The government's fair-housing claims against two rural towns on the Arizona-Utah border dominated by a polygamist sect are not untimely, a federal judge ruled.
Last summer, the Justice Department sued Colorado City, Ariz., and Hildale, Utah, as well as Twin City Water Authority and Twin City Power, alleging religious discrimination in violation of the Fair Housing Act.
The twin towns are populated largely by members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, a polygamy-practicing breakaway sect. The church's United Effort Plan (UEP) owns most of the property in the communities.
"The cities' public officials, the Colorado City/Hildale Marshal's Office, and utility entities have acted in concert with FLDS leadership to deny non-FLDS individuals housing, police protection, and access to public space and services," the complaint states. "Furthermore, the defendants have denied non-FLDS members access to housing in the cities, and they have coerced, intimidated, threatened, and interfered with the housing rights of non-FLDS members. The Marshal's Office has inappropriately used its state-granted law enforcement authority to enforce the edicts of the FLDS, to the detriment of non-FLDS members. In addition, the cities' officials have misdirected and misused public resources in the service of the FLDS."
In an attempt to dismiss the fair-housing claims, the defendants argued that the government missed the three-year statute of limitations.
U.S. District Judge Russel Holland concluded, however, that the defense had misinterpreted the statute of limitations to think it began "when the alleged victims were discriminated against."
In fact, it begins to run when "plaintiff had reasonable cause to believe that defendants were engaged in a pattern and practice of housing discrimination," according to the ruling.
Since that date is still unknown at this stage in the case, the "defendants are not precluded from raising a statute of limitations defense at a later date should they discover that plaintiff was aware of the alleged pattern and practice of housing discrimination outside of the applicable statute of limitations periods," Holland added.