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Haws v. Norman

United States District Court, D. Utah, Central Division

September 20, 2017

MELANIE HAWS, Plaintiff,
v.
MICHAEL NORMAN, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER DENYING PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT (ECF NO. 19)

          EVELYN J. FURSE UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Plaintiff Melanie Haws moves the Court[1] for summary judgment on her failure to accommodate her disability and retaliation claims against Defendant Michael Norman. (Pl.'s Mot. for Summ. J. (“Mot.”), ECF No. 19.) Ms. Haws alleges Mr. Norman denied her requests for an assistance animal and retaliated against her in violation of the Federal Fair Housing Act and the Utah Fair Housing Act. (Compl., ECF No. 2.) After considering the parties' briefing and hearing oral argument, the Court DENIES summary judgment on Ms. Haws's failure to accommodate and retaliation claims.

         I. LEGAL STANDARD

         Under Rule 56(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, “[t]he court shall grant summary judgment if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). “A fact is ‘material' if, under the governing law, it could have an effect on the outcome of the lawsuit. A dispute over a material fact is ‘genuine' if a rational jury could find in favor of the nonmoving party on the evidence presented.” Tabor v. Hilti, Inc., 703 F.3d 1206, 1215 (10th Cir. 2013) (quoting E.E.O.C. v. Horizon/CMS Healthcare Corp., 220 F.3d 1184, 1190 (10th Cir. 2000)). On a motion for summary judgment, the Court reviews the facts in a light most favorable to the nonmovant and draws all reasonable inferences in the nonmovant's favor. Jones v. Norton, 809 F.3d 564, 573 (10th Cir. 2015).

         II. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         Taking the facts in a light most favorable to Mr. Norman, the following facts provide the basis for decision. Mr. Norman owns a triplex in Logan, Utah. (Pl.'s Mot. for Summ. J. (“Mot.”) ¶ 1, ECF No. 19; Corrected Mem. in Opp'n to Pl.'s Mot. for Summ. J. (“Opp'n”) 4, ECF No. 21.) In spring 2013, Ms. Haws rented one room in a triplex unit from Mr. Norman. (Mot. ¶ 3, ECF No. 19; Opp'n 4, ECF No. 21.) The triplex unit includes four bedrooms with their own bathrooms, a common kitchen area, common living room, and common hallway. (Reply Mem. to Def.'s Opp'n to Mot. for Summ. J. (“Reply”) ¶ 60, ECF No. 22; Payne Dep. 8:8-13, Ex. 1, ECF No. 21-1; Arrowood Dep. 8:2-10, Ex. 2, ECF No. 21-1.) Ms. Haws lived with three roommates in the triplex unit. (Id. ¶ 61.) Ms. Haws's original lease began August 15, 2013 and ran through May 10, 2014. (Reply ¶ 52, ECF No. 22.) The lease agreement included a provision about pets:

Residents may not keep a pet of any kind in the building or on the Owner's property. For any violation of this provision in addition to the Owner's other remedies, Owner may charge and collect the sum of $50.00 per day, per violation. All costs of cleaning, de-fleaing, or other damage or loss suffered on account of a violation of this section shall be promptly paid to Owner by Resident. Violation of this provision will allow Owner to commence eviction on the bases of nuisance without any further notice.

(1st Lease Agreement, Ex. 11 at 2, ECF No. 21-1.)

         In June or July of 2013, Ms. Haws asked Mr. Norman whether she could have a dog live with her in the apartment. (Opp'n ¶ 10, ECF No. 21.) Ms. Haws does not recall if she specifically mentioned that the dog related to her disability or if she made a specific accommodation request. (Haws Dep. at 31:7-12, Ex. E, ECF No. 19-1.) Mr. Norman does not recall Ms. Haws making a specific accommodation request or offering to provide a prescription letter or other medical documentation at that time. (Norman Dep. at 11:1-25, Ex. 8, ECF No. 21-1; Def.'s Resps. to Pl.'s 1st Set of Interrogs., Reqs. for Admiss., & Reqs. for Produc. of Docs., (“Def.'s 1st Disc. Resps.”) at 5-6, Ex. 9, ECF No. 21-1.)

         Ms. Haws renewed her lease agreement with Mr. Norman for the following August 15, 2014 to May 10, 2015. (Reply ¶ 53, ECF No. 22.) The renewed lease agreement included the same pets provision. (2d Lease Agreement at 2, Ex. 12, ECF No. 21-1.) In January of 2015, Ms. Haws's bishop, Daniel Everton, called Mr. Norman on her behalf to ask whether Ms. Haws could live with a dog.[2] (Opp'n ¶ 23, ECF No. 21.) Specifically, Mr. Everton stated in his affidavit that he told Mr. Norman about Ms. Haws's doctor's suggestion and “asked if [Mr. Norman] would allow her to have a dog.” (Norman Aff. ¶ 5, Ex. H, ECF No. 19-1.) Ms. Haws gave a letter to Mr. Everton from her therapist to give Mr. Norman, but she does not know if Mr. Everton ever gave that letter to Mr. Norman. (Letter from Booton to Norman, Jan. 29, 2016, Ex. 6, ECF No. 21-1; Haws Dep. 49:7-50:19, Ex. E, ECF No. 19-1.) Mr. Norman does not recall the conversation and did not understand that Mr. Everton sought an accommodation for Ms. Haws's disability. (Norman Dep. at 13:1-14:22, Ex. 8, ECF No. 21-1; Def.'s 1st Disc. Resps. at 6, Ex. 9, ECF No. 21-1.) Mr. Norman did not seek follow up information and denied the request. (Norman Dep. at 14:10-22, Ex. 8, ECF No. 21-1.)

