Bank of America Corp. v. City of Miami,
581 U.S. ___ (2017)

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  • Syllabus  | 
  • Opinion (Clarence Thomas)  | 
  • Opinion (Stephen G. Breyer)

NOTICE: This opinion is subject to formal revision before publication in the preliminary print of the United States Reports. Readers are requested to notify the Reporter of Decisions, Supreme Court of the United States, Washington, D. C. 20543, of any typographical or other formal errors, in order that corrections may be made before the preliminary print goes to press.

SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES

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Nos. 15–1111 and 15–1112

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BANK OF AMERICA CORPORATION, et al., PETITIONERS

15–1111v.

CITY OF MIAMI, FLORIDA

WELLS FARGO & CO., et al., PETITIONERS

15–1112v.

CITY OF MIAMI, FLORIDA

on writs of certiorari to the united states court of appeals for the eleventh circuit

[May 1, 2017]

Justice Breyer delivered the opinion of the Court.

The Fair Housing Act (FHA or Act) forbids

“discriminat[ing] against any person in the terms, conditions, or privileges of sale or rental of a dwelling, or in the provision of services or facilities in connection therewith, because of race . . . .” 42 U. S. C. §3604(b).

It further makes it unlawful for

“any person or other entity whose business includes engaging in residential real estate-related transactions to discriminate against any person in making available such a transaction, or in the terms or conditions of such a transaction, because of race . . . .” §3605(a).

The statute allows any “aggrieved person” to file a civil action seeking damages for a violation of the statute. §§3613(a)(1)(A), 3613(c)(1). And it defines an “aggrieved person” to include “any person who . . . claims to have been injured by a discriminatory housing practice.” §3602(i).

The City of Miami claims that two banks, Bank of America and Wells Fargo, intentionally issued riskier mortgages on less favorable terms to African-American and Latino customers than they issued to similarly situated white, non-Latino customers, in violation of §§3604(b) and 3605(a). App. 185–197, 244–245, 350–362, 428. The City, in amended complaints, alleges that these discriminatory practices have (1) “adversely impacted the racial composition of the City,” id., at 232, 416; (2) “impaired the City’s goals to assure racial integration and desegregation,” ibid.; (3) “frustrate[d] the City’s longstanding and active interest in promoting fair housing and securing the benefits of an integrated community,” id., at 232–233, 416–417; and (4) disproportionately “cause[d] foreclosures and vacancies in minority communities in Miami,” id., at 229, 413. Those foreclosures and vacancies have harmed the City by decreasing “the property value of the foreclosed home as well as the values of other homes in the neighborhood,” thereby (a) “reduc[ing] property tax revenues to the City,” id., at 234, 418, and (b) forcing the City to spend more on “municipal services that it provided and still must provide to remedy blight and unsafe and dangerous conditions which exist at properties that were foreclosed as a result of [the Banks’] illegal lending practices,” id., at 233–234, 417. The City claims that those practices violate the FHA and that it is entitled to damages for the listed injuries.

The Banks respond that the complaints do not set forth a cause of action for two basic reasons. First, they contend that the City’s claimed harms do not “arguably” fall within the “zone of interests” that the statute seeks to protect, Association of Data Processing Service Organizations, Inc. v. Camp, 397 U. S. 150, 153 (1970) ; hence, the City is not an “aggrieved person” entitled to sue under the Act, §3602(i). Second, they say that the complaint fails to draw a “proximate-cause” connection between the violation claimed and the harm allegedly suffered. In their view, even if the City proves the violations it charges, the distance between those violations and the harms the City claims to have suffered is simply too great to entitle the City to collect damages.

We hold that the City’s claimed injuries fall within the zone of interests that the FHA arguably protects. Hence, the City is an “aggrieved person” able to bring suit under the statute. We also hold that, to establish proximate cause under the FHA, a plaintiff must do more than show that its injuries foreseeably flowed from the alleged statutory violation. The lower court decided these cases on the theory that foreseeability is all that the statute requires, so we vacate and remand for further proceedings.

