Complaint United States v. Mere (M.D. Fla.)

Date: 
Monday, February 29, 2016
Document Type: 
Complaints

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RECEIVED
2016 FEB 29 PM 2: 48
U.S. District Court
Middle Districe of Florida
Fort Myers, Florida


IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE MIDDLE DISTRICT OF FLORIDA

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, )      Civil Action No.
                                 Plaintiff,                  2:16-cv-163-FTM-38MRM
v.
THOMAS MERE,

                                Defendant.
--------------------------------------------- )

                                                     COMPLAINT
The United States of America alleges as follows:

                                                NATURE OF ACTION

I. This action is brought by the United States to enforce Title VIII of the Civil
Rights Act of 1968, as amended by the Fair Housing Amendments Act of 1988, 42 U.S.C.
§§ 3601 -3619 (the Fair Housing Act).

                                         JURISDICTION AND VENUE

2. This Court has jurisdiction over this action under 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331 and
1345. and 42 U.S.C. § 3614(a).

3. Venue is proper under 28 US.c. § 1391(b), because (I) the Defendant resides
in the Middle District of Florida; and (2) the claims alleged herein arose in the Middle
District of !'lorida.

                                                           PARTIES

4. Plaintiff is the United States of America.

5. Defendant Thomas Mere ("Mere") is the sole proprietor of Mere's Mobile
Home and RV Park ("Mere's Park").

6. Mere's Park was established in May 1972 and has its principal place of
business at 1555 North Tamiami Trail in North Fort Myers, Florida. Mere's Park was
registered by the Defendant as a fictitious name on November 24,2003, with the Florida
Department of State, Division of Corporations.

7. The Defendant is a resident of North Fort Myers, Florida.

8. The Defendant is the property manager at Mere's Park. His duties include
providing information on avai lable mobile homes, recreational vehicles, and recreational
vehicle lots to prospective renters, taking p'rospective renters to view the park and available
units and lots, and securing renters for Mere's Park.

                                                 FACTUAL ALLEGATIONS

9. Mere's Park is a mobile home and recreational vehicle community that rents
mobile homes, recreational vehicles, and recreational vehicle lots. It is located at 1555 North
Tamiami Trail in North Fort Myers, with additional units and lots for rent at 1051 North
Tamiami Trail and 1699 Ixora Drive in North Fort Myers.

10. Mobile home units, recreational vehicles, and recreational vehicle lots are
rented on a monthly and annual basis.

11. Individuals with recreational vehicles may rent a lot at Mere's Park, locate
their recreational vehicle on that lot, and reside there.

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12, Mere's Park residents engage in activities of daily living in their recreational
vehicles, such as sleeping, cooking, cleaning, and socializing. They typically return to their
units on a daily basis while at Mere's Park,

13. Mere's Park residents have access to their own mailbox and address while at
Mere's Park, and are billed directly for certain utilities.

14. Mere's Park provides water and sewage removal services and other amenities
to residents. Electricity is provided for select units.

15. Mere's Park residents include some who live there full-time and others who
live there on a seasonal basis. Some seasonal residents return to Mere's Park on an annual
basis.

16. The mobile homes, recreational vehicles, and recreational vehicle lots at
Mere's Park, and the recreational vehicles located thereon, are dwellings within the meaning
of Section 802(b) of the Fair Housing Act, 42 U,S,C. § 3602(b).

17. Between June and November 2014, the United States conducted testing to
evaluate the Defendant's compliance with the Fair Housing Act. Testing is a simulation of a
housing transaction that compares responses given by housing providers to different types of
home-seekers to determine whether illegal discrimination is occurring.

18. The testing revealed that the Defendant treats African Americans who visit
Mere's Park and inquire about renting a mobile home, recreational vehicle, or recreational
vehicle lot differently and less favorably than similarly-situated white persons who visit
Mere's Park for that purpose. Specifically, the testing revealed that the Defendant falsely
told African Americans that no mobile homes, recreational vehicles, or recreational vehicle

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lots were immediately available for rent, but told similarly-situated white persons that they
were, in fact, available for rent.

19. The testing further revealed that while the Defendant encouraged prospective
white renters to consider residing at Mere's Park, he took actions to prevent Or otherwise
discourage similarly-situated African-Americans from residing at Mere's Park by, for
example:

                a. Referring African Americans to another mobile home and RV park;

                 b. Failing to advise African Americans about future availability;

                 c. Making discouraging comments about the units available for rent; and

                 d. Failing to provide African Americans complete a'}d accurate information
                     about available units and/or lots.

