Family can pursue discrimination lawsuit against HOA

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An African American family who claims to have been subjected to race-based harassment, taunts and threats from a neighbor in their Indianapolis subdivision can move forward with their lawsuit after a federal judge denied the homeowners association’s request to toss the case.

The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana issued the denials in a pair of rulings Wednesday in Fair Housing Center of Central Indiana and Donata Banks v. Vicki New, Kirkpatrick Management Company, Inc., and Twin Creeks Homeowners Association, Inc., 1:20-cv-01176.  In a 16-page ruling, the court found the plaintiffs had sufficient factual allegations to pursue their claims of violations of the Federal Fair Housing Act, the Indiana Fair Housing Act and the Federal Civil Rights Act.

However, the negligence claim against the association defendants was dismissed.

Also, in a separate ruling, the court denied a Vicki New’s motion to set aside default judgment and motion to cease and desist and to dismiss the case.

“We are extremely pleased with the court’s rulings ensuring that all defendants answer as to their role in allowing this harmful discrimination to continue for so long, including the lack of sufficient response by the Twin Creeks Homeowners Association and Kirkpatrick Management Company to resident complaints,” Amy Nelson, executive director of the Fair Housing Center of Central Indiana, said in a statement.

Dinsmore & Shohl attorneys Crystal Wildeman and Jere Rosebrock, who are representing Kirkpatrick and Twin Creeks, declined to comment.

According to court documents, the Banks family started being verbally harassed by Vicki New shortly after they moved into Twin Creeks in August 2016. New was alleged to have yelled racial slurs at her neighbors; gotten into an argument with Donata Banks’ husband; and on several occasions followed Banks’ daughter and other children to the bus stop.

In 2018, New began to harass a Latino couple who moved next door to her, court documents state.

The homeowners association sent a letter to New Sept. 25, 2016. According to the court, the letter detailed that “almost on a daily basis, New could be found roaming the neighborhood, trespassing, verbally berating homeowners and residents, and standing in front of her property yelling at neighbors.”

Also, the court noted, the letter instructed New to “stop her abusive behavior and warned that litigation could follow if her behavior did not cease.”

In response to the plaintiffs’ claims under the federal and state fair housing acts as well as the Civil Rights Act, the association defendants filed a motion for judgment on the pleadings.

The association defendants asserted Banks lacks standing to bring the fair housing claims because they did not have a contractual relationship with her because she rented rather than owned her home in Twin Creeks. Additionally, they noted Banks was not prevented from renting or purchasing a home in the neighborhood so the allegations fail to support her claims that she was discriminated against in the rental of her house.

Moreover, they argued they were not liable for New’s actions because she was not their agent or employee.

The plaintiffs countered Banks is not claiming a breach of contract. Instead, she alleges New violated the covenants and restrictions of the homeowners association and the association defendants had the authority to enforce them and punish residents for violations. Banks has standing because the alleged discriminatory housing practices interfered with her ability to enjoy her home.

In the ruling, the court found Banks has standing to assert her fair housing claims but noted the case is still proceeding.

“While it is unclear the level of success the Plaintiffs may have later in this litigation, the allegations are sufficient to allow the fair housing claims to proceed beyond this state of the litigation,” Judge Tanya Walton Pratt wrote.

Similarly, the association defendants argued Banks does not have standing to bring her claims under the Civil Rights Act claim pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1982. They also asserted no allegations have been made that their actions were racially motivated.

However, the plaintiffs contended the association defendants intentionally interfered with Banks’ right to hold property because they failed to prohibit violations of statutes and nuisances. And they did not take action to stop New’s discriminatory conduct.

The court was convinced by the plaintiffs’ arguments at this stage of the litigation.

“There are sufficient factual allegations to draw an inference that the Association Defendants had discriminatory intent in interfering with Banks’ right to hold real property when they initiated legal action against New for failing to pay HOA dues but not pursuing legal action when New engaged in egregious, racially-discriminatory conduct that affected property rights — all when the Association Defendants had the authority and power to intervene,” Walton Pratt wrote.

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