On February 7, 2012, a jury in the Southern District of Florida awarded $1,049,450.00 to thirteen individuals and the Fair Housing Center of the Greater Palm Beaches, Inc., in a familial status housing discrimination case under the federal Fair Housing Act.  The individual Plaintiffs are members of seven families who were residents of Pelican Lake Village (“Pelican Lake”), an apartment complex located in Pahokee, Florida, a small, rural town of approximately 6,000 people in northwestern Palm Beach County, Florida.

On December 1, 2008, the owner of the property, Defendant Calvin Alston, through one of his companies, entered into an agreement where another Defendant, Matthew 25 Ministries, Inc., leased Pelican Lake for the purpose of providing housing for ex-offenders, including sex offenders. The sex offenders could not live near the school bus stop for Pelican Lake and Defendants began working together to force all families with school age children to move out.

In mid-December, 2008, residents of Pelican Lake received a notice, signed by Mr. Alston, stating that the Pelican Lake property had been sold and that “IF YOU HAVE CHILDREN LIVING OR STAYING IN THE APARTMENT UNDER THE AGE OF 18 YEARS OLD, YOU WILL HAVE TO VACATE THE PROPERTY BEFORE JANUARY 1st, 2009.”  The notice stated that the complex was becoming an “adults only community” and concluded with the statement that “IF YOU REFUSE TO MOVE OR COMPLY WITH THE NEW OWNERS WE WILL EVICT YOU IMMEDIATELY.”  After the notice was distributed, families with children, including the individual Plaintiffs, received phone calls and visits from representatives of Matthew 25 as well as one of Alston’s employees demanding that they leave Pelican Lake immediately.

In response to the notice, calls, and visits from Defendants, all seven Plaintiff families as well as other families with children, sought out new housing and moved out of Pelican Lake right at Christmas and within a month of being informed that they must vacate the complex.

Earlier in the case, the Court found on Plaintiffs' Motion for Summary Judgment that the actions by the landlord and the prison ministry to force the families with children to leave violated three separate provisions of the federal Fair Housing Act and entered liability in favor of Plaintiffs on some of their claims.

After the trial on damages and some remaining liability questions, the jury awarded a total of $448,250.00 in compensatory damages and $601,200.00 in punitive damages against Matthew 25 and Calvin Alston, his companies, and employee. Individual family members received total awards as high as $141,000.00 and the Fair Housing Center was awarded $46,250 in compensatory damages if its diversion of resources and frustration of mission.

Case Citation

Whyte v. Alston  Management, No. 10–81041 (S.D. Fla.)

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