Andrew Ellis; Harriet A. Ellis Plaintiffs - Appellants
The City of Minneapolis, a municipal corporation; Betsy Hodges, individually and as Mayor of the City of Minneapolis; Nuria Rivera-Vandermyde, individually and as Director of Minneapolis' Department of Regulatory Services; JoAnn Velde, individually and as Deputy Director of City of Minneapolis' Department of Regulatory Services Defendants - Appellees
Submitted: March 8, 2017
from United States District Court for the District of
Minnesota - Minneapolis
WOLLMAN, MELLOY, and SHEPHERD, Circuit Judges.
MELLOY, Circuit Judge.
and Harriet Ellis are for-profit, low-income rental housing
providers in Minneapolis. The Ellises filed suit against the
City of Minneapolis and city officials (collectively,
"the City"), alleging the City's heightened
enforcement of housing and rental standards has a disparate
impact on the availability of housing for individuals
protected under the Fair Housing Act ("FHA"), 42
U.S.C. § 3604(a). The City moved for judgment on the
pleadings pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(c), and the district
court granted the motion. In light of the
Supreme Court's decision in Texas Department of
Housing & Community Affairs v. Inclusive Communities
Project, Inc., 135 S.Ct. 2507 (2015), we affirm.
Ellises' operative complaint spans 103 pages. An
additional 193 pages of exhibits are attached to the
complaint. Viewing the complaint in the light most favorable
to the Ellises and accepting the facts alleged as true, we
summarize the complaint's most significant allegations as
follows. See McIvor v. Credit Control Servs., Inc.,
773 F.3d 909, 912 (8th Cir. 2014).
Minneapolis, there is a shortage of over 20, 000 affordable
housing units in the "very low income" category. In
recent years, thousands of families have been on waiting
lists for public housing and Section 8 vouchers. While a
vacancy rate of 5% is considered healthy, the vacancy rate
for affordable housing in Minneapolis was less than 1% in
2013. This rate remained substantially the same through 2015.
groups are disproportionately affected by the shortage of
affordable housing. For example, in 2010, the City reported
that African American families made up approximately 76% of
those on public housing and Section 8 waiting lists. African
Americans, by comparison, make up only 18% of the Minneapolis
population. These percentages remained substantially the same
African American families and individuals make up the largest
percentage of those seeking homeless shelter in Minneapolis
and St. Paul. Indeed, a disproportionate percentage of
African Americans in Minneapolis are in the "very low
income" category and in need of rental housing.
context, the Ellises are for-profit, low-income rental
housing providers. The Ellises own rental properties in
inner-city areas where there is a high demand for affordable
housing by individuals in minority groups. And, consistent
with these demographics, most of the Ellises' tenants
have been African American, mixed-race, or other minority
families with children.
2012, the Ellises have owned and managed three single-family
homes, five duplex homes, and five multi-unit buildings.
While most of the Ellises' properties are older buildings
built before World War II, the properties "have been at
all times substantially compliant with all appropriate codes
and habitable as defined by the Minnesota State Building
Code." Nevertheless, the Ellises assert that, since July
2012, the City has "targeted" the Ellises'
properties with "illegal" inspections and
"heightened" housing-code enforcement; applied
"above minimum" housing standards; threatened to
revoke their rental licenses; and issued "false" or
"invalid" citations and orders for "claimed
code violations that did not exist."
of the Ellises' duplexes, for example, a City inspector
claimed six code deficiencies, but three alleged deficiencies
were not deficiencies at all. The inspector claimed there was
a rodent "infestation" when there were only
"some mice droppings" and the first floor resident
had not seen a mouse for over three months. The inspector
also ordered the Ellises to hire a licensed exterminator even
though "[t]here was no evidence of [a] 'widespread
and severe' . . . mice infestation [as] required by the
[housing code] for ordering an exterminator."
Additionally, the inspector ordered the Ellises to hire a
lead-abatement specialist even though only "three small
areas" required touch-up paint.
second duplex, a City inspector found 24 "claimed"
violations after a tenant called the City to complain. At
least some of these violations also did not exist. For
example, the inspector claimed there was illegal wiring
requiring an electrician; in reality, only a fuse needed to
be replaced. The inspector also claimed a ceiling, toilet,
and floor were out of compliance, but "the ceiling was
in standard condition, " the Ellises' "workman
found the toilet working properly, " and there was
"nothing wrong with the floor."
these purported code violations, the Ellises "attempted
to comply" with the orders or "started to take
corrective actions on the . . . claimed deficiencies that
were specific and believed to be understood by [the Ellises]
and their workman." (emphasis omitted). But, the Ellises
assert, many of the City's orders were "vague"
or "non-specific"-a violation of City ordinances.
When the Ellises sought clarification of some of the
City's orders, City officials were unresponsive. Further,
when the Ellises attempted to appeal some violations, the
City denied their appeal requests even though the City's
orders informed the Ellises of their right to appeal.
Regarding other citations, however, the City allowed appeals
and admitted the Ellises were cited in error. For example, at
two of the Ellises' ...