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Brooks v. Seattle Housing Authority

United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Seattle

May 26, 2015

MARGARET T. BROOKS, Plaintiff,
v.
SEATTLE HOUSING AUTHORITY, Defendant.

ORDER GRANTING IN PART AND DENYING IN PART DEFENDANT‘S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

JOHN C. COUGHENOUR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

This matter comes before the Court on the motion of Defendant Seattle Housing Authority ("SHA") for summary judgment (Dkt. No. 46), Plaintiff Margaret Brooks‘s opposition (Dkt. No. 50), [1] and SHA‘s reply (Dkt. No. 51). Having thoroughly considered the parties‘ briefing and the relevant record, the Court finds oral argument unnecessary and hereby GRANTS the motion in part and DENIES it in part for the reasons explained herein.

I. BACKGROUND

Since 1994, Plaintiff Margaret Brooks has resided at Olympic Place Apartments, which are owned and operated by Defendant. (Dkt. No. 21 at 2.) In her amended complaint, Ms. Brooks states that she is a "64 year-old[2] African-American mixed Cherokee Indian" who suffers from a number of ailments, leaving her disabled. (Id.) Ms. Brooks alleges that Defendant SHA discriminated against her based on her race and disability in violation of the Fair Housing Act ("FHA"), 42 U.S.C. § 3601, et seq., and the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"), 42 U.S.C. § 12101, et seq. (Id. at 1.) This intentional discrimination, Ms. Brooks alleges, has "lead to her declining health including aggravating her blindness and other health issues." (Id. at 4.)

Ms. Brooks has had difficult relationships with her neighbors. Dozens of complaints have been filed against Ms. Brooks based on "rude behavior, foul language, name-calling, loud music and yelling within apartment units, and threats of physical harm." (Dkt. No. 47 at 3.) In May 2000, Ms. Brooks and two of her neighbors were issued a lease violation notice based on an ongoing feud. (Id.) The feuding neighbors wrote threats on each other‘s apartment doors, jammed locks, dumped garbage in front of apartments, and poured syrup on apartment doors. (Id.) Ms. Brooks denies involvement (see Dkt. No. 50 at 3), though documentation from SHA indicates that neighboring residents report that she and the two others "were [all] partly responsible for these activities." (Dkt. No. 47 at 3.)

Due to her health concerns, Ms. Brooks requested that SHA provide her with increased lighting in her apartment as well as a new bathtub. (Dkt. No. 50-1 at 39.) In response, SHA offered to transfer her to a different apartment in Olympic West or to an apartment in a different building. (Dkt. No. 47 at 6–7.) SHA explained that installation of a bathtub in Olympic West is not possible, although if Ms. Brooks would consider transferring to another building she could be provided with one. (Dkt. No. 47 at 6.) Ms. Brooks refused; she preferred to remain in the unit she was already familiar with, particularly as her vision impairment would make such an adjustment more difficult for her. (Dkt. No. 50 at 9.) While the accommodation for lighting was ultimately approved, (see Dkt. No. 50-1 at 56), the request took more than two years to process, and improved lighting has yet to be installed. (Dkt. No. 47 at 5–7.)

The delayed lighting accommodation request has been complicated by Ms. Brooks‘s relationship with SHA. Ms. Brooks‘s initial request was apparently lost, and the parties have struggled to meet to discuss lighting installation. (Dkt. No. 47 at 5–7.) SHA Senior Property Manager Lori Baird has provided Ms. Brooks with her personal cell phone number and visited Ms. Brooks‘s unit to look at her lights. (Dkt. No. 50 at 4–5, 9.) Ms. Brooks indicates that she "did not feel it was professional to call her on her cell phone and wanted the calls to come to the office." (Dkt. No. 50 at 5.)

On November 23, 2012 Ms. Brooks filed an amended complaint claiming that the SHA acted discriminatorily by singling her out amongst white residents for investigation of complaints and by denying her requests for accommodation on account of her vision problems, violating the FHA and ADA. (Dkt. No. 21.) The Court has previously granted summary judgment in favor of the Defendant on the issue of punitive damages. (Dkt. No. 38.) The parties attended pro bono mediation in May of 2014 and were unable to reach settlement. (Dkt. Nos. 40 & 42.)

II. DISCUSSION

"The court shall grant summary judgment if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). A factual issue is genuine "if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Villiarimo v. Aloha Island Air, Inc., 281 F.3d 1054, 1060 (9th Cir. 2002) (citing Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 447 U.S. 242, 248 (1986)). The moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law when the nonmoving party fails to make a sufficient showing on an essential element of a claim in the case on which the nonmoving party has the burden of proof. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1985). The nonmoving party must rely exclusively on admissible evidence to establish such specific facts in opposition to the moving party‘s motion. Orr v. Bank of America, 285 F.3d 764, 773 (9th Cir. 2002). In other words, the Plaintiff "must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts." Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986).

A. FHA Racial Discrimination Claim

The FHA prohibits discrimination "against any person in the terms, conditions, or privileges of sale or rental of a dwelling, or in the provision of services or facilities in connection therewith, because of race, color, religion, sex, familial status, or national origin." 42 U.S.C. § 3604(b). The Ninth Circuit analyzes FHA disparate treatment claims under the three-stage framework set forth in the McDonnell Douglas/Burdine test. Gamble v. City of Escondido, 104 F.3d 300, 305 (9th Cir. 1997).

The McDonnell Douglas framework first requires a prima facie showing that: "(1) plaintiff is a member of a protected class; (2) plaintiff applied for [a benefit or treatment] and was qualified to receive it; (3) the [benefit or treatment] was denied despite being qualified; and (4) defendant approved [the benefit or treatment] for a similarly situated party during a period relatively near the time plaintiff was denied [the benefit or treatment]." Gamble, 104 F.3d at 305. After the plaintiff proves her prima facie case, the burden shifts to the defendant to articulate a "legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for its action." Id. Finally, if the defendant has carried its burden, the plaintiff must then prove, by a preponderance of the evidence, that the reason asserted by the defendant is a "mere pretext." Id. A McDonnell Douglas prima facie case is not the equivalent of a finding of actual discrimination, but rather creates an inference of discriminatory animus that the action was more likely than not based on impermissible considerations. See Sanghvi v. City of Claremont, 328 F.3d 532, 537 (9th Cir. 2003) (quoting Gay v. Waiters' & Dairy Lunchmen's Union, Local No. 30, 694 F.2d 531, 546 (9th Cir. 1982)). A prima facie case under McDonnell Douglas is one in which "the plaintiff has met his immediate burden of production, but not necessarily his ultimate burden of persuasion." Id. (quoting Gay, 694 F.3d at 543 n. 10).

Ms. Brooks alleges that SHA treated her differently because of her race. (Dkt. No. 21 at 3-4.) She claims that SHA has a pattern of ignoring her complaints and reprimanding her for complaints against her made by white tenants. (Id.) For example, after one dispute with a neighbor, Ms. Brooks claims that Defendant posted a "10 day notice to comply or vacate" on her door but did not post a similar notice on her neighbor‘s door. (Dkt. No. 50 at 7.) Ms. Brooks stated that she ...


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