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St. Bernard Parish

On November 2, 2006, the attorneys for the Lawyers’ Committee, the Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center (GNOFHAC) and the law firm of Relman & Dane filed a complaint against St. Bernard Parish, Louisiana, in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana on behalf of GNOFHAC and Wallace Rodrigue, an individual property owner, in the case of Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center v. St. Bernard Parish, CV-06-07185.  The complaint alleged that the Parish violated the federal Fair Housing Act, the Civil Rights Act of 1866, the Civil Rights Act of 1871 and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, by enacting a series of discriminatory zoning ordinances, including what was known as the “blood relative” ordinance as shorthand for a housing ordinance which prohibited rental of single-family residences to persons, “other than a family member(s) related by blood.”   In a Parish that is 93% white and abuts heavily African-American New Orleans neighborhoods, including the Lower Ninth Ward, the discriminatory intent and effect were clear.

On February 27, 2008, the Court approved a consent decree filed by the parties which ordered rescission of the blood-relative ordinance, and awarding $32,500 in total damages to GNOFHAC and Mr. Rodrigue.  In addition, the Parish was enjoined from further violations of the federal Fair Housing Act, the Civil Rights Act of 1866 and the Civil Rights Act of 1871.  On May 15, 2008, the U.S. Magistrate Judge issued a report and recommendation awarding $116,271.92 in attorneys’ fees and costs to the plaintiffs.

In September, 2008, the Parish passed another ordinance which placed a twelve month moratorium on the construction of all multi-family housing with more than 5 units for a period of twelve months, at a time that St. Bernard Parish officials were aware that Provident, a real estate development corporation, had initiated the process of constructing four affordable housing developments in St. Bernard Parish.  On December 18, 2008, GNO and Provident filed a motion to enforce the February 27, 2008 Consent Order, claiming that that the moratorium was enacted with discriminatory intent and/or has a discriminatory effect in violation of the Fair Housing Act and the Consent Order.

On March 25, 2009, Judge Helen Berrigan entered a detailed 26 page order granting plaintiffs’ motion to enforce,  finding that the Parish’s intent in “enacting and continuing the moratorium is and was racially discriminatory.”   On June 22, 2009, the Plaintiffs filed a Motion for Contempt and Sanctions seeking a finding of contempt for Defendants’ actions leading up to the March 25, 2009 Order, and for payment of fees, costs, and damages incurred in bringing the Parish and the Council’s violation of the February 2008 consent order.  On July 22, 2009 the Court granted the motion and awarded attorneys’ fees to Plaintiffs.

At about the same time on June 9, 2009, plaintiffs filed another Motion for Contempt alleging that after the March 25, 2009 order the Parish had denied Provident’s applications for re-subdivision and this action and the circumstances leading up to it demonstrated that the Parish was continuing to block Provident’s proposed multi-family developments for racially discriminatory reasons in defiance of both the 2008 Consent Order and this Court’s Order of March 25, 2009.  A full evidentiary hearing on this motion was held on August 3, 2009.  On August 17, 2009, Judge Berrigan once again found the parish in contempt of the February 2008 consent order.  Her order required the parish’s Planning Commission to review Provident’s applications at their next meeting, treating the re-subdivision applications as minor rather than major requests, and referred the issue of damages and attorneys’ fees and costs to Magistrate Judge Shushan.

At the August 25, 2009, meeting of the St. Bernard Parish Planning Commission, the Commission treated Provident’s re-subdivision applications as major requests and voted to uphold their previous denial of the applications at the close of a hearing where intense public opposition to the proposed developments was expressed.  On August 28, 2009, in response to the parish’s failure to comply with Judge Berrigan’s August 17 order, the plaintiffs filed yet another Motion for Contempt.  On August 31, 2009, Judge Berrigan issued an order granting an expedited hearing on the Motion for Contempt to take place on September 9, 2009.  On September 11, 2009, Judge Berrigan issued an order granting the plaintiffs’ August 28 motion for contempt, the third contempt order in the last few months.  The order enjoined the parish from withholding approval of Provident’s re-subdivision applications.  Facing the threat of fines of $5,000 on the first day of noncompliance and $10,000 a day per day of noncompliance thereafter, the parish complied with the order on September 14.  The judge referred the issue of damages and attorneys’ fees and costs to Magistrate Judge Shushan.

At September 15 hearing, the Parish Council approved an ordinance that set a special election for November 14 on the question of a referendum to permanently ban the construction of multi-family housing complexes of more than six units in the parish.  The Parish met a September 29 deadline to file the ballot question with the Louisiana Secretary of State.  On October 13, the plaintiffs filed a motion for contempt alleging that the Parish Council’s decision to place the referendum on the ballot violated the February 2008 consent decree by violating the Fair Housing Act.  The memorandum in support of the motion alleged that the ban on multi-family construction would have a discriminatory impact akin to that of the September 2008 moratorium and that the Parish Council had demonstrated discriminatory intent in putting the measure on the ballot.  The memorandum argued that the matter was ripe by documenting the diversion of GNOFHAC’s resources that has been required to fight the referendum.

Click here to read the November 2006 amended complaint.
Click here to read the press release for the November 2006 complaint.
Click here to read the February 2008 consent order.
Click here to read the December 2008 motion to enforce the consent decree.
Click here to read the plaintiffs’ March 2009 proposed findings of fact and conclusions of law.
Click here to read the March 2009 order.
Click here to read the June 2009 Memorandum in Support of Motion for Contempt.
Click here to read the June 2009 Motion for Contempt.
Click here to read the June 22, 2009 Memorandum in Support of Motion for Contempt and Sanctions.
Click here to read the July 2009 Order and Reasons granting the Motion for Contempt and Sanctions.
Click here to read the plaintiffs’ August 2009 proposed findings of fact.
Click here to read the August 2009 Order and Reasons granting the Motion for Contempt.
Click here to read the August 28, 2009 Memorandum in Support of Motion for Contempt, Injunctive Relief, and Sanctions.
Click here to read the August 31, 2009 Order granting an expedited hearing on the August 28 Motion for Contempt.
Click here to read the September 11, 2009 Order partially granting the August 28 Motion for Contempt.
Click here to read the October 13, 2009 Motion for Contempt.
Click here to read the October 13, 2009 Memorandum in Support of Motion for Contempt.

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