Posted by: Patricia Salkin | August 3, 2016

Fed. Dist. Court in LA Finds FHAA and ADA Claims were Ripe Against Town

The Plaintiffs, Evergreen Presbyterian Ministries, Inc., and Barron Builders of Pineville, Inc., asserted discrimination and retaliation claims against the Defendants the Town of Haughton and its mayor, Carlton Anderson, under the Fair Housing Amendments Act of 1988 (“FHAA”) and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (“ADA”) for their roles in halting the construction of a home for disabled persons in Haughton, Louisiana. Evergreen is a nonprofit organization that provides home-based care for disabled persons across the Southeast. Evergreen decided to build a home for this purpose in Haughton, Louisiana, and hired Barron Builders as the general contractor to construct the home. The Defendants’ motion to dismiss claims the Plaintiffs’ discrimination claim as unripe because the Town has not yet made a final decision on whether it will allow the Plaintiffs to build the home.

The court noted that in the Fifth Circuit, a reasonable accommodation claim is not subject to the final-decision requirement and is instead ripe “when the disabled resident is first denied a reasonable accommodation, irrespective of the remedies granted in subsequent proceedings.” Although the Fifth Circuit has not defined a first denial for the purposes of this rule, its courts have generally held that a reasonable accommodation claim is not ripe until the plaintiff requests an accommodation through available variance or special use procedures and the defendant denies that request for a variance. Here, the failure of the Plaintiffs to seek an accommodation by applying to the Board of Appeals for a variance meant that their reasonable accommodation claims under the FHAA and ADA were not ripe. As to Plaintiff’s argument that an application would be futile, the conduct of the neighbors and Anderson indicated that they would likely oppose a variance if the Plaintiffs sought one (whether for discriminatory reasons or not), there was no evidence in the record that either the neighbors or Anderson were members of the body authorized to grant a variance, i.e., the Board of Appeals.

The essence of the Plaintiffs’ intentional discrimination claim is that the Defendants issued the stop-work order and insisted that the Plaintiffs apply for a variance not because the Plaintiffs’ proposed use of the home violates the ordinance, but because disabled persons would reside there. The court found that assuming this conduct was actionable under an intentional discrimination theory, it would remain so even if the Plaintiffs were to later receive a variance because it is the very act of requiring a variance that would be discriminatory. The court therefore held that the Plaintiffs stated a ripe claim of intentional discrimination under the FHAA and ADA.

Evergreen Presbyterian Ministries v Town of Babylon, 2016 WL 4133587 (WDLA 8/3/2016)

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