Victory in 4th Circuit for pro bono client Homeward

January 11, 2015

The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has upheld the dismissal of a case brought against firm pro bono client Homeward, a nonprofit planning and coordinating organization for homeless services in the greater Richmond area. In its suit, ASWAN, an unincorporated association made up of homeless and formerly homeless people, alleged that Homeward and its co-defendants established a homeless services center in a location that was removed from the downtown area of Richmond, thus violating 42 U.S.C. §§ 1983 and 1985(3), the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and the Fair Housing Act. The district court dismissed all of the plaintiff’s claims.

The published opinion of the appeals court touched upon three important issues.

First, in a matter of first impression, the 4th Circuit agreed that the one-year statute of limitations commonly applied to Americans with Disabilities Act cases brought in Virginia is proper.

Second, the court held that the term "services" under the Fair Housing Act should be narrowly construed to include only the types of services commonly provided by municipalities, such as trash collection, not any type of service that touched upon housing.

Finally, and perhaps most significantly, the court held (over a strong dissent) retracting a gratuitous promise does not amount to a discriminatory act or an adverse action, and therefore cannot support a cause of action for retaliation.

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