         In March of 2015, Ms. Haws obtained a dog that lived with her in the apartment. (Opp'n ¶ 25, ECF No. 21.) In April 2015, Mr. Norman discovered Ms. Haws had a dog after one of Ms. Haws's roommates called Mr. Norman to complain. (Opp'n ¶ 26, ECF No. 21; Reply ¶ 65, ECF No. 22.) When Mr. Norman asked Ms. Haws about the dog, Ms. Haws gave Mr. Norman an accommodation request letter and documentation from her psychologist. (Opp'n ¶ 14, ECF No. 21.) In her accommodation letter, Ms. Haws informed Mr. Norman that she needed an emotional support animal in her residence to “aid in the alleviation of some of the symptoms of [her] disabilities” as recommended by her therapist. (Letter from Haws to Norman, Ex. G, ECF No. 19-1.) The April 20, 2015 letter from Ms. Haws's psychologist stated that Ms. Haws “has been diagnosed with 309.81, Posttraumatic Stress Disorder and 296.30, Major Depressive Disorder, Recurrent Episode.” (Letter from Melvin & Kleiner, Apr. 20, 2015, Ex. A, ECF No. 19- 1.) The letter states, “[t]the animal is a necessary accommodation for her functioning and to increase her subjective enjoyment of her residence.” (Id.)

         Ms. Haws was diagnosed with depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder in 2014 and experienced these conditions prior to her diagnosis. (Opp'n ¶ 8, ECF No. 21.) Ms. Haws's conditions did not appear to her roommates to affect her daily functioning, and they did not know she had a disability. (Opp'n ¶ 9, ECF No. 21.) Ms. Haws experienced emotional ups and downs, sought counseling, and received prescriptions for anxiety, depression, and insomnia. (Clinic Notes, Ex. 3, ECF No. 21-1.) Ms. Haws's mental condition made studying difficult, and she had trouble focusing; it interfered with her ability to sleep, eat, and develop interpersonal relationships. (Clinic Notes, Ex. 3, ECF No. 21-1; Univ. of Utah Health Care Records, Ex. 4, ECF No. 21-1; Letter from Melvin & Kleiner, Apr. 20, 2015, Ex. A, ECF No. 19-1; Assessment by Johnson, Ex. C, ECF No. 19-1; Clinic Notes, Ex. D, ECF No. 19-1.) At times, Ms. Haws contemplated suicide. (Assessment by Johnson, Ex. C, ECF No. 19-1; Clinic Notes, Ex. D, ECF No. 19-1.)

         When Ms. Haws provided Mr. Norman with the accommodation letters, Mr. Norman told Ms. Haws she could not have a dog at the apartment because her roommates had complained about it. (Norman Dep. 18:2 - 19:17, Ex. F, ECF No. 19-1.) Specifically, Ms. Haws failed to confine the dog to her room, and it urinated in the common rooms as well as in the roommates' rooms. (Payne Dep. 16:1-17:13, 19:1-20, Ex. 1, ECF No. 21-1; Arrowood Dep. 16:10-18:25, Ex. 2, ECF No. 21-1.) Mr. Norman told Ms. Haws he would charge her fifty dollars a day for having the dog prior to requesting accommodation in April 2015. (Opp'n ¶ 35, ECF No. 21.) Mr. Norman also called Ms. Haws's uncle, Brad Bachman, and attempted to enlist Mr. Bachman's help in resolving the dispute with Ms. Haws over her dog. (Opp'n ¶ 37, ECF No. 21.) However, Ms. Haws continued to live in the apartment with her dog through the end of her lease on May 10, 2015. (Haws Dep. 74:5-75:7, Ex. 5, ECF No. 21-1.) On April 29, 2015, Mr. Norman billed Ms. Haws $1, 050 for keeping a dog in the apartment. (Opp'n ¶ 36, ECF No. 21.) Mr. Norman billed Ms. Haws for fifty dollars per day for each day Ms. Haws had her dog prior to his receiving the request for accommodation. (Def.'s 1st Disc. Resps., Ex. 9, ECF No. 21-1.)

