Posted by: Patricia Salkin | October 30, 2018

TN Appeals Court Affirms Grant of Summary Judgement to Group Home Finding the Residence was not a “Transitional Home” under the Zoning Code

This post was authored by Matthew Loeser, Esq.

 

Dr. Jui-Lien Chou Ho purchased property in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, and leased the property to AT Project, LLC, which then opened Voyage Group Home, a residential addiction treatment center, in the existing residence on the property. JourneyPure Management Corp. provided staffing for the group home. Owners of neighboring properties “Neighbors,” objected to the issuance of a building permit for improvements to the group home, but the City issued the permit despite these objections. The Neighbors then filed a complaint for declaratory judgment, and alleged that Dr. Chou’s property was being “used for the commercial purpose of rehabilitating women from mental institutions and alcoholic and drug treatment centers where said individuals have been deemed to be capable of living and functioning in a community which provides continuous professional guidance.” This use, according to the plaintiffs, fell within the zoning ordinance definition of a “transitional home,” a use “expressly prohibited” in the zoning district.

 

The JourneyPure Defendants moved for summary judgment, claiming that the group home was protected under the antidiscrimination provisions of the federal Fair Housing Act. The City joined in the JourneyPure Defendants’ motion. The trial court found that the residents of the Voyage home treated the facility as their residence for the duration of their stays, and although their time at the Voyage home was temporary, that fact did not remove the protections of the FHA. Accordingly, the trial court granted the JourneyPure Defendants and the City summary judgment and dismissed the complaint.

 

On appeal, the plaintiffs did not contest the trial court’s conclusion that the residents of the Voyage Group Home constituted a “family” under the zoning ordinance. The court found that since the residents at the group home constituted a family under the zoning ordinance and the RS-15 designation “permitted by right” a single-family detached dwelling, the Voyage Group Home did not violate the City’s zoning ordinance. Although the uses of a “group shelter” or a “transitional home” were not permitted by right in the RS-15 designation, the use of the property fell within the permitted single-family detached category of use. Moreover, as the court held that the use of the property did not violate the City’s zoning ordinance, it did not reach the issue of whether the group home constituted a “dwelling” as that term was defined under the Fair Housing Act. Accordingly, the trial court’s dismissal of the complaint was affirmed.

 

Brumfield v City of Murfressboro, 2018 WL 5618117 (TN App. 10/30/2018)


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