Monday, May 20, 2013

N.D. Ohio Grants Summary Judgment to Plaintiff in Fair Housing Act Failure-to-Accommodate Case

Last week, Senior District Judge James G. Carr of the United States District Court for the Northern District of Ohio issued an opinion in Vance v. City of Maumee, 2013 WL 2102845 (N.D. Ohio, May 15, 2013).  The principal plaintiff, a woman with significant and progressive disabilities that made it increasingly hard for her to climb stairs, had asked the city, 15 years after she bought her house, to pave the alley behind her house.  Because the alley was on the same level as her house, while the street in front of the house was down a substantial hill, paving the alley would enable her to get into her house without climbing the 18 stairs in front -- a climb she could no longer manage without crawling slowly on her hands and knees.  The plaintiff offered to arrange and pay for the repaving herself and to put up a bond, but the city council refused to consider her petition.  She then began construction on a parking pad behind her house, and incidentally put some gravel on the alley, but city officials threatened to fine her and placed a "road closed" sign in front of the alley.

On cross motions for summary judgment, the district court concluded that the city's actions constituted a failure to accommodate that violated the Fair Housing Act and the ADA.  Notably, the court rejected the city's argument that "the FHA protects only the right to live in a residential neighborhood, not the right to live in a specific dwelling."  To the contrary, the court concluded, "[t]he FHA protects the right of disabled individuals 'to enjoy the housing of their choice.' This encompasses a right to live in residential neighborhoods as well a right to live in the residence of one's choice."  The court also rejected the city's argument that the accommodation was not necessary to enable the plaintiff to live in her home:
The City has earlier suggested to Plaintiff that she install a chair lift on the stairs leading from her garage to the first floor of her home. Expense aside, Plaintiff told the City that a lift would not ameliorate the effects of her disability. This is so, according to Plaintiff, because the stairs leading from the garage to her first floor are “split”—the top section proceeds in a different direction than the bottom section. Plaintiff thus would either have to purchase two separate lifts or be stuck between the two sets of stairs leading from her garage to her home. 
The City now contends that Plaintiff should solve her own problem by installing a ramp or a driveway extension. According to the City's report, the ramp would consist of four smaller ramps, each 26 feet long, and multiple switchbacks. The report does not opine on the cost of installing either the ramp or the driveway extension. It was incumbent on the City to do so. 
Unlike in [an earlier case], the “alternatives” the City suggests to Plaintiff are both costly, or at least appear so, and unduly burdensome. Plaintiff, moreover, is will, as the ordinance allows, to bear the necessary costs for placing gravel on the alley. Thus the City would incur no construction burden or cost from allowing Plaintiff to make any necessary alley alterations. Moreover, accessing her home from her backyard would substantially alleviate the pain, inconvenience, and embarrassment Plaintiff currently endures.

Moreover, by allowing plaintiff to enter and leaver her home more easily would more completely make coming and going as relatively easy for her as for most homeowners. An accommodation which fails to reach this aspect of a disabled person's life also fails, in my view, to be as accommodating as, whenever reasonably possible, it should be.
This last paragraph, it seems to me, well encapsulates the antidiscrimination and integration purposes of the FHA.



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