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Simmons v. T.M. Associates Management, Inc.

United States District Court, W.D. Virginia, Charlottesville Division

February 14, 2018

Annette Simmons and Derek Simmons, Plaintiffs,
v.
T.M. Associates Management, Inc., Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          NORMAN K. MOON SENIOR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         In this housing discrimination case, a mother and son contend that an apartment complex illegally failed to accommodate the son's disability when considering his rental application. The son had a misdemeanor conviction for indecent exposure, and the apartment complex denied his application allegedly for that reason alone. The son then asserted his mental illness caused the act resulting in his conviction. On that basis and as a proposed reasonable accommodation for his disability, he and his mother asked the apartment complex to reconsider the application without reference to the conviction. The apartment complex declined, and this lawsuit resulted.

         The apartment complex has moved to dismiss. Its theory is that the Fair Housing Act's (FHA) protections against disability discrimination categorically do not apply to those convicted of crimes. In other words, it posits that a housing provider may issue blanket denials of housing to those with convictions, regardless of an applicant's disability status, and even if the criminal conduct derived from the applicant's disability. This theory is mistaken. While the FHA does not always require accommodations for a conviction allegedly caused by a disability (and it indeed never requires an accommodation for those convicted of certain drug crimes), the facts alleged here fall into neither of those categories. Because the complaint states a claim for failure to accommodate under the FHA, the motion to dismiss will be denied.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         To determine whether a complaint states a legal claim, the Court must accept as true all well-pled allegations, draw reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiff, disregard the complaint's legal conclusions and arguments, and ensure the plaintiff offers more than a formulaic recitation of the elements. See generally Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007); Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662 (2009).

         FACTS AS ALLEGED

         Plaintiff Annette Simmons lives at Pine Ridge Apartments in Louisa, Virginia. (Complaint ¶ 1.1). Pine Ridge is managed by Defendant T.M. Associates Management, Inc. (“Defendant”). (Id. ¶ 1.2). In 2016, Ms. Simmons requested that her son, co-plaintiff Derek Simmons, join her apartment as a resident, but Pine Ridge denied his application in 2016 based on a misdemeanor conviction earlier that year. (Id. ¶¶ 1.2-1.3). The conviction stemmed from an incident where, due to a mental health condition known as schizoaffective disorder, Derek had removed his clothing in public. (Id. ¶¶ 1.3, 3.3). Specifically, during a period Derek was not on his medication, he undressed himself in the street and was arrested, charged, and pled guilty to indecent exposure. (Id. ¶ 3.4).

         Derek subsequently received treatment for his condition at a psychiatric hospital and was released in October 2016. (Complaint ¶¶ 1.3-1.4). He continues to receive treatment and “has the ability to live successfully in a community environment.” (Id. ¶ 1.4). He has not had any “similar incidents of erratic or disorderly behavior, ” nor is he likely to. (Id.).

         In May 2017, Annette asked Pine Ridge to consider Derek's application “without regard to his misdemeanor conviction, as a reasonable accommodation for Derek's disability.” (Complaint ¶ 1.5). Pine Ridge refused and stated that reasonable accommodations were not available for Derek because he was not a tenant. (Id. ¶¶ 1.6, 3.6). The Simmonses allege that, but for the conviction, Derek's application would have been accepted. (Id. ¶ 1.7).

         After his application was denied, Derek visited his mother's apartment and commonly stayed overnight there. (Complaint ¶ 1.8). In response, Pine Ridge issued a letter in June 2017 banning Derek from the property. (Id.). The Simmonses contend that Pine Ridge's refusal to consider Derek's application without his conviction is unlawful housing discrimination prohibited by both federal and state housing discrimination laws. (Id. ¶ 1.9). The parties have mentioned in passing but not briefed the state law issues, so this opinion addresses only the FHA.

         ANALYSIS

         “The FHA, enacted pursuant to United States policy to provide for fair housing throughout the United States, makes it unlawful, inter alia, to discriminate in the sale or rental of housing or otherwise to make housing unavailable to a buyer or renter because of that buyer's or renter's handicap or the handicap of certain persons associated with the buyer or renter.” Bryant Woods Inn, Inc. v. Howard Cty., Md., 124 F.3d 597, 602-03 (4th Cir. 1997) (citing 42 U.S.C. §§ 3601, 3604(f)). The statute requires an accommodation for covered persons if the accommodation “is (1) reasonable and (2) necessary (3) to afford handicapped persons equal opportunity to use and enjoy housing.” Id. at 603. A reasonable accommodation does not require “changes, adjustments, or modifications to existing programs that would be substantial, or that would constitute fundamental alterations in the nature of the program.” Id. at 604. The “necessary” element “has attributes of a causation requirement; it demands demonstration of a direct linkage between the proposed accommodation and the ‘equal opportunity' to be provided.” Id. The accommodation must provide “direct amelioration of a disability's effect.” Id.

         I. Asserted Grounds for Housing Denial and Refusal to Accommodate

         Defendant argues that Derek's conviction insulates it from any housing discrimination claim as a ...


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