This case is one of four lawsuits filed against the City of Farmers Branch, Texas to challenge the City's anti-immigrant housing law, Ordinance 2892. See IM-TX-0001, IM-TX-0002 and IM-TX-0003, cases filed in federal court.
Unlike the other three federal suits, plaintiffs filed this action in state court in the 116th Judicial District, Dallas County, Texas, and based their challenge not on the constitutionality of the ordinance, but on alleged violations of the Texas Open Meetings Act (TOMA). Tex. Gov. Code § 551.001 et seq.
The legislative history of the ordinance in question is as follows: on November 13, 2006, the Farmers Branch City Council adopted two ordinances, numbered 2892 and 2893. Ordinance 2892 (rental ordinance) mandated that landlords obtained proof of citizenship or eligible immigration status from prospective tenants. Ordinance 2893 (yard ordinance) was directed at property maintenance. Plaintiff filed suit on December 4, 2006, alleging that both illegally targeted the city's Hispanic population and that the laws were enacted in secret closed meetings in violation of the Texas Open Meetings Act. Farmers Branch responded by denying the allegations and asserting a plea that there was no jurisdiction for the Court to hear the case.
Ramos and other residents then presented the City with a petition seeking a repeal of Ordinance 2892 or its submission to a public vote. On January 8, 2007, the City adopted Ordinance 2900, which submitted the rental ordinance for a public vote. On January 11, 2007, the trial court (Judge Bruce Priddy) granted plaintiffs' request for a temporary restraining order enjoining defendant from enforcing Ordinance 2892 pending the trial court's resolution of plaintiffs' request for a temporary injunction.
On January 17, 2007, the City adopted ordinance 2903, a new version of the rental ordinance. Ordinances 2892 and 2900 were repealed, and Ordinance 2903 was set for a public vote in May 2007. On May 12, 2007, the voters of Farmers Branch approved Ordinance 2903 by a margin of 4,058 to 1,941.
During the time that the City revised and approved the rental ordinance 2903, the Court (Judge Priddy) held several hearings on the Ramos case. On January 16, 2007, Judge Priddy heard argument and evidence on the City’s jurisdictional challenge, and on February 2, 2007, he entered an order denying it. The City appealed. On appeal, the City argued that the Ramos case was moot because had it enacted Ordinance 2903, which repealed the two ordinances that formed the basis of Ramos’ claims.
The Texas Court of Appeals (Judge Molly Francis) affirmed the trial court’s denial of the City’s jurisdictional challenge. The Court held that Ramos’ allegations were sufficient to state a claim that the City had violated the Texas Open Meetings Act and the fact that the City later repealed the ordinance did not absolve it from potential liability. The Court reasoned that if the City “illegally deliberates and decides an issue in closed session, repealing the action so that it can be retaken in a later setting does not vindicate the very right protected by TOMA.” City of Farmers Branch v. Ramos, 235 S.W.3d 462 (Tex. App. 2007).
As of the date of this summary, the Ramos case was still pending.
Note that challenges to the constitutionality of the rental ordinance have proceeded in federal court. The three federal cases were consolidated into one action, Villas at Parkside Partners v. City of Farmers Branch (IM-TX-0003), and the federal court enjoined enforcement of Ordinance 2903.
See the IM-TX-0003
for a recitation of the procedural history of the federal litigation.Christopher Schad - 06/06/2012