International law firm Dorsey & Whitney LLP is pleased to announce today an important victory that one of its pro bono teams helped achieve for the City of St. Paul and for the Federal Fair Housing Act, a signature achievement of retired Dorsey Partner Walter Mondale. As a U.S. Senator, Mondale sponsored the legislation that would become the FHA. The FHA is intended to ensure the availability of housing to all and to end housing discrimination.

In 2004 and 2005, a group of landlords in St. Paul brought several suits alleging that the City had violated the FHA (and a number of other statutes) by enforcing its housing code, the purpose of which is to protect the public health, safety, and welfare of its residents. The plaintiff landlords had received citations from the City for a range of violations, including rodent infestations, leaking sewage, and inoperable smoke detectors. According to the plaintiff landlords (most of whom were not members of any protected class), the City was violating the FHA because the City’s orders that the landlords remediate code violations decreased the housing available for non-white renters.

In 2008, U.S. District Court Judge Joan N. Ericksen entered summary judgment in favor of the City, but the landlords convinced a panel of the Eighth Circuit to reverse as to the landlords’ FHA disparate-impact claim. The City pursued an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court but ultimately withdrew its case before the high court heard oral argument.

In 2012, Dorsey agreed to represent the City, including at trial if necessary, on a pro bono basis. Over the last five years, 45 timekeepers and numerous support staff committed nearly 3,000 hours of pro bono work to the case. After several years of litigation and several favorable appellate decisions in the intervening years, Dorsey obtained the dismissal of all claims against the City with prejudice. Threatened with a strong summary judgment motion by the City, the five remaining plaintiffs dismissed their cases earlier this month. Consistent with its position in the litigation, the City never paid monetary compensation to any plaintiff.

“We are extremely pleased that we were able to negotiate the dismissal of all claims against the City of St. Paul,” noted Skip Durocher, Litigation Partner of Dorsey & Whitney. “Community is a Dorsey core value, and pro bono work is one of the most important ways we give back to the community.”