Supreme Court says cities can sue banks under anti-bias law

Court Watch Posted on

The Supreme Court ruled Monday that cities may sue banks under the federal anti-discrimination in housing law, but said those lawsuits must tie claims about predatory lending practices among minority customers directly to declines in property taxes.

The justices' 5-3 ruling partly validated a novel approach by Miami and other cities to try to hold banks accountable under the federal Fair Housing Act for the wave of foreclosures during the housing crisis a decade ago.

But the court still threw out an appellate ruling in Miami's favor and ordered a lower court to re-examine the city's lawsuit against Wells Fargo and Bank of America to be sure that there is a direct connection between the lending practices and the city's losses.

Miami claimed that Wells Fargo and Bank of America, as well as Citigroup, pursued a decade-long pattern of targeting African-American and Hispanic borrowers for costlier and riskier loans than those offered to white customers. The loans to minority homeowners went into default more quickly as well, the city said.

Wells Fargo and Bank of America appealed the ruling by the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to the Supreme Court, arguing that cities can't use the Fair Housing Act to sue over reductions in tax revenues. The banks said the connection between a loan and the tax consequences is too tenuous. Citigroup did not appeal, though its lawsuit also would be affected by what the appeals court does in response to Monday's ruling.

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