I

In 2013, the City of Miami brought lawsuits in federal court against two banks, Bank of America and Wells Fargo. The City’s complaints charge that the Banks discriminatorily imposed more onerous, and indeed “preda-tory,” conditions on loans made to minority borrowers than to similarly situated nonminority borrowers. App. 185–197, 350–362. Those “predatory” practices included, among others, excessively high interest rates, unjustified fees, teaser low-rate loans that overstated refinancing opportunities, large prepayment penalties, and—when default loomed—unjustified refusals to refinance or modify the loans. Id., at 225, 402. Due to the discriminatory nature of the Banks’ practices, default and foreclosure rates among minority borrowers were higher than among otherwise similar white borrowers and were concentrated in minority neighborhoods. Id., at 225–232, 408–415. Higher foreclosure rates lowered property values and diminished property-tax revenue. Id., at 234, 418. Higher foreclosure rates—especially when accompanied by vacancies—also increased demand for municipal services, such as police, fire, and building and code enforcement services, all needed “to remedy blight and unsafe and dangerous conditions” that the foreclosures and vacancies generate. Id., at 238–240, 421–423. The complaints describe statistical analyses that trace the City’s financial losses to the Banks’ discriminatory practices. Id., at 235–237; 419–420.

The District Court dismissed the complaints on the grounds that (1) the harms alleged, being economic and not discriminatory, fell outside the zone of interests the FHA protects; (2) the complaints fail to show a sufficient causal connection between the City’s injuries and the Banks’ discriminatory conduct; and (3) the complaints fail to allege unlawful activity occurring within the Act’s 2-year statute of limitations. The City then filed amended complaints (the complaints now before us) and sought reconsideration. The District Court held that the amended complaints could solve only the statute of limitations problem. It consequently declined to reconsider the dismissals.

The Court of Appeals reversed the District Court. 800 F. 3d 1262 (CA11 2015); 801 F. 3d 1258 (CA11 2015). It held that the City’s injuries fall within the “zone of interests,” Lexmark Int’l, Inc. v. Static Control Components, Inc., 572 U. S. ___, ___ (2014) (slip op., at 10), that the FHA protects. 800 F. 3d, at 1274–1275, 1277 (relying on Trafficante v. Metropolitan Life Ins. Co., 409 U. S. 205 (1972) ; Gladstone, Realtors v. Village of Bellwood, 441 U. S. 91 (1979) ; and Havens Realty Corp. v. Coleman, 455 U. S. 363 (1982) ); 801 F. 3d, at 1266–1267 (similar). It added that the complaints adequately allege proximate cause. 800 F. 3d, at 1278; 801 F. 3d, at 1267. And it remanded the cases while ordering the District Court to accept the City’s complaints as amended. 800 F. 3d, at 1286; 801 F. 3d, at 1267.

The Banks filed petitions for certiorari, asking us to decide whether, as the Court of Appeals had in effect held, the amended complaints satisfied the FHA’s zone-of-interests and proximate-cause requirements. We agreed to do so.

II

To satisfy the Constitution’s restriction of this Court’s jurisdiction to “Cases” and “Controversies,” Art. III, §2, a plaintiff must demonstrate constitutional standing. To do so, the plaintiff must show an “injury in fact” that is “fairly traceable” to the defendant’s conduct and “that is likely to be redressed by a favorable judicial decision.” Spokeo, Inc. v. Robins, 578 U. S. ___, ___ (2016) (slip op., at 6) (citing Lujan v. Defenders of Wildlife, 504 U. S. 555 –561 (1992)). This Court has also referred to a plaintiff’s need to satisfy “prudential” or “statutory” standing requirements. See Lexmark, 572 U. S., at ___–___, and n. 4 (slip op., at 6–9, and n. 4). In Lexmark, we said that the label “ ‘prudential standing’ ” was misleading, for the requirement at issue is in reality tied to a particular statute. Ibid. The question is whether the statute grants the plaintiff the cause of action that he asserts. In answering that question, we presume that a statute ordinarily provides a cause of action “only to plaintiffs whose interests fall within the zone of interests protected by the law invoked.” Id., at ___ (slip op., at 10) (internal quotation marks omitted). We have added that “[w]hether a plaintiff comes within ‘the zone of interests’ is an issue that requires us to determine, using traditional tools of statutory interpretation, whether a legislatively conferred cause of action encompasses a particular plaintiff’s claim.” Id., at ___ (slip op., at 8) (some internal quotation marks omitted).

