Unanimous 7th Circuit finds mezuzah removal worth a lawsuit
November 16, 2009
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit has ruled that a Jewish family whose mezuzah was repeatedly removed from their door frame by their condominium association can proceed with a lawsuit claiming discrimination and seeking damages.
The unanimous en banc decision last Friday reverses a July ruling by a three-judge panel of the court, which had affirmed the U.S. District Court for Northern District of Illinois in a ruling granting summary judgment in favor of the condo-association defendants.
Chief Judge Frank Easterbrook authored the 2-1 panel decision. Judge Diane Wood, whom the Obama administration considered earlier this year as a candidate for the U.S. Supreme Court, dissented.
Wood’s dissent and the en banc decision concluded that Lynne Bloch and her family had provided ample evidence that the association board, led by Edward Frischholz, may have intentionally discriminated against the Blochs under the Fair Housing Act and the Civil Rights Act. Those opinions found that application of a condo board rule prohibiting the mezuzah could be seen as discriminatory, while the Easterbrook opinion said the Blochs were seeking exception to a facially neutral condo rule.
“Although the Blochs’ case is no slam dunk, we think the record contains sufficient evidence, with reasonable inferences drawn in the Blochs’ favor, that there are genuine issues for trial on intentional discrimination,” Judge John Tinder wrote for the en banc panel, which included Easterbrook.
David Hartwell, a partner at Chicago-based Penland & Hartwell, said his clients, Shoreline Towers Condominium Association and Frischholz, haven’t decided yet whether they will appeal the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court. Sidley Austin partner Gary Feinerman argued the case for the Blochs before the en banc panel. F. Willis Caruso, who works for a fair housing clinic at the John Marshall Law School in Chicago, represented the family, with assistance from Levenfeld Pearlstein partner Howard Scott Dakoff, in the first appellate argument and in the lower court.