On June 21, 2012, the United States Department of Justice filed this action against the town of Colorado City, Arizona, the city of Hildale, Utah, and utilities that served both towns. The lawsuit was filed under the Fair Housing Act Amendments (42 U.S.C. § 3601 et seq.); Title III of the Civil Rights Act (42 U.S.C. § 2000b); and 42 U.S.C. § 14141. The DOJ sought declaratory and injunctive relief, claiming that the municipalities had unconstitutionally established a religion, and denied equal protection of the laws and use of public facilities on the basis of religion. Specifically, the DOJ alleged that the municipalities had become arms of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints ("FLDS") and had failed their duty to provide policing, housing, and utilities to non-members and former members of the FLDS. This was the DOJ's first lawsuit to include claims under both the Fair Housing Act and Section 14141, the federal statute that allows the Attorney General to address patterns or practices of police misconduct.
A religious and charitable trust called the United Effort Plan Trust (UEP Trust) owned much of the land in Colorado City and in Hildale, and was controlled until 2005 by the FLDS. Because a Utah court determined that the UEP Trust had violated its legal duties to the beneficiaries of the trust, the FLDS was removed as trustee, and a Special Fiduciary, not affiliated with the FLDS, was appointed in 2005.
The Special Fiduciary's repeated attempts to administer the trust for the benefit of non-FLDS and FLDS members were rebuffed by the Marshall's Office of the two municipalities. The legal rulings relating to property agreements had been ignored, and the Marshall's office began occupying UEP Trust land.
The DOJ alleged that the Marshall's Office refused to arrest FLDS members accused of assaulting or committing crimes against non-FLDS members, and also that the office arrested non-FLDS members without cause. The Marshall's Office was also accused of assisting in illegal evictions of non-FLDS members from UEP Trust-owned property, and of taking non-FLDS members' property without cause.
The municipal utilities were also implicated in the lawsuit. The DOJ alleged that water and electric service had been outright denied or unreasonably delayed to non-FLDS members. Some residents had been waiting on water or electric service since 2009.
Lastly, the municipalities were accused of denying non-FLDS members access to public parks and the city zoo. The Marshall's Office was accused of threatening non-FLDS members with arrest if they played in or otherwise used the park or zoo.
Three weeks after filing the complaint, the DOJ moved to transfer the matter to Judge James A. Teilbog, suggesting that the case was related to Cooke v. Colorado City, 3:10-cv-8105-PCT-JAT, which was pending before Judge Teilbog. Judge Teilbog denied the motion, which was filed in Cooke, because the DOJ's case might include factual and legal issues distinct from Cooke and because the cases were in different stages of litigation.
The defendants filed a motion to dismiss in August 2012, which the Court (Judge H. Russel Holland) denied on June, finding that the U.S. stated a plausible cause of action for its first two claims and dismissing its third, with leave to amend. In March 2013, the defendants moved for judgment on the pleadings, contending the statute of limitations precluded the DOJ's Fair Housing Act claim. The court denied the motion on June 6, 2013, holding that the statutory period did not begin until a plaintiff had reasonable cause to believe the defendants had engaged in a practice of housing discrimination--the timing of that clock-starting point had yet to be determined.
The parties then engaged in extensive and contentious discovery. The court issued many rulings from 2013 to 2015 regarding evidence, including sanctions against the defendants for spoliation of evidence on July 28, 2014. 2014 WL 3724232 (D. Ariz. July 28, 2014).
In late 2014, the defendants moved for summary judgment regarding damages and the DOJ moved for partial summary judgment. On June 17, 2015, Judge Holland denied the DOJ's motion for partial summary judgment and granted in part the defendants' motion for summary judgment; he held that the DOJ was precluded from requesting FHA damages from any defendant on behalf of the aggrieved persons, should the DOJ prevail on its FHA claims in Count II. The court also dismissed the DOJ's claims against the power company. The defendants' motions were otherwise denied.
The case proceeded to trial before a jury, which lasted for 25 days in January-March 2016. On March 7, 2016, the jury returned a verdict finding that the towns of Colorado City, Arizona, and Hildale, Utah, and their joint water company systematically discriminated against individuals who were not members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (FLDS) in the provision of housing, utility and policing services in violation of the Fair Housing Act.
The jury also issued an advisory verdict on the DOJ's claims under Section 14141 of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act. Because this statute (in contrast to the Fair Housing Act) did not include a right to a jury trial, the jury’s verdict as to the Section 14141 claim was advisory and could be considered by the court, but was not binding. In its advisory verdict, the jury found that the Colorado City Marshal’s Office, the cities’ joint police department, operated as an arm of the FLDS church in violation of the establishment clause of the First Amendment; engaged in discriminatory policing in violation of the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment and the establishment clause; and subjected individuals to unlawful stops, seizures and arrests in violation of the Fourth Amendment. Because these advisory findings were not binding, the 14141 claim remains under consideration by the district court, who would issue a ruling on whether the defendants engaged in these constitutional violations, and if so, what relief was appropriate. The court scheduled a non-jury evidentiary hearing for October 24, 2016, regarding the 14141 claim.
On April 18, 2016, the parties filed a settlement agreement that defendants would pay $1.6 million to resolve the monetary claim under the Fair Housing Act. The settlement agreement memorialized the settlement terms reached by the parties and presented to and approved by the court on March 7, 2016. The court issued an order officially approving the settlement agreement on April 19, 2016. What is left to adjudicate is the U.S.'s request for injunctive relief under 14141. That is ongoing. Blase Kearney - 07/31/2012
David Postel - 02/07/2014
Jessica Kincaid - 04/22/2016