Here, we conclude that the City’s claims of financial injury in their amended complaints—specifically, lost tax revenue and extra municipal expenses—satisfy the “cause-of-action” (or “prudential standing”) requirement. To use the language of Data Processing, the City’s claims of in-jury it suffered as a result of the statutory violations are, at the least, “arguably within the zone of interests” that the FHA protects. 397 U. S., at 153 (emphasis added).

The FHA permits any “aggrieved person” to bring a housing-discrimination lawsuit. 42 U. S. C. §3613(a). The statute defines “aggrieved person” as “any person who” either “claims to have been injured by a discriminatory housing practice” or believes that such an injury “is about to occur.” §3602(i).

This Court has repeatedly written that the FHA’s definition of person “aggrieved” reflects a congressional intent to confer standing broadly. We have said that the definition of “person aggrieved” in the original version of the FHA, §810(a), 82Stat. 85, “showed ‘a congressional intention to define standing as broadly as is permitted by Article III of the Constitution.’ ” Trafficante, supra, at 209 (quoting Hackett v. McGuire Brothers, Inc., 445 F. 2d 442, 446 (CA3 1971)); see Gladstone, supra, at 109 (similar); Havens Realty, supra, at 372, 375–376 (similar); see also Thompson v. North American Stainless, LP, 562 U. S. 170, 176 (2011) (“Later opinions, we must acknowledge, reiterate that the term ‘aggrieved’ [in the FHA] reaches as far as Article III permits”); Bennett v. Spear, 520 U. S. 154 –166 (1997) (“[Trafficante] held that standing was expanded to the full extent permitted under Article III by §810(a) of the Civil Rights Act of 1968”).

Thus, we have held that the Act allows suits by white tenants claiming that they were deprived benefits from interracial associations when discriminatory rental practices kept minorities out of their apartment complex, Trafficante, 409 U. S., at 209–212; a village alleging that it lost tax revenue and had the racial balance of its community undermined by racial-steering practices, Gladstone, 441 U. S., at 110–111; and a nonprofit organization that spent money to combat housing discrimination, Havens Realty, 455 U. S., at 379. Contrary to the dissent’s view, those cases did more than “sugges[t]” that plaintiffs similarly situated to the City have a cause of action under the FHA. Post, at 5. They held as much. And the dissent is wrong to say that we characterized those cases as resting on “ill-considered dictum.” Post, at 4 (quoting Thompson, supra, at 176). The “dictum” we cast doubt on in Thompson addressed who may sue under Title VII, the employment discrimination statute, not under the FHA.

Finally, in 1988, when Congress amended the FHA, it retained without significant change the definition of “person aggrieved” that this Court had broadly construed. Compare §810(a), 82Stat. 85, with §5(b), 102Stat. 1619–1620 (codified at 42 U. S. C. §3602(i)) (changing “person aggrieved” to “aggrieved person” and making other minor changes to the definition). Indeed, Congress “was aware of” our precedent and “made a considered judgment to retain the relevant statutory text,” Texas Dept. of Housing and Community Affairs v. Inclusive Communities Project, Inc., 576 U. S. ___, ___ (2015) (slip op., at 13). See H. R. Rep. No. 100–711, p. 23 (1988) (stating that the “bill adopts as its definition language similar to that contained in Section 810 of existing law, as modified to reaffirm the broad holdings of these cases” and discussing Gladstone and Havens Realty); cf. Lorillard v. Pons, 434 U. S. 575, 580 (1978) (Congress normally adopts our interpretations of statutes when it reenacts those statute without change).

