Friday, November 13, 2009

housing - disability - reasonable accommodation

Solivan v. Valley Housing Development Corp. - ED Pa. - November 9, 2009

This case involved a plaintiff-tenant's claims against a sec. 8 landlord for, inter alia, failure to reasonably accommodate her disability in the leasing of an apartment. For the most part, the Court rejected the defendant's motion for summary judgment, as follows:

- statute of limitations - plaintiff apparently came within the two-year statute

- disability - plaintiff present sufficient evidence that she was "disabled" under the ADA, i.e., that she suffered from “a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more of the major life activities of such individual.” 42 U.S.C. § 12102(2)

- reasonable accommodation - The Court must consider: 1) whether Plaintiff’s requested accommodation/modification was necessary to afford her an equal opportunity to use and enjoy the dwelling; and 2) whether Plaintiff’s requested accommodation was reasonable, or whether it imposed an undue hardship on Defendant. To show that a requested accommodation is necessary, a plaintiff “must show that, but for the accommodation, [she] will likely be denied an equal opportunity to enjoy the housing of [her] choice.” Lapid-Laurel, LLC v. Zoning Bd. Of Adjustment of Twp. Of Scotch Plains, 284 F.3d 442, 461 (3d Cir. 2002). Here, without the accommodation of a first floor apartment, Plaintiff was required to walk up two flights of stairs in order to enter or leave her apartment, which took her 30 minutes.

- expert testimony - not required at this point - The standard for whether expert testimony is required under federal law is as follows: Expert testimony is not necessary . . . if all the primary facts can be accurately and intelligibly described to the jury, and if they, as men of common understanding, are as capable of comprehending the primary facts and of drawing correct conclusions from them as are witnesses possessed of special or peculiar training, experience, or observation in respect of the subject under investigation. Padillas v. Stork-Gamco, Inc., 186 F.3d 412, (3d Cir. 1999).

- money damages - Under the section of the ADA prohibiting discrimination in public accommodations, private plaintiffs may not obtain monetary damages. Preventive relief, including an injunction or restraining order, is the only remedy. 42 U.S.C. § 12188 (a)(1) (providing that “the remedies and procedures set forth in section 2000a-3(a) of this title are the remedies and procedures this subchapter provides to any person who is being subjected to discrimination on the basis of disability in violation of this subchapter;” 42 U.S.C. § 2000a-3(a) describes preventive relief). Summary judgment on this issue to defendant.

- sec. 1983 - The private landlord was not a state actor, in spite of receipt of rent in the form of govt. subsidies. Cases considering the application of 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against housing providers who accept and even rely exclusively on Section 8 vouchers hold that such housing providers are private actors who are not acting under color of state law. Miller v. Hartwood Apartments, 689 F.2d 1239, 1242 (5th Cir. 1982); Young, supra at 366; see Morris v. Dehaan, 1991 U.S. App. Lexis 22135, *10 (6th Cir. 1991); Tosta v. Williams, 1987 WL 17233, *3 (E.D.P.A. 1987).