A divided federal appeals court in Virginia has ruled that residents of a mobile home park outside Washington, D.C., may proceed with claims that the owners of the park wrongly required them to show proof of legal U.S. residency before renewing their leases.
In a 2-1 ruling, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit majority said the plaintiffs made a sufficient showing that the policy had a “disparate impact” on the park’s Latino population.
“We now hold that plaintiffs have made a prima facie case that the policy disparately impacted Latinos in violation of the [federal] Fair Housing Act,” Fourth Circuit Judge Henry Floyd said Sept. 12 in De Reyes v. Waples Mobile Home Park.
Judge James Wynn joined in the ruling. Judge Barbara Keenan dissented.
The lawsuit was filed in May 2016 by four Latino families against their landlord, Waples Mobile Home Park.
Waples is located in Fairfax County, Virginia, a largely upscale suburban area located just west of Washington. That area has a dearth of affordable housing options for low-wage earners who live and work in the area, the court noted.
Waples, according to the decision, owns and maintains 150 lots and has a policy requiring all residents to present proof—either through a Social Security card, a passport, a visa or some other documentation—that they are in the United States legally. Residents who violate the park’s rules once their leases expire face eviction.
Waples previously required only the leaseholders to provide documentation of legal residency, but beginning in 2015, the policy was changed to place that requirement on all occupants, the court said.
The plaintiffs are four couples who live in the park, according to the decision: four leaseholders, all male, who have Social Security cards; the couples’ 10 children, who are natural-born citizens; and four female residents who are undocumented aliens.
The lawsuit filed by the plaintiffs said the mobile home park’s policy leads to a disparate impact in violation of the FHA.
After U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis of the Eastern District of Virginia denied a defense motion for dismissal, and the parties engaged in months of discovery. Ellis then dismissed the lawsuit on summary judgment, ruling that the plaintiffs had failed to show causation connecting the policy to any disparate impact.
The majority vacated Ellis’ order and sent the case back for further proceedings to consider claims that the mobile home park’s policy illegal targets Latinos.
“At the motion to dismiss stage, we must accept well-pled facts as true and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiffs,” Floyd said.
Keenan, in her dissent, said Ellis’ ruling should have been affirmed since the plaintiffs “have not adequately alleged that the defendants’ policy” resulted in disparate impact.
“Not all Latinos are negatively impacted by the policy,” Keenan said.
The plaintiffs are represented by Archith Ramkumar of the Washington, D.C., office of Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan. Michael Dingman of the McLean, Virginia, office of Reed Smith represented Waples.
Neither returned calls seeking comment.