409 U.S. 205 (1972), 71-708, Trafficante v. Metropolitan Life Insurance Co.

Docket Nº:No. 71-708
Citation:409 U.S. 205, 93 S.Ct. 364, 34 L.Ed.2d 415
Party Name:Trafficante v. Metropolitan Life Insurance Co.
Case Date:December 07, 1972
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
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409 U.S. 205 (1972)

93 S.Ct. 364, 34 L.Ed.2d 415

Trafficante

v.

Metropolitan Life Insurance Co.

No. 71-708

United States Supreme Court

Dec. 7, 1972

Argued November 7, 1972

CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS

FOR THE NINTH CIRCUIT

Syllabus

Two tenants of an apartment complex filed complaints with the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development alleging that their landlord racially discriminated [93 S.Ct. 365] against nonwhites, that the tenants thereby lost the social benefits of living in an integrated community, missed business and professional advantages that would have accrued from living with members of minority groups, and suffered from being "stigmatized" as residents of a "white ghetto." The District Court, not reaching the merits, held that the complaining tenants were not within the class of persons entitled to sue under § 810(a) of the Civil Rights Act of 1968. The Court of Appeals, in affirming, construed § 810(a) to permit complaints only by persons who are the objects of discriminatory housing practices.

Held: The definition in § 810(a) of "person aggrieved," as "any person who claims to have been injured by a discriminatory housing practice," shows a congressional intention to define standing as broadly as is permitted by Article III of the Constitution, and petitioners, being tenants of the apartment complex, have standing to sue under § 810(a). Pp. 208-212.

446 F.2d 1158, reversed and remanded.

DOUGLAS, J., delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court. WHITE, J., filed a concurring opinion, in which BLACKMUN and POWELL, JJ., joined, post, p. 212.

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DOUGLAS, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE DOUGLAS delivered the opinion of the Court.

Two tenants of Parkmerced, an apartment complex in San Francisco housing about 8,200 residents, filed separate complaints with the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) pursuant to § 810(a)1 of the Civil Rights Act of 1968, 82 Stat. 85, 42 U.S.C. § 3610(a). One tenant is black, one white. Each alleged that the owner2

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of Parkmerced had discriminated against nonwhites on the basis of race in the rental of apartments within the complex in violation of § 804 of the Act.

HUD, pursuant to § 810(c) of the Act,3 notified the appropriate California state agency of the complaints and [93 S.Ct. 366] the state agency, for lack of adequate resources to handle the complaints, referred the charge back to HUD. Since HUD failed to secure voluntary compliance within 30 days, petitioners brought this action in the District Court under § 810(d) of the Act.4

The complaint alleged that the owner had discriminated against nonwhite rental applicants in numerous

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ways, e.g., making it known to them that they would not be welcome at Parkmerced, manipulating the waiting list for apartments, delaying action on their applications, using discriminatory acceptance standards, and the like.

They -- the two tenants -- claimed they had been injured in that (1) they had lost the social benefits of living in an integrated community; (2) they had missed business and professional advantages which would have accrued if they had lived with members of minority groups; (3) they had suffered embarrassment and economic damage in social, business, and professional activities from being "stigmatized" as residents of a "white ghetto."5

The District Court did not reach the merits, but only held that petitioners were not within the class of persons entitled to sue under the Act. 322 F.Supp. 352. The Court of Appeals affirmed, construing § 810(a) narrowly to permit complaints only by persons who are the objects of discriminatory housing practices. 446 F.2d 1158. The case is here on a petition for a writ of certiorari, which we granted, 405 U.S. 915. We reverse the judgment below.

The definition of "person aggrieved" contained in § 810(a)6 is in terms broad, as it is defined as "[a]ny person who claims to have been injured by a discriminatory housing practice."

The Act gives the Secretary of HUD power to receive and investigate complaints regarding discriminatory housing practices. The Secretary, however, must defer to state agencies that can provide relief against the named practice. If the state agency does not act, the Secretary may seek to resolve the controversy by conference,

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conciliation, or persuasion. If these attempts fail, the complainant may proceed to court pursuant to § 810(d).7 Moreover, these rights may be enforced "by civil actions in appropriate United States district courts without regard to the amount in controversy," if brought within 180 days "after the alleged discriminatory housing practice occurred." § 812(a). In addition, § 813 gives the Attorney General authority to bring a civil action in any appropriate United States district court when he has reasonable cause to believe "that any person or group of persons is engaged in a pattern or practice of resistance to the full enjoyment of any of the rights granted" by the Act.

It is apparent, as the Solicitor General says, that complaints by private persons are the primary method of obtaining compliance with the Act. Hackett v. McGuire Bros., Inc., 445 F.2d 442 (CA3), which dealt with the phrase that allowed a suit to be started "by a person claiming to be aggrieved" under the Civil [93 S.Ct. 367] Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(a), concluded that the words used showed "a congressional intention to define standing as broadly as is permitted by Article III of the Constitution." Id. at 446. With respect to suits brought under the 1968 Act,8 we reach the same conclusion, insofar as tenants of the same housing unit that is charged with discrimination are concerned.

The language of the Act is broad and inclusive. Individual injury or injury in fact to petitioners, the ingredient found missing in Sierra Club v. Morton, 405 U.S. 727, is alleged here. What the proof may be is one thing; the alleged injury to existing tenants by exclusion

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of minority persons from the apartment complex is the loss of important benefits from inter-racial associations.

The legislative history of the Act is not too helpful. The key section now before us, i.e., § 810, was derived from an amendment offered by Senator Mondale and incorporated in the bill offered by Senator Dirksen.9 While members of minority groups were damaged the most from discrimination in housing practices, the proponents of the legislation emphasized that those who were not...

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