The Banks do not deny the broad reach of the words “aggrieved person” as defined in the FHA. But they do contend that those words nonetheless set boundaries that fall short of those the Constitution sets. Brief for Petitioners in No. 15–1112, p. 12 (Brief for Wells Fargo); Brief for Petitioners in No. 15–1111, pp. 19–20 (Brief for Bank of America). The Court’s language in Trafficante, Gladstone, and Havens Realty, they argue, was exaggerated and unnecessary to decide the cases then before the Court. See Brief for Wells Fargo 19–23; Brief for Bank of America 27–33. Moreover, they warn that taking the Court’s words literally—providing everyone with constitutional standing a cause of action under the FHA—would produce a legal anomaly. After all, in Thompson, 562 U. S., at 175–177, we held that the words “ ‘person claiming to be aggrieved’ ” in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the employment discrimination statute, did not stretch that statute’s zone of interest to the limits of Article III. We reasoned that such an interpretation would produce farfetched results, for example, a shareholder in a company could bring a Title VII suit against the company for discriminatorily firing an employee. Ibid. The Banks say it would be similarly farfetched if restaurants, plumbers, utility companies, or any other participant in the local economy could sue the Banks to recover business they lost when people had to give up their homes and leave the neighborhood as a result of the Banks’ discriminatory lending practices. Brief for Wells Fargo 18–19; Brief for Bank of America 22, 24–25. That, they believe, cannot have been the intent of the Congress that enacted or amended the FHA.

We need not discuss the Banks’ argument at length, for even if we assume for argument’s sake that some form of it is valid, we nonetheless conclude that the City’s financial injuries fall within the zone of interests that the FHA protects. Our case law with respect to the FHA drives that conclusion. The City’s complaints allege that the Banks “intentionally targeted predatory practices at African-American and Latino neighborhoods and residents,” App. 225; id., at 409 (similar). That unlawful conduct led to a “concentration” of “foreclosures and vacancies” in those neighborhoods. Id., at 226, 229, 410, 413. Those concentrated “foreclosures and vacancies” caused “stagnation and decline in African-American and Latino neighborhoods.” Id., at 225, 409. They hindered the City’s efforts to create integrated, stable neighborhoods. Id., at 186, 351. And, highly relevant here, they reduced prop-erty values, diminishing the City’s property-tax revenue and increasing demand for municipal services. Id., at 233–234, 417.

Those claims are similar in kind to the claims the Village of Bellwood raised in Gladstone. There, the plaintiff village had alleged that it was “ ‘injured by having [its] housing market . . . wrongfully and illegally manipulated to the economic and social detriment of the citizens of [the] village.’ ” 441 U. S., at 95 (quoting the complaint; alterations in original). We held that the village could bring suit. We wrote that the complaint in effect alleged that the defendant-realtors’ racial steering “affect[ed] the village’s racial composition,” “reduce[d] the total number of buyers in the Bellwood housing market,” “precipitate[d] an exodus of white residents,” and caused “prices [to] be deflected downward.” Id., at 110. Those circumstances adversely affected the village by, among other things, producing a “significant reduction in property values [that] directly injures a municipality by diminishing its tax base, thus threatening its ability to bear the costs of local government and to provide services.” Id., at 110–111 (emphasis added).

The upshot is that the City alleges economic injuries that arguably fall within the FHA’s zone of interests, as we have previously interpreted that statute. Principles of stare decisis compel our adherence to those precedents in this context. And principles of statutory interpretation require us to respect Congress’ decision to ratify those precedents when it reenacted the relevant statutory text. See supra, at 7.

III

The remaining question is one of causation: Did the Banks’ allegedly discriminatory lending practices proximately cause the City to lose property-tax revenue and spend more on municipal services? The Eleventh Circuit concluded that the answer is “yes” because the City plausibly alleged that its financial injuries were foreseeable results of the Banks’ misconduct. We conclude that foreseeability alone is not sufficient to establish proximate cause under the FHA, and therefore vacate the judgment below.

