United States District Court, N.D. West Virginia
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER GRANTING THE MOTION OF
THE UNITED STATES TO HOLD DEFENDANTS IN CIVIL CONTEMPT [DKT.
M. KEELEY UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
is the motion of the United States of America (“United
States”), seeking to hold the defendants in civil
contempt for failing to obey a consent decree entered by the
Court on July 10, 2017. For the reasons that follow, the
Court GRANTS the motion (Dkt. No. 74).
United States initiated this action to enforce Title VII of
the Civil Rights Act of 1968 (the “Fair Housing
Act”), as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 3601, et
seq. According to the United States, the defendants,
Gary Walden, Tina Walden, Walden Homes, LLC d/b/a Walden
Rentals, and 973 Chestnut Ridge Road, Inc., engaged in
unlawful discrimination on the basis of sex by subjecting
female tenants at their rental properties to severe,
pervasive, and unwelcome sexual harassment in violation of
the Fair Housing Act. Specifically, over a period of at least
nine years Gary Walden engaged in egregious acts of sexual
harassment against female tenants and prospective tenants at
the residential rental properties he owned and managed in the
Morgantown, West Virginia area. See Dkt. No. 31.
Walden's discriminatory conduct included, but was not
limited to, the following: engaging in unwelcome sex acts
with his female tenants; engaging in unwanted sexual touching
and groping; conditioning or offering tangible housing
benefits in exchange for performance of sex acts; touching
himself in a sexual manner and exposing himself in the
presence of female tenants; making unwanted and unwelcome
sexual comments and advances; entering the apartments of
female tenants without permission or notice to sexually
harass them; and taking or threatening to take adverse
housing actions against female tenants who refused or
objected to his sexual advances. Id. at 4-5. Tina
Walden failed to take appropriate steps to remedy the
discrimination after receiving tenant complaints about sexual
harassment. Indeed, she took adverse housing actions, or
threatened such actions, in retaliation for discrimination
complaints. Id. at 5-6.
United States charged that Tina Walden, Walden Homes, LLC,
and 973 Chestnut Ridge Road, Inc. were liable for the
discriminatory conduct of Gary Walden, who was acting as
their agent, and that Gary Walden, Walden Homes, LLC, and 973
Chestnut Ridge Road, Inc. were liable for the discriminatory
conduct of Tina Walden, who was acting as their agent.
Id. at 6.
to the United States, as a consequence of these acts and
statements, the defendants (1) denied housing or otherwise
made housing unavailable because of sex in violation of 42
U.S.C. § 3604(a); (2) discriminated in the terms,
conditions, or privileges of the rental of dwellings, or in
the provision of services or facilities in connection
therewith, because of sex, in violation of 42 U.S.C. §
3604(b); (3) made statements with respect to the rental of
dwellings that indicate a preference, limitation, or
discrimination based on sex, in violation of 42 U.S.C. §
3604(c); and (4) coerced, intimidated, threatened, or
interfered with persons in the exercise or enjoyment of, or
on account of their having exercised or enjoyed, their rights
under Section 804 of the Fair Housing Act, all in violation
of 42 U.S.C. § 3617. Id. at 7. The United
States further asserted that female tenants and prospective
tenants were injured by the defendants' discriminatory
conduct, and that the defendants' conduct was
intentional, willful, and taken in reckless disregard for the
rights of others. Id. at 8.
mediation, the parties settled their dispute prior to trial.
Consequently, on July 10, 2017, the Court entered a consent
decree (“Consent Decree, ” or
“Decree”) (Dkt. No. 73), requiring the defendant
to deposit $500, 000.00 into a Settlement Fund for the
purpose of compensating the victims harmed by Gary
Walden's sexual harassment. Id. at ¶ 22.
They agreed to deposit a first payment of $100, 000.00 into
the Settlement Fund within thirty (30) days of entry of the
Decree, and to deposit the remaining balance of $400, 000.00
into the Settlement Fund by January 15, 2018. Id.
Further, the terms of the Consent Decree also required the
defendants to pay $100, 000.00 in civil penalties to the
United States by January 15, 2018. Id. at ¶ 33.
Finally, pursuant to the Consent Decree, the Court retained
jurisdiction over the case in order to enforce compliance
with its terms. Id. at ¶ 38.
critical importance to the pending motion, although the
defendants deposited the initial $100, 000.00 payment into
the Settlement Fund on August 10, 2017, they never paid the
balance of $400, 000.00 to the Settlement Fund, nor did they
pay $100, 000.00 in civil penalties to the United States. The
United States communicated with counsel for the defendants on
numerous occasions in an effort to secure compliance with the
Consent Decree (Dkt. Nos. 74 at 3; 75 at 3), but those
efforts proved unavailing. See also Dkt. No. 75-1,
Exhibit 1, Letter from Jackson to Armistead and Scudiere.
There is no dispute that the defendants are “fully
aware” of their obligations under the Decree (Dkt. No.
75 at 4-5). Indeed, they have conceded that they both failed
to deposit the additional funds into the Settlement Fund and
also to pay the civil penalties to the United States.
can be no question that courts have inherent power to enforce
compliance with their lawful orders through civil
contempt.” Render's Mkts., Inc. v. Joppatowne
G.P. Ltd. P'ship, 608 Fed.Appx. 130, 131 (4th Cir.
2015) (unpublished decision) (quoting Shillitani v.
United States, 384 U.S. 364, 370 (1966)); see also
Chambers v. NASCO, Inc., 501 U.S. 32, 44 (1991). The
Court may impose sanctions for civil contempt “to
coerce obedience to a court order or to compensate the
complainant for losses sustained as a result of the
contumacy.” In re Gen. Motors Corp., 61 F.3d
256, 258 (4th Cir. 1995) (citation omitted). “The
appropriate remedy for civil contempt is within the
court's broad discretion.” Id. at 259.
contempt is appropriate if the order said to be violated
“set[s] forth in specific detail an unequivocal
command” that is “clear and unambiguous.”
Id. Therefore, in order to establish that the
defendants should be held in civil contempt, the United
States must prove, by clear and convincing evidence, the
(1) the existence of a valid decree of which the alleged
contemnor had actual or constructive knowledge; (2) the
decree was in favor of the party moving for contempt; (3) the
alleged contemnor violated the terms of the decree by its
conduct, and had actual or constructive knowledge of such
violation; and (4) the moving party was harmed by the
Ashcraft v. Conoco, Inc., 218 F.3d 288, 301 (4th
Cir. 2000) (citation omitted). Here, the United States has