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State Human Relations Commission ex rel. Green v. Field

Superior Court of Delaware, Kent

January 14, 2015

STATE HUMAN RELATIONS COMMISSION ex rel. BRENDA GREEN, Plaintiff,
v.
MARY FIELD and DELAWARE COMMUNITY MANAGEMENT, LLC, Defendants.

Submitted: November 19, 2014

Upon Consideration of Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment DENIED

Oliver J. Cleary, Esquire, Department of Justice, Wilmington, Delaware for Plaintiff.

Michael P. Morton, Esquire, Greenville, Delaware for Defendants.

ORDER

Robert B. Young J.

SUMMARY

The origin of the present motion and this lawsuit, is the oft treacherous practice of telling jokes. Even the most well-meaning and cautious jester, treads the line of one day offending her audience by her humor. Dr. Brenda Green ("Plaintiff"), an African-American, was on the receiving end of one of these jokes, one which not only tread, but, in her mind, crossed the line, invoking racial stereotypes as its punchline. The joke was disseminated via email, to the residents of the Village of Nobles Pond ("Nobles Pond"), a retirement community operated by Delaware Community Management, LLC ("DCM"), of which Plaintiff is a resident. The email was also received by Mary Field ("Field" and together with DCM, "Defendants") the manager of Nobles Pond. Despite requests by Plaintiff that the matter be investigated and the offending jester disciplined, Defendants did not involve themselves in the controversy. Plaintiff filed suit, alleging that Defendants' failure to act was discriminatory, constituting a violation of the Delaware Fair Housing Act ("DFHA").

After extensive discovery, Plaintiff has filed a summary judgment motion, seeking a decision concluding the matter. Prior to determining the merits of this motion, this Court necessarily considered a standing issue: the ability of Plaintiff to bring such a claim under the DFHA. The particular section under which Plaintiff bases her claim, 6 Del. C. § 4603(b)(2), has not, to this Court's knowledge, been applied to the set of circumstances before the Court. Specifically, a situation involving an allegation of post-acquisition discrimination. A split of authority abounds concerning this issue. § 4603(b)(2), and its federal counterpart 42 U.S.C.A. § 3604(b), prohibit discrimination in the sale of dwelling. Courts have struggled with the question of whether there are instances in which these statutes extend beyond the period of the sale. The Court adopts the approach of Bloch v. Frischholz, 587 F.3d 771, 779-780 (7th Cir. 1974), finding that there are limited sets of circumstances in which § 4603(b)(2) applies to post-transaction discrimination. The Plaintiff, therefore, has standing to bring this suit under DFHA.

As regards Plaintiff's motion for summary judgment, the Court finds that the factual issues in this case are so complex and unresolved that nothing can be stated as a matter of law. The evidence in this case is largely based upon the back and forth exchanges, and say-so of various actors, requiring credibility determinations. It is for the jury to make such findings. Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment is DENIED.

FACTS AND PROCEDURES

Plaintiff filed a lawsuit against Mary Field ("Field") and Delaware Community Management, LLC ("DCM" and together with Field "Defendants), alleging violations of DFHA. Plaintiff is a resident of Nobles Pond a retirement community located in Dover, DE, that is operated by DCM.

On August 21, 2011, Theodora Butler ("Ms. Butler"), a fellow resident of Nobles Pond, received an email from another denizen of the housing community, Patricia Schafer ("Ms. Schafer"), which contained the following joke:

God went to the Arabs and said,

"I have Commandments for you that will make your lives better."
The Arabs asked, "What are the Commandments?"
And the Lord Said, "They are rules for living. "
"Can you give us an ...

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