Ileka v. Lyons: Federal Court Finds No Evidence of Discrimination by Practitioners

An unreported 1999 decision from the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Ileka v. Lyons, involved the sale of a property in Chicago, owned by an elderly white woman (the “Seller”). In July 1997, she listed her home for sale with the real estate brokerage firm Erickson Realty and Management Co. (the “Brokerage”). Mary Small, a licensee affiliated with the Brokerage, was the listing agent (the “Listing Agent”). She placed the home in the MLS, and soon thereafter, showed it to the Ilekas, an African-American couple (the “Buyers”). They made a full-price offer, which the Listing Agent communicated to the Seller. Two days later, the Listing Agent informed the Buyers that, due to health reasons, the Seller had changed her mind about selling the house.

In February 1998, the Buyers and the Leadership Council for Metropolitan Open Communities filed a lawsuit against the Seller, the Listing Agent and the Brokerage, alleging that they had acted in a discriminatory manner. That July, the Seller sold the property to the Buyers. Subsequently, the Buyers settled with the Seller, leaving only the Listing Agent and the Brokerage (together, the “Practitioners”) as parties to the lawsuit. The remaining counts against them included claims of violations of the Fair Housing Act (the “FHA”) and Civil Rights Acts. The Practitioners filed a motion for summary judgment.

The court addressed the claim under FHA section 3604(a) first. This provision makes it unlawful “to refuse to sell or rent after the making of a bona fide offer, or to refuse to negotiate for the sale or rental of, or otherwise make unavailable or deny, a dwelling to any person because of race, color, religion, sex, familial status, or national origin.” To establish a prima facie case under this section, a plaintiff must show, among other things, that the defendant refused to deal with the plaintiff.

Here, the court found the evidence did not show that the Practitioners refused to deal with the Buyers. In fact, it found the reverse. The Listing Agent placed the property in the MLS knowing that it could attract prospective buyers who were African-American. She showed the Buyers the property and took their offer to the Seller. When the Seller decided not to sell, the Listing Agent attempted to locate suitable housing for her, which would have helped facilitate the sale to the Buyers. There also was no evidence that she tried to sell the property to any prospective purchasers who were white.

Next, the claim under FHA section 3617 was addressed. This section makes it is unlawful “to coerce, intimidate, threaten, or interfere with any person in the exercise or enjoyment of, or on account of his having exercised or enjoyed, or on account of his having aided or encouraged any other person in the exercise or enjoyment of, any right granted or protected by section 3603, 3604, 3605 or 3606” of the FHA. Under this provision, the conduct complained of must amount to “coercion, intimidation, threat, or interference.” The court found that none of the Practitioners’ acts were of this character. Instead, it found that the Seller independently made the decision not to sell. There was no evidence that the Listing Agent attempted to influence her decision.

As far as the Civil Rights claims, the court found that the Practitioners did not deprive the Buyers of “their right to make and enforce contracts or to purchase real property,” since the Listing Agent did not do anything to impede the sale to them. There also was no evidence of an agreement necessary to sustain a conspiracy charge; the court found that the Practitioners did not encourage the Seller to refuse to sell to the Buyers.

Since there was no evidence of any discriminatory conduct by the Practitioners, the court granted their motion for summary judgment.

NAR provided funding assistance to the Practitioners in this case, through its Legal Action Committee.

Ileka v. Lyons, No. 98 C 986, 1999 WL 412445 (N.D. Ill. June 10, 1999). [Note: This opinion was not published in an official reporter and therefore should not be cited as authority. Please consult counsel before relying on this opinion.]