U.S. District judge withholds approval of Ameris redlining settlement
Saying the deal is unenforceable, the court gave the bank and U.S. Justice Department until Dec. 1 to file a new motion.
| 8:53 a.m. November 3, 2023
U.S. District Judge Marcia Morales Howard denied a motion to approve a settlement agreement between Ameris Bank and the U.S. Department of Justice over redlining allegations, saying a paragraph in the agreement is unenforceable.
Howard gave the parties until Dec. 1 to file a renewed motion, according to her order filed Nov. 1 in U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida, Jacksonville Division.
U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland announced the agreement Oct. 19 and the Justice Department filed its motion to approve the settlement the same day.
The Justice Department alleged Atlanta-based Ameris engaged in redlining by not providing enough mortgage loans in predominantly Black and Hispanic neighborhoods in Jacksonville.
Ameris said it agreed to the settlement to avoid litigation and to support the government’s goals of expanding homeownership, but it denied any wrongdoing.
Howard took issue with a paragraph in the settlement agreement that says Ameris and its employees are “enjoined from engaging in any act or practice that discriminates on the basis of race, color, or national origin.”
“While the Court wishes to support the parties in their efforts to resolve this case, the Court is unable to approve and enter the proposed Consent Order” because that provision is unenforceable, Howard’s order said.
“This provision broadly enjoins Defendant from engaging in any discriminatory act or practice that violates certain statutes and regulations. As such, it appears to do no more than instruct Defendant to obey the law,” it said.
The major provisions of the settlement agreement called for Ameris to invest $9 million in the Jacksonville community and to open a branch in a predominantly Black and Hispanic neighborhood, where it currently has no offices.
Ameris has 18 branches in the Jacksonville metropolitan area.