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Mason v. Adams County Rec

United States District Court, S.D. Ohio, Western Division

May 10, 2017



          William O. Bertelsman United States District Judge

         This is a civil rights case brought under the 1968 Fair Housing Act, 42 U.S.C. § 1983, 42 U.S.C. § 1985. Following briefing on Defendants' Motions to Dismiss under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1), the Court held a hearing on the matter and asked Plaintiff to file a proposed injunction to clarify the relief he sought. Having been duly advised, the Court now issues this Memorandum Opinion and Order.

         I. Facts

         This is a case about old land deeds and plat maps that contain racially restrictive covenants. In 2012, someone-perhaps Plaintiff-requested deeds and plat maps covering 29 properties across mostly Southwest Ohio.[1] Each property was in a different Ohio county. All 29 County Recorders furnished the documents, each of which contained a reference to a racial restriction.

         There is no evidence that any of the racial restrictions had been enforced since May 3, 1948, when the Supreme Court prohibited a court from enforcing such restrictions in Shelley v. Kraemer. 334 U.S. 1 (1948). The restrictions here come from documents recorded between 1922 (Pike County) and 1957 (Lawrence County)- all predating the 1968 Fair Housing Act.

         Plaintiff, Darryl O. Mason, alleges the “publishing of the covenants intimidates and discourages [him], and other similarly situated persons, from choosing to live in areas containing such restrictive covenants.” (Pl. Resp., PageID# 297). There is no evidence Plaintiff has ever visited, attempted to purchase, or attempted to lease any of the properties. Nonetheless, Plaintiff alleges he is entitled to have the County Recorders redact the racially restrictive covenants from the deeds and plat maps, and that he is eligible for punitive damages because the Recorders have housed and provided copies of the 29 documents.

         II. Analysis

         A. Though third-party standing may be available in a case involving racially restrictive covenants, that does not excuse Plaintiff from showing injury, causation, and redressability.

         The Supreme Court has long held that the Constitution requires a Plaintiff to show he was injured, that the Defendant was the cause of the injury, and that the Defendant can redress the injury. Sierra Club v. Morton, 405 U.S. 727, 741 (1972). This Constitutional requirement is essential to discourage suits by those with merely an ideological stake in the litigation. See United States v. Richardson, 418 U.S. 166, 192 (1974)(Powell, J., concurring). The Supreme Court thus has found that a “plaintiff generally must assert his own legal rights and interests, and cannot rest his claim to relief on the legal rights and interests of third parties.” Warth v. Seldin, 422 U.S. 490, 499 (1975).

         There are exceptions, however. The Supreme Court has created prudential standing requirements, which are not constitutionally required but govern standing nonetheless. See Henry P. Monaghan, Third Party Standing, 84 Colum. L. Rev. 277, 278 (1984). The Supreme Court has used this authority to loosen standing requirements in a case involving racially restrictive covenants. See Barrows v. Jackson, 346 U.S. 249, 257 (1953).

         In Barrows-which arose in the wake of Shelley v. Kraemer, 334 U.S. 1 (1948)-white homeowners sought damages in state court when their neighbor rented to African-Americans in contravention of their agreed racially restrictive covenant. Barrows, 346 U.S. at 251. The defendant moved to dismiss on the grounds that plaintiffs requested relief would constitute state action denying non-Caucasian citizens equal protection of the laws in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment. The state trial and appellate courts agreed. Id. at 252. The Court noted that to “compel respondent to respond in damages would be for the State to punish her for her failure to perform her covenant to continue to discriminate against non-Caucasians in the use of her property.” Id. at 254.

         The Court went further, however, and held that the case presented a “unique situation” warranting third-party standing. Id. at 257; see also Ronald D. Rotunda & John E. Nowak, Applying Third Party Standing Rules, 1 Treatise on Const. L. § 2.13(f)(iii)(3) (March 2016). The Court thus found standing to assert the constitutional defense, not based solely on the defendant's potential liability for damages, but also on the injury to the African-American lessees, who were not parties to the case.

         Thus, in the rare case that implicates third-party standing, a Plaintiff must meet two hurdles instead of one. See Gladstone Realtors v. Village of Bellwood, 441 U.S. 91, 99-100 (1979). First, the Plaintiff must show he was personally injured by the Defendant and that the Court can redress the harm. See Friends of the Earth, Inc. v. Laidlaw Envtl. Servs. (TOC), Inc., 528 U.S. 167, 180-81 (2000); see also Erwin Chemerinsky, Federal Jurisdiction § 2.3.4 at 84 (6th ed. 2012)(“It must be stressed that the person seeking to advocate the rights of third parties must meet the constitutional standing requirements of injury, causation, and redressability in addition to fitting within one of the [prudential] exceptions.”). This constitutional requirement is in addition to - not a substitute for - the prudential requirement of showing that “it would be difficult if not impossible for the persons whose rights are asserted to present their grievance before any court.” Barrows, 346 U.S. at 257.

         Here, Plaintiff fails both requirements for third-party standing. He does not meet the Constitutional requirement of showing a concrete and particularized injury caused by Defendants that is redressable by this Court. This opinion will address those points below. But, to the extent Plaintiff is attempting to present the grievances of others who are affected by the racially restrictive covenants on file in various Ohio County Recorder offices, there is no showing that it would be “difficult if not impossible” for those individuals to bring a suit on their own. Barrows, 346 U.S. at 257.

         B. Taxpayer standing is inapplicable to this case.

         Plaintiff has also alluded to taxpayer standing, but that doctrine is also inapplicable. In general, federal courts do not recognize standing merely based on a plaintiff's status as a taxpayer or his interest in seeing that Treasury funds are spent in accordance with the Constitution. See Massachusetts v. Mellon, 262 U.S. 447, 485-86 (1923); Erwin Chemerinsky, Federal Jurisdiction § 2.3.4 at 59 (6th ed. 2012). Instead, courts require a “concrete and particularized” injury to ...

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