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City of Edmonds v. Washington State Building Code Council

filed: March 14, 1994.

CITY OF EDMONDS, A MUNICIPAL CORPORATION, PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE,
v.
WASHINGTON STATE BUILDING CODE COUNCIL, DEFENDANT, AND OXFORD HOUSE, INC., A DELAWARE CORPORATION; OXFORD HOUSE-EDMONDS, AN UNINCORPORATED ASSOCIATION, AND HERB HAMILTON, DEFENDANTS-APPELLANTS. UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT, V. CITY OF EDMONDS, A MUNICIPAL CORPORATION, DEFENDANT-APPELLEE.



Appeal from the United States District Court for the Western District of Washington. D.C. No. CV-91-215-WLD, D.C. No. CV-91-1273-WLD. William L. Dwyer, District Judge, Presiding.

Before: Eugene A. Wright, William C. Canby, Jr., and Thomas G. Nelson, Circuit Judges. Opinion by Judge Wright.

Author: Wright

WRIGHT, Circuit Judge:

Group homes of more than five unrelated recovering alcoholics and drug addicts are effectively excluded from single-family residential zones in Edmonds, Washington. We ask whether the Fair Housing Amendments Act of 1988 (FHAA) exempts Edmonds' zoning ordinance from the statute's prohibition against discrimination based on handicap. The district court held that an exemption in the FHAA for occupancy restrictions applied. It relied on a similar holding in Elliott v. Athens, 960 F.2d 975, 979-81 (11th Cir.), cert. denied, 121 L. Ed. 2d 287, 113 S. Ct. 376 (1992). We disagree with Elliott, and so must reverse and remand.

BACKGROUND

Oxford House-Edmonds (Oxford House) is a leased residence for 10 - 12 recovering adult alcoholics and drug addicts.*fn1 The residents are handicapped persons under the FHAA. 42 U.S.C. § 3602(h). The home stands in a residential neighborhood away from commercial zones, liquor stores, and illicit drug activity to minimize the likelihood of a relapse by a resident.

It is an unincorporated association that operates under a charter issued by Oxford House, Inc., which sponsors houses around the country, including 17 in Washington State. It is self-supporting, democratically governed, and required to expel any resident who uses alcohol or drugs. The house must have 6 or more residents to ensure financial self-sufficiency, to provide a supportive atmosphere for successful recovery, and to comply with federal requirements for the receipt of state start-up loans. 42 U.S.C. § 300x-25.

Oxford House is in a neighborhood zoned single-family residential. Edmonds Community Development Code (ECDC) § 16.20.000 et seq. The only permitted primary uses are single-family dwelling units. ECDC § 16.20.010(A)(1). "[A] single family dwelling [unit] means a detached building used by one family, limited to one per lot." ECDC § 21.90.080. "Family means an individual or two or more persons related by genetics, adoption, or marriage, or a group of five or fewer persons who are not related by genetics, adoption, or marriage . . . ." ECDC § 21.30.010.

Edmonds issued criminal citations to the owner of the Oxford House and one resident. Oxford House violated the zoning provision because it housed more than five unrelated persons. Edmonds agreed "to refrain from any enforcement action until the resolution of this litigation." Oxford House requested that Edmonds make a reasonable accommodation as required under the FHAA, 42 U.S.C. § 3604 (f)(3)(B), by permitting it to continue operation in the single-family residential zone. The city declined to permit continued operation in the residential zone, but did pass an ordinance listing group homes as permitted uses in multi-family and general commercial zones. There are no allegations that Edmonds acted out of any animus against the occupants of Oxford House because of their handicap.

Edmonds filed a declaratory judgment action. It sought a ruling that the single-family residential zoning provision did not violate the FHAA. The United States filed an action alleging that Edmonds' failure to make a reasonable accommodation violated the FHAA. The two were consolidated. The district court granted summary judgment to Edmonds. It ruled that the challenged zoning provision was exempted from the requirements of the FHAA because it was a "restriction[ ] regarding the maximum number of occupants permitted to occupy a dwelling." 42 U.S.C. § 3607(b)(1). Oxford House and the United States appeal.*fn2

ANALYSIS

We examine whether 42 U.S.C. § 3607(b)(1) exempts Edmonds' single-family zoning ordinance. Whether Edmonds complied with the substantive requirements of the FHAA is not at issue because the district court did not reach that question. The district court had jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1331, and we have jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1291. We review de novo the grant of summary judgment. Jones v. Union Pac. R.R., 968 F.2d 937, 940 (9th Cir. 1992).

Courts generously construe the Fair Housing Act (FHA), 42 U.S.C. § 3601, et seq. Trafficante v. Metropolitan Life Ins. Co., 409 U.S. 205, 212, 34 L. Ed. 2d 415, 93 S. Ct. 364 (1972). As a broad remedial statute, its exemptions must be read narrowly. Elliott, 960 F.2d at 978-79 (construing FHAA); A. H. Phillips, Inc. v. Walling, 324 U.S. 490, 493, 89 L. Ed. 1095, 65 S. Ct. 807 (1945)(construing Fair Labor Standards Act).

We look to the text of the statute to evince Congressional intent. The plain language will control, "unless (1) the statutory language is unclear, (2) the plain meaning of the words is at variance with the policy of the statute as a whole, or (3) a clearly expressed legislative intent exists contrary to the language of the statute." Columbia Pictures ...


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