Posted by: Patricia Salkin | January 11, 2015

Fed. Dist. Court in PA Finds Collateral Estoppel Precluded Owner from Asserting FHA Claims

Property owner, Oxford Investments, L.P., brought action against city and its zoning board of adjustment, alleging discrimination against individuals with disabilities, and violations of the Fair Housing Act (FHA), arising out of defendants’ refusal to permit it to increase number of residents housed at its facility. After receiving the FHA denial from L & I, Oxford appealed to the ZBA claiming: (1) the denial of the FHA Request was discriminatory and violated the FHA; (2) the Zoning Code violates the FHA by discriminating against individuals with disabilities; (3) the zoning refusal was erroneous, and Oxford should have received a permit as a matter of right; and (4) the granting of an FHA accommodation was appropriate and not an undue burden. The ZBA denied the motion, Oxford appealed, and the parties cross-moved for summary judgment.

At the outset, Defendants contended that res judicata bars this suit because the state court already adjudicated Oxford’s claims. However, the court agreed with Oxford’s reasoning that, because it sought relief before the Court of Common Pleas pursuant to its right to a statutory appeal of the Zoning Board’s decision, res judicata is inapplicable and its claims must be considered. Although related to res judicata, the court distinguished collateral estoppel as a broader concept than true res judicata and operates any time there is a “prior adjudication of an issue in another action that is determined to be sufficiently firm to be accorded preclusive effect”. The court therefore compared Oxford’s questions presented to it and the state court, and found the state court issued a detailed opinion that addressed many of the same issues Oxford is currently attempting to litigate before this court. Because the state court already ruled against Oxford on these vital issues, Oxford was precluded from presenting them again to this Court in the hopes of receiving a different result. Since the precluded issues were necessary elements in each of Oxford’s FHA claims, their preclusion resulted in the dismissal of all of Oxford’s claims.

Oxford Investments, LP v City of Philadelphia, 21 F. Supp. 3d 442 (ED PA. 5/15/2014)

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