Havens Realty Corporation v. Coleman

Citation455 U.S. 363,102 S.Ct. 1114,71 L.Ed.2d 214
Decision Date24 February 1982
Docket NumberNo. 80-988,80-988
PartiesHAVENS REALTY CORPORATION, et al., Petitioners, v. Sylvia COLEMAN, et al
CourtUnited States Supreme Court

Section 804 of the Fair Housing Act of 1968 (Act) makes unlawful various forms of discriminatory housing practices. Section 812(a) authorizes civil actions to enforce § 804 and requires that suit be brought within 180 days after the alleged occurrence of a discriminatory practice. A class action for declaratory, injunctive, and monetary relief was brought in Federal District Court against petitioners—Havens Realty Corp. (Havens), an apartment complex owner in a suburb of Richmond, Va., and one of its employees—on the basis of their alleged "racial steering" in violation of § 804. The suit was brought by a black person (Coles) who, attempting to rent an apartment from Havens, allegedly was falsely told less than 180 days before suit was instituted that no apartments were available, and by respondents Housing Opportunities Made Equal (HOME), a nonprofit corporation whose purpose was "to make equal opportunity in housing a reality in the Richmond Metropolitan Area," and two individuals (one black and one white) who were employed by HOME as "testers" to determine whether Havens practiced racial steering. The complaint alleged that on specified dates more than 180 days before suit was instituted, the black tester was told by Havens that no apartments were available, but the white tester was told that there were vacancies. It was also alleged that Havens' practices had deprived the individual plaintiffs (who were residents of Richmond or the adjacent county) of the "important social, professional, business and economic, political and aesthetic benefits of interracial associations that arise from living in integrated communities free from discriminatory housing practices"; that Havens' steering practices had frustrated HOME's activities as to housing counseling and referral services, with a consequent drain on resources; and that its members had been deprived of the benefits of interracial association arising from living in an integrated community free of housing discrimination. On petitioners' pretrial motion, the District court dismissed respondents' claims, holding that they lacked standing and that their claims were barred by the Act's 180-day statute of limitations. The Court of Appeals reversed and remanded. It held that the allegations of injury to the respondents were sufficient to withstand a motion to dismiss, and that their claims were not time-barred because petitioners' conduct constituted a "continuing violation" lasting through the time of the alleged Coles incident, which was within the 180-day period of § 812(a). Held:

1. Respondents' claims were not rendered moot by either (1) the District Court's entry of a consent order with respect to Coles' claims granting him and the class he represented monetary and injunctive relief, the order having been entered after a trial in which Havens was found to have engaged in unlawful racial steering, or (2) a letter agreement between petitioners and respondents—reached prior to this Court's grant of certiorari whereby, upon approval by the District Court, respondents would each be entitled to $400 in damages and no further relief if this Court were either to deny certiorari or to grant it and affirm, but to no relief if this Court were to grant certiorari and reverse. Irrespective of the issue of injunctive relief, respondents continue to seek damages to redress alleged violations of the Act. The letter agreement would merely liquidate those damages. Pp. 370-371.

2. The determination of whether each of the respondents has standing to sue is guided by the decision in Gladstone, Realtors v. Village of Bellwood, 441 U.S. 91, 99 S.Ct. 1601, 60 L.Ed.2d 66, that Congress intended standing under § 812 of the Act to extend to the full limits of Art. III and that the courts accordingly lack authority to create prudential barriers to standing in suits brought under that section. Thus the sole requirement for standing to sue under § 812 is the Art. III minima of injury in fact—that the plaintiff allege that as a result of the defendant's actions he has suffered "a distinct and palpable injury." Pp. 372-379.

