Posted by: Patricia Salkin | October 23, 2012

Fed. Dist. Ct. FL in Allows ADA, FHA and RA Matter to Proceed Following Denial of Proposed Assisted Living Facility

10th Street Partners sought the rezone of a parcel of land to increase the permitted density of a proposed assisted living facility.  The County Commission for Sarasota County denied the rezone application and further denied a request for increased density as a reasonable accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act (hereinafter “ADA”).  10th Street filed this appeal in the United States District Court, Middle District of Florida and the County moved for summary judgment and judicial notice.

The District Court first addressed the County’s motion for judicial notice of portions of the zoning ordinance and comprehensive plan.  Judicial notice will be given where the fact is not reasonably disputed, is within the territorial jurisdiction of the court, and is capable of an accurate and quick determination.  Finding the ordinances and plan suitable for judicial notice, the court granted the County’s motion.

The District Court then addressed the County’s motion for summary judgment on 10th Street’s reasonable accommodation claims under the ADA, the Fair Housing Act and the Rehabilitation Act.  Although all three laws provide their own standards, the court stated that for the purpose of a reasonable accommodation claim, a single analysis can be made to determine whether there has been a violation under all three.  To satisfy a reasonable accommodation claim, the petitioner needs to show a qualifying disability, a request for a reasonable accommodation, the accommodation was necessary, and that the request was denied.  To show a request, the petitioner must plead specific facts showing the respondent knew of the disability and the request.  The court stated that “Defendants must . . . have been given an opportunity to make a final decision with respect to Plaintiffs’ request, which necessarily includes the ability to conduct a meaningful review of the requested accommodation to determine if such an accommodation is required by law.”  The District Court found two issues of material fact concerning the presentation and review of information and denied summary judgment.

The parties argued that differing scopes of review applied to a reasonable accommodations claim.  The court refused to address this point, as it agreed with 10th Street that even if the County’s more restrictive scope applied, issues of material fact may provide an exception, broadening the scope of review.  Specifically, 10th Street alleges the County prevented it from providing sufficient evidence.  This argument has two parts.  The first concerns the time limits set on the hearing, twenty minutes for presentation and five minutes for rebuttal.  The second part is that at the hearing, 10th Street told the County it had an attorney available who would address any concerns the County had with the reasonable accommodation issue, but the County declined to ask any questions.  10th Street claimed, and the court agreed, that the failure to ask questions resulted in 10th Street’s belief that the issue had been adequately addressed.  The court found that these concerns created an issue of material fact centering on whether 10th Street was given an adequate opportunity to present evidence on whether they qualified for a reasonable accommodation.

In response, the County brought up their letter 10th Street, which welcomed 10th Street to proffer additional information regarding the issue.  10th Street did not comply, but instead asked that the issue be re-opened for reconsideration – at which time 10th Street would supply the information.  The County refused to re-open the application and provided a written decision, which noted that it would not have been possible to re-open the issue for a further hearing.  At this point, the court found there was a material issue as to whether the new evidence would have affected the County’s decision, since the County denied the initial variance and denied the request to re-open.

In effect, the court found two issues of material fact that prevented summary judgment in favor of the County.  First, the court found the initial hearing was potentially defective given the time constraints and lack questions by the County.  Second, summary judgment was inappropriate because any additional information sent by 10th Street in response to the County’s letter likely would have been futile.  The District Court ruled that the motion is denied without prejudice and the County can reinstate the motion after discovery has sufficiently addressed the issue of whether 10th Street has established its entitlement to a reasonable accommodation.

10th Street Partners v. County Comm’n for Sarasota County, 2012 WL 4328655 (M.D. Fla., Sept. 20, 2012).

The opinion can be accessed here.

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