Posted by: Patricia Salkin | July 25, 2015

Fed. Dist. Court in NY Denies Motion to Dismiss Allegation that Zoning Ordinance Violates the FHA and ADA

Plaintiff, a non-profit organization that operates residential programs for people with disabilities, sought to establish a residence for 24 people who are recovering from alcoholism and substance abuse. Plaintiff’s proposed residence was located in the R2A zone according to the City’s Zoning Ordinance. Under the Zoning Ordinance, “only single and two family residences and houses of worship are permitted in” an R2A zone. Certain multi-unit residences, such as dormitories, nursing homes, and bed and breakfasts, may obtain a special use permit to operate in an R2A district; however, other multi-unit dwellings, including Plaintiff’s planned residence, must obtain a use variance in order to establish a residence in an R2A zone. Though individuals seeking a special use permit must also go through an application process, and need not show “unnecessary hardship” in order to obtain a permit. Plaintiff filed the present action, alleging that the City’s Zoning Ordinance constitutes a facial violation of both the FHA and the ADA.

At the outset, the court noted that an organization may bring suit on behalf of its members by demonstrating that: “(a) its members would otherwise have standing to sue in their own right; (b) the interests it seeks to protect are germane to the organization’s purpose; and (c) neither the claim asserted nor the relief requested requires the participation of individual members in the lawsuit.” Here, standing was found because Plaintiff’s allegation that the Zoning Ordinance required it to comply with application requirements that are more burdensome than those required of multi-member dwellings serving people without disabilities, and that the ordinance has prevented Plaintiff from opening the proposed residence to serve its members, was sufficient to show an injury in fact that is “fairly traceable” to Defendant’s actions. Furthermore, the organization had standing to bring this action on behalf of its members, since “(1) it serves a class of individuals with discrimination claims-individuals recovering from substance abuse; (2) the interests of the class are germane to the organization, which is in the business of developing and operating sober homes; and (3) no individual participation of class members is necessary because the instant litigation involves a facial challenge” to the City’s Zoning Ordinance.

While the defendants alleged that this case was frivolous because it could be brought in an Article 78 proceeding, the relief Plaintiff sought in the Article 78 proceeding was not “substantively identical” to the relief sought in the instant case, nor could Plaintiff have raised the instant claims in an Article 78 proceeding. Plaintiff’s Article 78 Petition sought review of the BZA’s decision to deny Plaintiff a use variance for Plaintiff’s proposed residence, but here the Plaintiff sought a ruling on the constitutionality of the Zoning Ordinance itself. Defendant next argued that Plaintiff failed to make out a prima facie case of disparate treatment because Plaintiff did not alleged facts suggesting that it was denied a use variance permit because of the individuals it serves, and because the BZA had legitimate reasons to deny the permit. The court found however, that the Plaintiff’s allegation that multiple-person dwellings serving people with disabilities were not allowed as of right in residential districts in the City, and that other multiple-person dwellings such as dormitories and nursing homes were subject to a less burdensome process to establish residences in the City than are homes serving people with disabilities, should survive a motion to dismiss because it was a claiming that the Zoning Ordinance itself was facially discriminatory, rather than challenging the BZA’s denial of its permit. The Court therefore found that Plaintiff had alleged facts sufficient to state a claim under the FHA and ADA. 

Rehabilitation Support Services, Inc v City of Albany, 2015 WL 4067066 (NDNY 7/2/2015)

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