City seeks to dismiss Supreme Court case

Scope of court’s decision could have adverse effects on housing, civil rights

February 10, 2012--Today, the City of Saint Paul requested that the United States Supreme Court dismiss the city’s petition to hear the pending case of Magner v. Gallagher. The case is a lawsuit brought by landlords who oppose the city's vigorous enforcement of the city’s housing code. The city's efforts were focused on eliminating conditions such as rodent infestation, missing dead bolt locks, inoperable smoke detectors, poor sanitation, and inadequate heat. While Saint Paul likely would have won in the United States Supreme Court, a victory could substantially undermine important civil rights enforcement throughout the nation. The city fully expects to win the case later at trial.

The City of Saint Paul, national civil rights organizations, and legal scholars believe that, if Saint Paul prevails in the U.S. Supreme Court, such a result could completely eliminate "disparate impact" civil rights enforcement, including under the Fair Housing Act and the Equal Credit Opportunity Act. This would undercut important and necessary civil rights cases throughout the nation. The risk of such an unfortunate outcome is the primary reason the city has asked the Supreme Court to dismiss the petition.

“As we saw recently with the United States Department of Justice’s settlement against Countrywide Mortgage, which provided $335 million of relief to homeowners who have been discriminated against, disparate impact recovery is an important tool in fighting predatory lending and economic injustice,” Mayor Chris Coleman said. “We remain firm in our resolve that, when our city protects tenants from substandard housing, such enforcement enhances – not undermines – civil rights and human dignity.”

“The Mayor’s and the City Council’s thoughtful decision should not be cause for these landlords to celebrate, but instead highlights the city’s belief that it will be successful in defending its code enforcement actions in any court,” said Saint Paul City Attorney Sara Grewing, whose office is defending the case. “The city is confident we will achieve the same result in trial that we would have through the completion of the appeal. We look forward to cross-examining these landlords in front of a jury and we will try the case to win – an outcome the city expects.”