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City of Memphis v. Greene

    Brief Fact Summary. An act by a city closed a street, which prevented blacks from driving through a white neighborhood.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. When the closing of a public street does not have a direct effect on the property interests of a minority group, then there will be no civil rights violation.

    Facts. The city closed one end of a street that crossed a white residential community. This prevented traffic from a black community from obtaining access to the street. The black residents challenged the street closing as violation of Section 1982 of the Civil Rights Act, which prohibits discrimination in buying or leasing real property.

    Issue. When a street is closed and has the effect of somewhat restricting access to property in a minority neighborhood, will the closing be a violation of civil rights?

    Held. No.
    The inquiry under Section 1982 must focus on the relationship between the street closing and the property interests of the respondents.
    If the municipal action prevented blacks from exercising the same property rights as similarly situated whites, then the statute would apply. If the municipal action depreciated the value of the property owned by the black residents, then the statue would apply. If the street closing severely restricted access to black homes, the statute might be violated because blacks would be hampered in the use of their property. But, none of these situations exist.
    The only injury established is that one public street must be used rather than another for certain trips. This kind of injury does not fall within the reach of Section 1982.

    Dissent. The message of the street closing sent to black residents is that they are not allowed in a protected white neighborhood. The psychological effect of the barrier will be to reinforce the city’s favoritism toward whites and it will serve as a monument to racial hostility.

    Discussion. When the effect of legislation only has an incidental effect on a minority group’s enjoyment of real property, the court will not find a violation of the civil rights act.


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