discrete discriminatory acts because it found that the "very nature [of hostile work environment claims] involves repeated conduct." Id. at 115. In other words, because a hostile work environment claim necessarily involves "a series of separate acts that collectively constitute one" unlawful practice, the court may consider the entire time period of that practice as long as an act contributing to the claim occurred within the limitations period. Id. at 117.

  In Havens, the Supreme Court specifically addressed the FHA's statute of limitations. There, the Supreme Court held that a pattern-or-practice theory may revive otherwise stale acts if these acts are part of a "continuing violation" of the FHA. 455 U.S. at 380-81. Under the continuing-violations theory, the Court held that claims challenging "an unlawful practice" under the FHA are timely as long as the "last asserted occurrence of that practice" falls within the limitations period. Id. at 380-81. Thus, an allegation of a continuing violation under the FHA is treated differently than an allegation of a discrete act of discrimination for statute-of-limitations purposes. Id.

  The FHA's statute of limitations was amended in 1988, and now states — consistent with the Havens holding — that an aggrieved party's claims are timely if they are filed "not later than 2 years after the occurrence or the termination of an alleged discriminatory housing practice[.]" 42 U.S.C. § 3613(a) (emphasis added). Congress, by adding language to clarify that a party may bring a claim within two years after the end of an allegedly on-going discriminatory housing practice, clarified its intent to allow parties to recover for earlier acts under the FHA that constitute part of an on-going pattern or practice. See H.R. Rep. No. 100-711, at 33, reprinted in 1988 U.S.C.A.A.N. 2173, 2194.

  The amended text of the FHA coupled with the Supreme Court's holding in Havens demonstrates that where a plaintiff properly alleges a pattern of conduct that violates the FHA, acts that occur prior to the limitations period are actionable as long as they are part of the alleged pattern. The Morgan decision does not contradict this finding; rather, it recognizes that prior acts may be timely under the continuing-violations theory where the asserted claim necessarily arises from a pattern of unlawful conduct. 536 U.S. at 117. Thus, we now turn to whether Plaintiffs have properly alleged that CHA engaged in a pattern or practice of violating the FHA.

  B. Plaintiffs' A Pattern-Or-Practice Allegations

  A pattern-or-practice claim "necessarily involves a number of discriminatory acts, not a particular one from which the time for bringing suit may be measured." United States v. City of Parma, Ohio, 661 F.2d 562, 573 (6th Cir. 1981). Thus, "[i]n a suit claiming that the defendant engaged in a continuous course of conduct that causes damages . . . a plaintiff can recover for damages that preceded the limitations period if they stem from a persistent process of illegal discrimination." Tyus v. Urban Search Mgmt., 102 F.3d 256, 265 (7th Cir. 1996). To establish a continuing course of conduct under a pattern-or-practice theory, Plaintiffs must show that the character of CHA's ...


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