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SUPREME COURT DOCKET REPORT

Mayer Brown's Supreme Court and Appellate Practice Group distributes a Docket Report whenever the Supreme Court grants certiorari in a case of interest to the business community. We also email the Docket Report to our subscribed members and if you don't already subscribe to the Docket Report and would like to, please click here.

October Term 2011 - November 7, 2011

November 7, 2011

Today the Supreme Court granted certiorari in one case of interest to the business community:


Fair Housing Act—Disparate Impact Claims

The Fair Housing Act (“FHA”) prohibits property owners and municipalities from blocking or impeding the provision of housing on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, familial status, or national origin. 42 U.S.C. § 3604(a)-(b). Today the Supreme Court granted certiorari in Magner v. Gallagher, No. 10-1032, to decide whether disparate impact claims are cognizable under the FHA and, if so, what test applies.

The respondents, plaintiffs below, are owners and former owners of rental properties in St. Paul, Minnesota. They brought consolidated actions challenging the City of St. Paul’s enforcement of its Housing Code. The suits alleged, among other things, that the City violated the FHA because aggressive enforcement of its Housing Code had a disparate impact on racial minorities.

The district court granted summary judgment to the petitioners, defendants below, on the disparate impact claim. A panel of the Eight Circuit reversed, concluding that the respondents had offered sufficient evidence to support a disparate impact claim under a three-step burden-shifting test. In particular, the court held, summary judgment was unwarranted because of the evidence that (1) the City experienced a shortage of affordable housing; (2) racial minorities made up a disproportionate percentage of lower-income households in the City that rely on low-income housing; (3) the City’s aggressive Housing Code enforcement practices increased costs for property owners that rent to low-income tenants; and (4) the increased burden on rental-property owners from aggressive Housing Code enforcement resulted in less affordable housing in the City. The Eighth Circuit denied a petition for rehearing en banc, with five judges dissenting.

The petition for certiorari argued that disparate impact claims are not cognizable under the FHA and that, even if they are, the Eighth Circuit applied the wrong test. The petition pointed out that, while some circuits (including the Eighth) use a burden-shifting approach, others apply a balancing test, and still others employ a hybrid of the two.

The Supreme Court’s decision will obviously be important to businesses that sell or rent residential property, because they are potentially both defendants and (as in this case) plaintiffs in disparate impact cases brought under the FHA. Depending on the analysis employed by the Court, the decision may also affect businesses that are subject to disparate impact claims under other statutes.

Absent extensions, amicus briefs in support of the petitioners will be due on December 29, 2011, and amicus briefs in support of the respondents will be due on January 30, 2012. Any questions about the case should be directed to Dan Himmelfarb (+1 202 263 3035) in our Washington, DC office.


Today the Court also invited the Solicitor General to file a brief expressing the views of the United States in the following case of interest to the business community:

Saint-Gobain Ceramics v. Siemens Med. Solutions, No. 11-301: The questions presented are (1) whether the Patent and Trademark Office’s presumptively valid finding that an invention is not obvious and is thus patentable over a prior art patent is impermissibly nullified or undermined when a jury is allowed to find, by a mere preponderance of the evidence, that the patented invention is “insubstantially different” from the very same prior art patent, and thus infringes that prior art patent under the “doctrine of equivalents,” and (2) whether the Federal Circuit’s failure to impose a heightened evidentiary standard to ensure that juries do not use the doctrine of equivalents to override the Patent and Trademark Office’s presumptively valid non-obvious determinations undermines the reasonable reliance of competitors and investors on such determinations.


Mayer Brown's Supreme Court & Appellate practice distributes a Docket Report whenever the Supreme Court grants certiorari in a case of interest to the business community and distributes a Docket Report-Decision Alert whenever the Court decides such a case. We hope you find the Docket Reports and Decision Alerts useful, and welcome feedback on them (which should be addressed to Andrew Tauber, their general editor, at atauber@mayerbrown.com or +1 202 263 3324).

Feel free to forward this message to anyone who you believe might be interested in the Docket Report.

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Mayer Brown's Supreme Court & Appellate practice distributes a Docket Report whenever the Supreme Court grants certiorari in a case of interest to the business community and distributes a Docket Report-Decision Alert whenever the Court decides such a case. We hope you find the Docket Reports and Decision Alerts useful, and welcome feedback on them (which should be addressed to Andrew Tauber, their general editor, at atauber@mayerbrown.com or +1 202 263 3324).

Mayer Brown Supreme Court Docket Reports provide information and comments on legal issues and developments of interest to our clients and friends. They are not a comprehensive treatment of the subject matter covered and are not intended to provide legal advice. Readers should seek specific legal advice before taking any action with respect to the matters discussed. 



 
 
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