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SPANN v. COLONIAL VILLAGE

May 22, 1987

Girardeau A. Spann, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
Colonial Village, Inc., Defendant; Girardeau A. Spann, et al., Plaintiffs v. Marvin J. Gerstin, et al., Defendants; Girardeau A. Spann, et al., Plaintiffs, v. Howard Bomstein, et al., Defendants


Harold H. Greene, United States District Judge.


The opinion of the court was delivered by: GREENE

In these consolidated cases, *fn1" plaintiffs Girardeau A. Spann, the Fair Housing Council of Greater Washington ("FHC"), and the Metropolitan Washington Planning and Housing Association ("MWPHA") have brought suit, seeking a declaratory judgment, permanent injunctive relief and damages, against Colonial Village, Inc. ("Colonial"), Marvin Gerstin Associates, Inc., an advertising agency and Marvin Gerstin (collectively referred to as "Gerstin"), alleging that the advertisement campaigns of these defendants in The Washington Post featuring exclusively white models indicate a racial preference in violation of the Fair Housing Act, 42 U.S.C. § 3604(a) and (c) and sections 1981 and 1982 of the 1966 Civil Rights Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 1981, 1982.

 Colonial and Gerstin have moved to dismiss or, in the alternative for summary judgment, on the grounds, inter alia,2 that plaintiffs have failed to state a claim under either section 1981 or 1982, and that plaintiffs' claim under the Fair Housing Act ("FHA") is barred by the limitations period set forth in that statute. See 42 U.S.C. § 3612(a). Gerstin's motion to dismiss is based on the additional ground that plaintiffs have failed to state a claim upon which relief may be granted under the FHA. *fn3"

 I

 From January 1985 to April 24, 1986, Colonial caused to be published advertisements in The Washington Post for the sale of housing units in the Colonial Village complex in Arlington, Virginia. These advertisements featured exclusively white models. Contending that these all-white model advertisements conveyed a racial preference for white purchasers, plaintiffs filed administrative complaints with the District of Columbia Office of Human Rights ("OHR") and the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development ("HUD") on April 24, 1986. To date, one year later, these complaints remain unresolved. However, apparently as a consequence of the pendency of the administrative complaints, Colonial adopted a written policy that, according to it, reflects its commitment to equal housing opportunity, in that it specifically requires nondiscriminatory selection of models for Colonial's ads. Colonial claims that it notified its advertising agency of this policy and instructed it to ensure that an adequate number of black models were featured in Colonial's ads.

 During the ten-month period from April 24, 1986 to February 24, 1987, at least thirty-six percent of Colonial's ads published in The Post have featured black models. During the 180 days immediately preceding the filing of the complaint herein, 28.6 percent of all of Colonial's ads in The Post featured a black model. None of Colonial's ads, at any time, has contained language indicating or suggesting a racial preference. To the contrary; all of its ads in The Post have included the phrase "Equal Housing Opportunity" as well as a related logo.

 As far as Gerstin is concerned, it placed advertisements depicting only white models from January 1, 1985 to May 30, 1986 for inter alia, the Crystal, Espirit, Horizons, and Tivoli Woods properties in Arlington, Virginia. Plaintiffs filed administrative complaints with the OHR and HUD challenging these advertising practices as well. As with the administrative complaints filed against Colonial, the complaints against Gerstin remain unresolved. During the 180-day period immediately preceding the filing of the complaint in this action, thirty percent of the published, display ads made by Gerstin featured black models, and forty percent of the Gerstin display ads published in The Post during that period featured one or more black models.

 II

 Plaintiffs assert that the advertising practices involved here violate section 804(c) of the Fair Housing Act, 42 U.S.C. § 3604(c). *fn4" Section 3604(c) prohibits the "mak[ing], print[ing], or publish[ing] or caus[ing] to be made, printed, or published" any advertisement for the purchase or lease of a dwelling that indicates any discriminatory preference or an intention to make any such preference. Plaintiffs contend that defendants have violated section 3604(c) by making or causing to be made real estate ads featuring only white models over a period of approximately eighteen months. Supporting this claim, plaintiffs cite several court decisions as well as certain regulations promulgated by HUD construing section 3604(c). These contentions are not well taken.

 First. Each of the cases in which a court found a violation of section 3604(c) involved far different and far more direct and affirmative indications of racial preference than are present here. For example, in United States v. Hunter, 459 F.2d 205 (4th Cir.), cert. denied, 409 U.S. 934, 34 L. Ed. 2d 189, 93 S. Ct. 235 (1972), the Fourth Circuit not surprisingly held that a rental ad specifying that the apartment was in a "white home" violated section 3604(c). Similarly, an oral statement to a white tenant by her landlord requesting that the tenant send her friends over to see an apartment available for rent in the building, but to "make sure her friends are whites," was held to violate the FHA. United States v. Gilman, 341 F. Supp. 891 (S.D.N.Y. 1972). And in Saunders v. General Services Corporation, 659 F. Supp. 1042 (E.D. Va. 1987), Judge Merhige recently found a violation of section 3604(c) where, in addition to the failure to use black models, there was substantial evidence that personnel of the corporation managing the apartment complexes in question repeatedly were instructed to treat black tenants and prospective tenants less favorably than whites; that the corporation committed a fraud when it agreed to use but did not, in fact, use an equal housing opportunity slogan or logo; and that it virtually failed to use black models in a brochure with sixty-eight photographs of which 134,000 copies were printed. See also Holmgren v. Little Village Community Reporter, 342 F. Supp. 512 (N.D. Ill. 1971) (ad indicating a preference for purchaser or tenant who spoke a particular language held to violate section 3604(c)).

 All of these precedents are a far cry from advertisements in a daily newspaper during the period covered by the law (see Part IV infra) (1) some of which depicted only white models, some only black models, and some a mixture of both; (2) in which the number of black models used hovered between approximately thirty and forty percent; and (3) all of which included an equal housing opportunity slogan and logo.

 These precedents would help plaintiffs only if they could somehow be construed to require proportional representation of the models of each race in all advertising, but no case has so held. *fn5"

 Second. HUD's regulations pursuant to section 3604(c) of the FHA, do provide that "if models are used in display advertising campaigns, the models should be clearly definable as reasonably representing majority and minority groups in the metropolitan area and both sexes." 24 C.F.R. § 109.30(b). However, not only is that provision substantively vague, but it, and other related regulations, state only that certain practices may ...


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