Nicholas Malfitano May 4, 2016, 3:03pm


PHILADELPHIA -- On Tuesday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit upheld a trial court verdict declaring the Berks County Housing Authority did not practice racial discrimination against a woman enrolled in the Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher program.

In a per curiam ruling, Judges Thomas L. Ambro, Joseph A. Greenaway Jr. and Dolores Sloviter dismissed the discrimination claims brought by appellants Monica Griffin and her adult children, Shabre Rinngold and Isaiah Boyer. Their claims were originally dismissed from the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.

U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit
U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit

Griffin filed an amended complaint against the Berks County Housing Authority and four individual defendants, Sandra Miller, Benno Ruhnke, Deirdre Durham and Tanya Nelson, raising claims of racial discrimination arising from her participation in the Section 8 housing program.

Specifically, Griffin claimed that the defendants discriminated against her on the basis of her African-American race by not: “(1) Re-inspecting her apartment after it failed an annual review; (2) Accounting for a reduction in child support payments in calculating Griffin’s rent; and (3) Providing a proper ‘utility reimbursement allowance.”

Griffin asserted her claims against all defendants under the Fair Housing Act (FHA) and her claims against the Berks County Housing Authority under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. However, the district court entered summary judgment in the defendants’ favor, leading Griffin to appeal.

“The District Court further properly concluded that Griffin did not make out a prima facie case of discrimination because she did not present any evidence raising a reasonable inference that defendants discriminated against her on the basis of her race,” the Third Circuit wrote.

The appellate court claimed Griffin’s follow-up argument was “conclusory” and she did not cite or refer to any evidence of the summary judgment record, and did not acknowledge any of the district court’s reasoning in the appeal.

“We nevertheless have reviewed the record and agree with the District Court that Griffin presented no evidence raising a reasonable inference of discrimination,” the Third Circuit wrote.

Griffin further raised four arguments to the Third Circuit, which the court briefly addressed. Griffin argued: “(1) the standard for establishing a prima facie case under the FHA and Title VI should be more relaxed”; (2) the district court should have applied appellate precedent from Mt. Holly Gardens Citizens in Action, Inc. v. Township of Mount Holly and Gallagher v. Magner; (3) that defense counsel committed ‘misconduct’ during discovery; and (4) that all defendants ‘admitted’ they discriminated against her.”

The Third Circuit did not concur with any of Griffin’s arguments, and concluded she made no specific citations or presented evidence to support any of them. In particular, the panel commented on the appellees’ allegedly “admitting” they discriminated against Griffin.

“Griffin asserts that all defendants ‘admitted’ in their answers and affirmative defenses that they discriminated against her. She does not explain how, and our review of the record reveals no such admissions,” the Third Circuit wrote.

The appellees are represented by Edwin L. Stock of Roland Stock and Stephen H. Price of Mogel Spiedel Bobb & Kershner, both in Reading.

U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit case 14-4711

U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania case 5:10-cv-05740

From the Pennsylvania Record: Reach Courts Reporter Nicholas Malfitano at nickpennrecord@gmail.com.

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