Buckeye Community Hope Foundation v. City of Cuyahoga Falls, U.S. Court of Appeals, 6th District, (2001)

Note: This case was tried before the one we had read previously. The decision of this case was reversed in the case we read previously, along with the abandonment of the FHA claim by the plaintiff. In this reading the book gives us two excerpts to explain the 6th District Court’s ruling.

Same as previous case. Buckeye Community Hope Foundation bought land on which it wanted to construct low income housing. The City approved the project, but the public expressed concern about the crime, vice and influx of African Americans. The people petitioned for a referendum repealing the ordinance, and succeeded in voting to pass the referendum in November 1996. Buckeye alleged that the City and its officials violated the Equal Protection Clause and Due Process Clause of the 14th Amendment as well as the Fair Housing Act when they allowed a site plan approval ordinance to be submitted to the electors of the City through referendum and rejected their application for building permits.

In July 1998, the Ohio Supreme Court reversed its preliminary decision and declared the referendum unconstitutional, holding that the OH constitution does not authorize referendums on administrative acts such as the site plan ordinance. The Court also found that the city’s actions had a disparate impact based on race and family status, that the City’s actions gave effect to the racial bias reflected in the public’s opposition to the project, and that the City engaged in arbitrary and irrational government conduct in violation of substantive due process.

  1. Is the official action of the referendum motivated by discriminatory intent (in violation of the equal protection clause)
  2. Is the official action of the referendum motivated by discriminatory intent (in violation of the Federal Housing Act)?
Note: These pair of excerpts do not explicitly state what happened, but I am inferring that both issues were found to be racially biased; grounded in discriminatory intents.

EXCERPT 1: As introduced by the Arlington Heights case, a four prong test was developed for determining whether official action was motivated by discriminatory intent. We apply it to this case as follows.
  1. The racial impact of the challenged decision – The trial judge acknowledged that the staying of the site plan ordinance disproportionately impacted African Americans (in terms of denying needed housing).
  2. A history of discriminatory actions taken by the state – Not applicable in this case.
  3. Departures from the normal procedural sequence – There was a departure, as a member of the Commission did not recall any other project where there was this much scrutiny for a site plan. No other apartment site plan has ever faced referendum.
  4. The administrative history of the decision – Also in support that there was a racial bias. Public opposition to the project had a decidedly racial component (as evidenced by the record).
This excerpt clearly shows how three prongs were satisfied. The plaintiffs seek to show that the defendants violated the EqProtection clause by giving effect to the racially biased opposition to their project. This test has just proven this.

EXCERPT 2: The FHA states that it is unlawful to “make unavailable or deny, a dwelling to any person because of race, color, religion, sex, familial status, or national origin.” By staying the effectiveness of the site plan ordinance and refusing to grant permits, the City violated section 3604 by making dwellings unavailable to potential home builders based on their race. The court outlined three factors determining whether conduct which produces a discriminatory effect violates the FHA.
  1. Strength of the plaintiffs’ showing of disparate impact – The trial judge acknowledged that there was sufficient data to conclude that there was a disproportionate impact on African Americans.
  2. The defendants’ interest in taking the action complained of – Also supports the plaintiffs’ claim.
  3. Does the plaintiff seek to compel the defendant to affirmatively provide housing for members of minority groups or merely to restrain the defendant from interfering with individual property owners who wish to provide such housing. – The plaintiffs did not seek to compel the defendants, rather they sought to restrain the defendants from interfering with the effectiveness of plaintiffs’ site plan.
All three factors support plaintiffs’ disparate impact claim. The district court erred in granting summary judgment on plaintiffs’ Fair Housing Act claims since there are genuine issues of material fact concerning defendant’s liability under the FHA which should be resolved by a jury.