(a) The black individual respondent (Coleman) has standing to sue in her capacity as a "tester." Section 804(d) establishes an enforceable right of "any person" to truthful information concerning the availability of housing. A tester who has been the object of a misrepresentation made unlawful under § 804(d) has suffered injury in precisely the form the statute was intended to guard against, and therefore has standing to maintain a damages claim under the Act. That the tester may have approached the real estate agent fully expecting that he would receive false information, and without any intention of buying or renting a home, does not negate the fact of injury within the meaning of § 804(d). If, as alleged, Coleman was told that apartments were not available while white testers were informed that apartments were available, she has suffered "specific injury" from petitioners' challenged acts, and the Art. III requirement of injury in fact is satisfied. However, since the white individual respondent (Willis) alleged that he was informed that apartmentswere available, rather than that petitioners misrepresented to him that apartments were unavailable, thus alleging no injury to his statutory right to accurate information, he has no standing to sue in his capacity as a tester and, more to the point, has not pleaded a cause of action under § 804(d). Pp. 373-375. (b) Insofar as Coleman and Willis have alleged that the steering practices of petitioners have deprived the two respondents of the benefits of interracial association, the Court of Appeals properly held that dismissal was inappropriate at this juncture in the proceedings. It is implausible to argue that petitioners' alleged acts of discrimination could have palpable effects throughout the entire Richmond metropolitan area. But respondents have not identified the particular neighborhoods in which they lived, nor established the proximity of their homes to the site of petitioners' alleged steering practices. In the absence of further factual development, it cannot be said as a matter of law that no injury could be proved. Further pleading and proof might establish that the respondents lived in areas where petitioners' practices had an appreciable effect. Pp. 375-378.

(c) Although HOME apparently has abandoned its claim of standing to sue for injunctive relief as a representative of its members, it has standing to sue for damages in its own right under the Act. If, as broadly alleged, petitioners' steering practices have perceptibly impaired HOME's ability to provide housing counseling and referral services—with a consequent drain on the organization's resources—there can be no question that the organization has suffered the requisite injury in fact. Pp. 378-379.

3. The 180-day limitations period of § 812(a) of the Act is no bar to the "neighborhood" claims of the individual respondents or to HOME's claim for injury to its counseling and referral services, even though the alleged incidents of racial steering involving Coleman and Willis occurred more than 180 days before suit was filed. Where a plaintiff, pursuant to the Act, challenges not just one incident of conduct violative of the Act, but an unlawful practice that continues into the limitations period, the complaint is timely when it is filed within 180 days of the last asserted occurrence of that practice. Here, the individual respondents' "neighborhood" claims and HOME's claim are based not solely on isolated incidents involving the two individual respondents but on a continuing violation manifested in a number of incidents—including at least one (involving Coles) that is asserted to have occurred within the 180-day period. However, insofar as Coleman has standing to assert a claim as a "tester," she may not take advantage of the "continuing violation" theory, and such claim is time barred. It is not alleged, nor could it be, that the incident of steering involving Coles deprived Coleman of her § 804(d) right to truthful housing information. Pp. 380-381.

633 F.2d 384 (4th Cir. 1980), affirmed in part and reversed in part.

Everette G. Allen, Jr., Richmond, Va., for petitioners.

Vanessa Ruiz, Washington, D. C., for respondents.

JUSTICE BRENNAN delivered the opinion of the Court.

This case presents questions concerning the scope of standing to sue under the Fair Housing Act of 1968 and the proper construction of § 812(a) of the Act, which requires that a civil suit be brought within 180 days after the alleged occurrence of a discriminatory practice.


The case began as a class action against Havens Realty Corp. (Havens) and one of its employees, Rose Jones. Defendants were alleged to have engaged in "racial steering" 1 violative of § 804 of the Fair Housing Act of 1968, 42 U.S.C § 3604 (Act or Fair Housing Act).2 The complaint, seeking declaratory, injunctive, and monetary relief, was filed in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia in January 1979 by three individuals 3Paul Coles, Sylvia Coleman, and R. Kent Willis—and an organization—Housing Opportunities Made Equal (HOME).

At the time suit was brought, defendant Havens owned and operated two apartment complexes, Camelot Townhouses and Colonial Court Apartments, in Henrico County, Va., a suburb of Richmond. The complaint identified Paul Coles as a black "renter plaintiff' who, attempting to rent an apartment from Havens, inquired on July 13, 1978, about the availability of an apartment at the Camelot complex, and was falsely told that no apartments were available. App. 13, ¶ 7; id., at 15, ¶ 12.4 The other two individual plaintiffs, Coleman and Willis, were described in the complaint...

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