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PROJECT SENTINEL v. EVERGREEN RIDGE APARTMENTS

March 26, 1999

PROJECT SENTINEL, A FAIR HOUSING AGENCY, INDIVIDUALLY AND ON BEHALF OF THE GENERAL PUBLIC, PLAINTIFF,
v.
EVERGREEN RIDGE APARTMENTS, ET AL, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Walker, District Judge.

AMENDED ORDER.

Before the court are defendants' motions to dismiss and for summary judgment made on the ground that plaintiff, not having suffered a direct and palpable injury as a result of defendants' alleged conduct, lacks standing to bring this action. For the reasons stated below, the court holds that plaintiff lacks standing to assert its claims. Accordingly, summary judgment is GRANTED in favor of defendants and against plaintiffs.

Plaintiff, Project Sentinel, is a non-profit corporation formed for the purpose of "monitoring and investigating housing providers and bringing about compliance with state and federal fair housing laws." Compl ¶ 4. Defendants, owners and operators of an apartment complex, are accused of maintaining a discriminatory policy toward families with children and of failing to provide handicap access to rental offices. Plaintiff seeks declaratory and injunctive relief as well as damages including attorney fees on behalf of itself as an organization. Plaintiff's alleged injury is the frustration of its effort to monitor housing practices and gain compliance with housing laws.

Specifically, plaintiff alleges that defendants' discriminatory treatment of families has:

  frustrated [plaintiff's] mission requiring it to
  expend scarce resources to investigate and document
  said practices, and will require further expenditures
  of staff time to monitor and perform compliance
  investigations.

Compl ¶ 21. Similarly, defendants' alleged failure to provide a wheelchair ramp has:

  frustrated [plaintiff's] mission to insure that the
  Fair Housing Act and other fair housing laws are
  complied with within its area of responsibility, and
  by causing it to expend its resources to investigate
  and take steps to remedy said violations.

Compl ¶ 27. These allegations fail to establish an injury-in-fact as required by Supreme Court authority construing Article III, § 2 of the Constitution. See Lujan v. Defenders of Wildlife, 504 U.S. 555, 561, 112 S.Ct. 2130, 119 L.Ed.2d 351 (1992).

Article III, § 2 confers jurisdiction to federal courts over "cases" and "controversies." One element of the case or controversy requirement is that a plaintiff, through its complaint, must establish that he has standing to sue. Raines v. Byrd, 521 U.S. 811, 117 S.Ct. 2312, 2317, 138 L.Ed.2d 849 (1997). And, to establish standing to sue, a plaintiff must allege that he has, as a result of defendants' actions, suffered a distinct and palpable injury. See Havens Realty Corp. v. Coleman, 455 U.S. 363, 372, 102 S.Ct. 1114, 71 L.Ed.2d 214 (1982).

Just as an individual lacks standing to assert generalized grievances about the conduct of the government, so an organization's abstract concern about a subject that could be affected by an adjudication fails to substitute for the concrete injury required by Article III. See Simon v. Eastern Kentucky Welfare Rights Org., 426 U.S. 26, 96 S.Ct. 1917, 48 L.Ed.2d 450 (1976). If, however, an organization points to a concrete and demonstrable injury to its activities, not simply a setback to the organization's abstract social interests, the organization may successfully allege an injury in fact. See Havens, 455 U.S. at 379, 102 S.Ct. 1114. In other words, an organization establishes an Article III injury if it alleges that unlawful action has increased the resources the group must devote to programs independent of its suit challenging the unlawful action.

The scope of the injury requirement was addressed under similar circumstances by the Supreme Court in Havens Realty Corp. v. Coleman, 455 U.S. 363, 372, 102 S.Ct. 1114, 71 L.Ed.2d 214 (1982). In Havens, a realty company and one of its employees were alleged to have engaged in racial "steering" in violation of the Fair Housing Act. Among the plaintiffs was a housing organization called Housing Opportunities Made Equal ("HOME"), whose mission as alleged in the complaint was "to make equal opportunity in housing a reality." HOME alleged that it had suffered injury as a result of the unlawful steering in that its counseling and referral services had been frustrated by the discriminatory conduct and by the consequent diversion of its financial resources to identify and counteract the unlawful conduct. The Supreme Court held that HOME was entitled to sue in its own right.

The Court wrote:

    In determining whether HOME has standing under the
  Fair Housing Act, we conduct the same inquiry as in
  the case of an individual: Has the plaintiff
  "`alleged such a personal stake in the outcome of the
  controversy' as to warrant his invocation of federal
  court jurisdiction?" * * * If, as broadly alleged,
  petitioner's steering practices have perceptibly
  impaired HOME's ability to provide counseling and
  referral services

  for low-and moderate-income home-seekers, there can
  be no question that the organization has suffered
  injury in fact. Such concrete and demonstrable
  injury to the organization's activities — ...

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