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Cooke v. Town of Colorado City

United States District Court, D. Arizona

November 25, 2014

Ronald Cooke, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
Town of Colorado City, et al., Defendants.

ORDER

JAMES A. TEILBORG, Senior District Judge.

Pending before the Court is the State of Arizona's Motion to Amend the Judgment (Doc. 713). The Court now rules on the motion.

I. Background

During this case, including at trial, Plaintiff-Intervenor State of Arizona (the "State") alleged three claims against Defendants Town of Colorado City, City of Hildale, Hildale-Colorado City Utilities, Twin City Water Authority, and Twin City Power (collectively, "Defendants"). First, the State claimed that Defendants violated the federal Fair Housing Act ("FFHA") and the Arizona Fair Housing Act ("AFHA") by discriminating against Plaintiffs Ron and Jinjer Cooke (the "Cookes") in the provision of services or facilities because of religion. (Doc. 169 at 24, 25-27). Second, the State claimed that Defendants violated the FFHA and AFHA by retaliating or interfering with the Cookes' enjoyment of their dwelling because of religion or because of the Cookes' assertions of their rights. ( Id. at 24, 27-28). Third, the State claimed that Defendants engaged in a pattern or practice of resistance to the full enjoyment of rights granted under the AFHA. ( Id. at 29).

At trial, the Court instructed the jury on all three claims. The Court quotes its previous Order:

On March 20, 2014 the jury returned its verdict in this case making the following findings. First, the jury found by a preponderance of the evidence that Defendants[1] violated the federal Fair Housing Act and the Arizona Fair Housing Act by discriminating against the Cookes in the provision of services or facilities because of religion. On this claim, the jury found that Defendants were jointly and severally liable for damages because they all committed the same unlawful act as, acted in concert with, or acted as an agent or servant of another defendant. The jury found the damages to Ron Cooke to be $650, 000 and the damages to Jinjer Cooke to be $650, 000.
Second, the jury found by a preponderance of the evidence that Defendants violated the federal Fair Housing Act and the Arizona Fair Housing Act by coercing, intimidating, threatening, interfering with, or retaliating against the Cookes in the enjoyment of their dwelling because (1) of religion or (2) the Cookes asserted rights, or encouraged others to assert their rights, protected by the federal Fair Housing Act or the Arizona Fair Housing Act. On this claim, the jury found that Defendants were jointly and severally liable for damages because they all committed the same unlawful act as, acted in concert with, or acted as an agent or servant of another defendant. The jury found the damages to Ron Cooke to be $1, 950, 000 and the damages to Jinjer Cooke to be $1, 950, 000.
Third, the jury found by a preponderance of the evidence that Defendants violated the Arizona Fair Housing Act by engaging in a pattern or practice of resistance to the full enjoyment of any right granted by the Act.
The Court agrees with and adopts the jury's findings in this case as its own. The Court also adopts the jury's advisory finding with respect to Defendants engaging in a pattern or practice of resistance to rights protected under the Arizona Fair Housing Act.

(Doc. 703 at 3-5) (citations and footnotes omitted).

During the process of drafting the subsequent judgment and permanent injunction, the Court became concerned that the State's pattern-or-practice claim was not an independent cause of action but merely a procedural mechanism for the State to file a lawsuit and obtain a broader scope of relief than would be available to an individual plaintiff. The Court, without briefing from the parties, found the latter to be true and declined to enter judgment on this claim, explaining its reasoning as follows:

At summary judgment and during trial, the Court assumed that the State's pattern-or-practice claim against Defendants was a valid independent cause of action and none of the parties disputed its existence. However, the Court has an independent duty to ensure that it enters judgment according to the law. The Court concludes that there is no independent cause of action for a pattern or practice of discrimination; rather, a showing of pattern or practice establishes the attorney general's standing to sue. This is evident from the plain language of the statute, which recites the requirements for standing but contains no elements of a claim under that section. It is further supported by courts' interpretations of the similar language of the federal Fair Housing Act ("FFHA").
The language of the Arizona Fair Housing Act concerning a pattern or practice of discrimination closely tracks that of the FFHA:
The attorney general may file a civil action in superior court for appropriate relief if the attorney general has reasonable cause to believe that either:
1. A person is engaged in a pattern or practice of resistance to the full enjoyment of any right granted by this article.
2. A person has been denied any right granted by this article and that denial raises an issue of general public importance.
A.R.S. § 41-1491.35(A).
Whenever the Attorney General has reasonable cause to believe that any person or group of persons is engaged in a pattern or practice of resistance to the full enjoyment of any of the rights granted by this subchapter, or that any group of persons has been denied any of the rights granted by this subchapter and such denial raises an issue of general public importance, the Attorney General may commence a civil action in any appropriate United States district court.
41 U.S.C. § 3614(a).
Courts interpreting the FFHA have held that this provision confers standing to sue upon the attorney general. See, e.g., United States v. Bob Lawrence Realty, Inc., 474 F.2d 115, 122 (5th Cir. 1973). The confusion as to whether a pattern or practice claim exists is not uncommon. See United States v. City of Parma, Ohio, 494 F.Supp. 1049, 1095 (N.D. Ohio 1980); United States v. Real Estate Dev. Corp., 347 F.Supp. 776, 783 (N.D. Miss. 1972). With respect to Title VII, which incorporates a statute very similar to the FFHA and Arizona Fair Housing Act, see 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-6(a), the Second Circuit Court of Appeals clarified that language concerning a pattern or practice "simply refers to a method of proof and does not constitute a freestanding cause of action, '" Parisi v. Goldman, Sachs & Co., 710 F.3d 483, 487 (2d Cir. 2013) (quoting Chin v. Port Authority of N.Y., 685 F.3d 135, 148 n.8 (2d Cir. 2012)). Title VII discrimination analysis applies to FFHA discrimination claims. Harris v. Itzhaki, 183 F.3d 1043, 1051 (9th Cir. 1999).
Accordingly, the State's pattern-or-practice claim against Defendants is not a separate claim and the Court will not enter judgment on it. The jury's verdict in this regard was advisory and serves to confirm the attorney general's proper standing to intervene in this case. The Court's conclusion is of no practical distinction to this case, however, because the State remains as an intervenor-plaintiff on the claims for discrimination in providing services or facilities and for intimidation or interference with ...

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