CIR Defends Homeowner Fined for Telling the Truth

[Update: Petition Denied 10-7-19]

On May 16, 2019 CIR filed a petition for writ of certiorari with the US Supreme Court asking it to review a decision of the Iowa Supreme Court holding a landlord liable for housing discrimination for truthfully informing a tenant the reason for her lawful eviction. 

Teresa Seeberger rented rooms in a house she owned.  When Seeberger learned that her tenant’s fifteen-year-old daughter had become pregnant, she told the tenant that she and her daughter would have to leave.  The eviction itself was legal: all agree that it did not violate the Davenport discrimination ordinance.

However, the Davenport Civil Rights Commission determined that providing the truthful reason for the eviction was unlawful because it was a statement that reflected discrimination on the basis of familial status. An Administrative Law Judge initially recommended nearly $50,000 in damages and fines against Seeberger.

The Iowa courts upheld the finding that the speech alone violated the law, though they set aside the damages and fines because they were assessed on the basis of the eviction rather than the speech. 

CIR’s petition asks the Supreme Court to set aside the Iowa ruling on the grounds that the First Amendment does not permit the state to selectively punish speech based solely on its point of view no matter how disagreeable state officials might find the speech. The state has no legitimate basis to punish truthful statements about a lawful transaction.