It is a “ ‘well established principle of [the common] law that in all cases of loss, we are to attribute it to the proximate cause, and not to any remote cause.’ ” Lexmark, 572 U. S., at ___ (slip op., at 13). We assume Congress “is familiar with the common-law rule and does not mean to displace it sub silentio” in federal causes of action. Ibid. A claim for damages under the FHA—which is akin to a “tort action,” Meyer v. Holley, 537 U. S. 280, 285 (2003) —is no exception to this traditional requirement. “Proximate-cause analysis is controlled by the nature of the statutory cause of action. The question it presents is whether the harm alleged has a sufficiently close connection to the conduct the statute prohibits.” Lexmark, supra, at ___ (slip op., at 14).

In these cases, the “conduct the statute prohibits” consists of intentionally lending to minority borrowers on worse terms than equally creditworthy nonminority borrowers and inducing defaults by failing to extend refinancing and loan modifications to minority borrowers on fair terms. The City alleges that the Banks’ misconduct led to a disproportionate number of foreclosures and vacancies in specific Miami neighborhoods. These foreclosures and vacancies purportedly harmed the City, which lost property-tax revenue when the value of the properties in those neighborhoods fell and was forced to spend more on municipal services in the affected areas.

The Eleventh Circuit concluded that the City adequately pleaded that the Banks’ misconduct proximately caused these financial injuries. 800 F. 3d, at 1282. The court held that in the context of the FHA “the proper standard” for proximate cause “is based on foreseeability.” Id., at 1279, 1282. The City, it continued, satisfied that element: Although there are “several links in the causal chain” between the charged discriminatory lending practices and the claimed losses, the City plausibly alleged that “none are unforeseeable.” Id., at 1282.

We conclude that the Eleventh Circuit erred in holding that foreseeability is sufficient to establish proximate cause under the FHA. As we have explained, proximate cause “generally bars suits for alleged harm that is ‘too remote’ from the defendant’s unlawful conduct.” Lexmark, supra, at ___ (slip op., at 14). In the context of the FHA, foreseeability alone does not ensure the close connection that proximate cause requires. The housing market is interconnected with economic and social life. A violation of the FHA may, therefore, “ ‘be expected to cause ripples of harm to flow’ ” far beyond the defendant’s misconduct. Associated Gen. Contractors of Cal., Inc. v. Carpenters, 459 U. S. 519, 534 (1983) . Nothing in the statute suggests that Congress intended to provide a remedy wherever those ripples travel. And entertaining suits to recover damages for any foreseeable result of an FHA violation would risk “massive and complex damages litigation.” Id., at 545.

Rather, proximate cause under the FHA requires “some direct relation between the injury asserted and the injurious conduct alleged.” Holmes v. Securities Investors Protection Corporation, 503 U. S. 258, 268 (1992) . A damages claim under the statute “is analogous to a number of tort actions recognized at common law,” Curtis v. Loether, 415 U. S. 189, 195 (1974) , and we have repeatedly applied directness principles to statutes with “common-law foundations,” Anza v. Ideal Steel Supply Corp., 547 U. S. 451, 457 (2006) . “ ‘The general tendency’ ” in these cases, “ ‘in regard to damages at least, is not to go beyond the first step.’ ” Hemi Group, LLC v. City of New York, 559 U. S. 1, 10 (2010) . What falls within that “first step” depends in part on the “nature of the statutory cause of action,” Lexmark, supra, at ___ (slip op., at 14), and an assessment “ ‘of what is administratively possible and convenient,’ ” Holmes, supra, at 268.

The parties have asked us to draw the precise boundaries of proximate cause under the FHA and to determine on which side of the line the City’s financial injuries fall. We decline to do so. The Eleventh Circuit grounded its decision on the theory that proximate cause under the FHA is “based on foreseeability” alone. 800 F. 3d, at 1282. We therefore lack the benefit of its judgment on how the contrary principles we have just stated apply to the FHA. Nor has any other court of appeals weighed in on the issue. The lower courts should define, in the first instance, the contours of proximate cause under the FHA and decide how that standard applies to the City’s claims for lost property-tax revenue and increased municipal expenses.

IV

The judgments of the Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit are vacated, and the cases are remanded for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

It is so ordered.

Justice Gorsuch took no part in the consideration or decision of these cases.

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