         On May 15, 2015, Mr. Norman initiated a small claims action against Ms. Haws in the Logan City Municipal Justice Court seeking to recover $1, 400 plus fees for “keeping a dog in her apartment.” (Opp'n ¶ 38, ECF No. 21.) Mr. Norman took these actions because he wanted to avoid obtaining “a reputation for just letting everything slide.” (Opp'n ¶ 49, ECF No. 21.)

         III. DISCUSSION

         A. Application to Shared Living Units

         As a threshold issue, Mr. Norman argues the Federal Fair Housing Act and Utah Fair Housing Act (collectively “the Fair Housing Acts”) do not apply to shared living units, precluding summary judgment in Ms. Haws's favor. (Opp'n 31, ECF No. 21.) As explained above, Ms. Haws rented one of the four rooms with a communal living space. She did not select her roommates. The Fair Housing Acts prohibit discrimination in the rental of a “dwelling” because of a person's disability.[3] 42 U.S.C. § 3604(f)(2); Utah Code Ann. § 57-21-5(1)(b). The Acts define a “dwelling” as a building or any portion of a building “intended for occupancy as, a residence by one or more families.” 42 U.S.C. § 3602(b); Utah Code Ann. § 57-21-2(14).

         Mr. Norman cites Fair Housing Council v. Roommate.com, LLC, 666 F.3d 1216 (9th Cir. 2012), for the proposition that the Fair Housing Acts do not apply to shared living units. In that case, the defendant Roommate.com, LLC (“Roommate”) operated a website that matched a person seeking to find a roommate with a person looking to rent an available room. Id. 666 F.3d at 1218. When users signed up with Roommate, they created a profile and answered a series of questions including questions about their sex, sexual orientation, and familial status. Id. The Fair Housing Councils of San Fernando Valley and San Diego sued Roommate, claiming the required questions about a person's sex, sexual orientation, and familial status violated the Federal Fair Housing Act. Id. The court held that Roommate's questions did not violate the Federal Fair Housing Act because the Act permits potential roommates to discriminate in selecting a roommate in a shared living unit. Id. at 1222. The Ninth Circuit reached this conclusion by interpreting the Act narrowly to avoid reaching the constitutional implications raised by the intrusion into the privacy of a person's home and the choice of with whom one lives. Id. at 1221-22. The court also explained that in enacting the Federal Fair Housing Act:

Congress wanted to address the problem of landlords discriminating in the sale and rental of housing, which deprived protected classes of housing opportunities. But a business transaction between a tenant and landlord is quite different from an arrangement between two people sharing the same living space. We seriously doubt Congress meant the FHA to apply to the latter.

Id. at 1220.

         Unlike Roomate.com, this case does not involve alleged discrimination in roommate selection. In fact, Ms. Haws did not even choose her roommates-her landlord did. Instead, this case involves alleged discrimination by a landlord. As noted above, the Roommate.com court recognized that the Federal Fair Housing Act specifically aims to govern the conduct of landlords in housing rentals. To hold that an individual protected by the Fair Housing Acts loses those protections because she lives in a shared living unit would exempt landlords who rent shared living units from the Fair Housing Act. Nothing in the Fair Housing Acts demonstrates an intent to exempt those landlords, and Roommate.com did not address landlords but rather roommates. Therefore, the Court declines to extend Roommate.com's holding to relieve landlords of their Fair Housing Acts obligations.

         B. Failure to Accommodate

         Discrimination under the Fair Housing Acts includes a “refusal to make reasonable accommodations in rules, policies, practices, or services, when such accommodations may be necessary to afford such person equal opportunity to use and enjoy a dwelling.” 42 U.S.C. § 3604(f)(3)(B); Utah Code Ann. § 57-21-5(4)(b). To prevail on a failure to accommodate claim under the Fair Housing Acts, Ms. Haws must prove: (1) she suffers from a disability as defined by the Fair Housing Acts; (2) Mr. Norman knew or reasonably should have known of Ms. Haws's disability; (3) Ms. Haws needs accommodation to have an equal opportunity to use and enjoy her dwelling; (4) the accommodation is reasonable; and (5) Mr. Norman refused to make such accommodation. Arnal v. Aspenview Condo. Ass'n, 226 F.Supp.3d 1177, 1183 (D. Colo. 2016) (citing Dubois v. Ass'n of Apartment Owners, 453 F.3d 1175, 1179 (9th Cir. 2006)).

         1. Whether Ms. Haws Qualifies as Disabled Under the Fair Housing Acts

         Ms. Haws argues she qualifies as disabled under the Fair Housing Acts because her depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress syndrome substantially limit her major life activities of “eating, self-care, receiving an education, sleeping, and interacting socially, and have caused her to contemplate suicide on several occasions.” (Mot. 3, ECF No. 19.) Mr. Norman disputes that Ms. Haws's conditions substantially limit her major life activities, citing to Ms. Haws's roommate's deposition testimony “that they never saw Plaintiff struggle in any way and that nothing seemed unusually difficult for Plaintiff.” (Opp'n 5, ECF No. 21.) Further, Mr. Norman argues Ms. Haws's “medical records demonstrate that whatever effects Plaintiff ...


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