                                                    CLAIMS FOR RELIEF

20. By the conduct described above, the Defendant has:
         
                  a. Refused to negotiate for the rental of, or otherwise made unavailable or
                      denied dwellings to persons because ofrace or color, in violation of
                      Section 804(a) of the Fair Housing Act, 42 U.S.C. § 3604(a); and

                   b. Represented, because of race or color, that dwellings were not available
                       for rental when such dwellings were in fact so available, in violation of
                       Section 804(d) of the Fair Housing Act, 42 U.S.c. § 3604(d).
 21 . By the conduct described above, the Defendant has engaged in a pattern or
practice of resistance to the full enjoyment of rights granted by the Fair Housing Act, 42

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U.S.c. §§ 3601, et seq., or denied to a group of persons rights granted by the Fair Housing
Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 3601, et seq., which denial raises an issue of general public importance.

22. There are persons who may have been victims of the Defendant's
discriminatory housing practices, including any victims that the United States may identify.
Such persons are "aggrieved persons" as defined in Section 802(i) of the Fair Housing Act,
42 U.S.C. § 3602(i), and may have suffered damages as a result of the conduct described
above.

23. The Defendant's conduct described above was intentional, willful, and taken
in disregard for the rights of others.

                                                  PRAYER FOR RELIEF

WHEREFORE, the United States prays that the Court enter an order that:

I. Declares that the Defendant's policies and practices, as alleged herein, violate
the Fair Housing Act;

2. Enjoins the Defendant, his, employees, agents, successors, and all other
persons in active concert or participation with any of them, from:

                      a. Discriminating against' any person on the basis of race 'or color in any
                          aspect of the rental of a dwelling;

                      b. Failing or refusing to take such affirmative steps as may be necessary to
                          restore, as nearly as practicable, the victims of the Defendant's unlawful
                          practices to the position they would have been in but for the
                          discriminatory conduct; and

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                      c. Failing or refusing to take such affirmative steps to prevent the recurrence
                          of any discriminatory conduct in the future and to eliminate, to the extent
                          practicable, the effects of the Defendant's unlawful practices;

3. Awards monetary damages to all persons harmed by the Defendant's conduct,
pursuant to Section 814(d)(I)(8) of the Fair Housing Act, 42 U,S.C. § 3614(d)(I)(8); and

4. Assesses a civil penalty against the Defendant to vindicate the public interest
in an amount authorized by Section 814(d)(l)(C) of the Fair Housing Act, 42 U.S.C.
§ 36 I 4(d)(l)(C), and 28 C.F.R. § 85.3(b)(3).

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The United States further prays for such additional relief as the interests of justice
may require.

Dated: February 29, 2016

                                                                                                                         LORETTA E. LYNCH
                                                                                                                         Attorney General

A. LEE BENTLEY, III                                                                                      s/Vanita Gupta                                                                                  
United States                                                                                                 VANITA GUPTA   
Middle District of Florida                                                                              Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General                                                                                              
                                                                                                                        Civil Rights Division   

s/E. Kenneth Stegeby                                                                                   s/Sameena Shina Majeed       
                                                                                                                         SAMEENA SHINA MAJEED
E. KENNETH STEGEBY                                                                              Acting Chief
Assistant United States Attorney                                                                       
400 North Tampa Street, Suite 3200                                                           s/Oneshia S. Herring                                                                     
Tampa, FL 33602                                                                                           MICHAEL S MAURER
Tel: (813) 274-6000                                                                                       Deputy Chief
fax: (813) 274-6200                                                                                       ONESHIA S. HERRING
Kenneth.Stegeby@usdoj.gov                                                                       Trial Attorney                                                                                                                 
                                                                                                                         United States Department of Justice
                                                                                                                         Civil Rights Division
                                                                                                                         Housing and Civil Enforcement Section
                                                                                                                         950 Pennsylvania Avenue, N. W.
                                                                                                                         Northwestern Builaing, 7tn FIoor
                                                                                                                         Washington, DC 20530
                                                                                                                         Tel: (202) 202-353-4132
                                                                                                                         Fax: (202) 514-1116
                                                                                                                         Oneshia.Herring@usdoj.gov


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Updated April 11, 2016