Couple seeks more than $450K in housing discrimination lawsuitPublished 10:59am Tuesday, September 17, 2013
A lawsuit alleging racial discrimination under federal law and the Minnesota fair housing law was filed last week against three Fergus Falls residents and a business.
The complaint alleges seven counts including violations of federal and Minnesota housing discrimination statutes, breach of contract under Minnesota law, promissory estoppel under Minnesota law, wrongful eviction under Minnesota law, tortious interference with contract under Minnesota law, defamation under Minnesota law and intentional infliction of emotional distress under Minnesota law.
Fergus Falls attorney Timothy Rundquist filed the lawsuit Sept. 13 in Otter Tail County District Court on behalf of Fred and Rea Sasseville against Richard Herbrandson, James Danner, RE/MAX Signature Properties and Sherrie Rivallier.
The Sassevilles are seeking more than $450,000 total for actual and punitive damages, plus attorney’s fees and expenses.
The lawsuit alleges that, after entering into a rental agreement with Herbrandson for a house at 504 East Lakeside Drive, until the Sassevilles could arrange financing for the house and purchase it, the agreement was wrongfully breached due to Fred Sasseville’s African-American race.
According to the complaint, the Sassevilles started moving items into the house in late June. During this time, Herbrandson allegedly asked a Lakeside Drive resident, and acquaintance of the Sassevilles, if he “knew them well” and added that he was “starting to regret” renting to the Sassevilles. On July 1, as the Sassevilles continued to move in, a group of people, including another Realtor and Rivallier, came by the house saying they had an appointment to look at the house to buy it, the complaint says.
That night, Herbrandson allegedly stopped by the house and told Rea Sasseville to stop moving in until he had a $5,000 cashier’s check for the deposit. She reportedly told him the check from an estate was coming via mail, but she hadn’t received it yet.
Rivallier, a former employee of the Sassevilles who was terminated last year, allegedly called Herbranson and told him the Sassevilles were “going to turn his house into a Bed and Breakfast” and “have a bunch of people running in and out of the house,” and that the “Sassevilles were not nice people.”
At a July 2 meeting at Danner’s office, the first thing Herbrandson allegedly said to Fred Sasseville was, “Let me start off by saying this has nothing to do with the color of your skin,” and that he had “blacks and Mexicans that work for me.”
The complaint also cites a July 3 letter from Danner, of RE/MAX Signature Properties, to the Sassevilles’ realtor stating that “it is apparent the (plaintiffs) are unable to proceed with the purchase of the property at 504 E. Lakeside Drive.” No specific information was cited by Danner as to why the Sassevilles allegedly could not perform their obligations, the complaint says.
The Sassevilles were also reportedly told in the letter to immediately remove their things from the house, only in the presence of their realtor, and return the keys. The Sassevilles removed their belongings by July 4.
The complaint alleges that the actions of all defendants were intentional.