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Fair Housing Center of Washington v. Breier-Scheetz Properties, LLC

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

May 6, 2019

FAIR HOUSING CENTER OF WASHINGTON, Plaintiff,
v.
BREIER-SCHEETZ PROPERTIES, LLC, a Washington corporation; and FREDERICK BREIER-SCHEETZ, an individual, Defendants.

          FINDINGS OF FACT AND CONCLUSIONS OF LAW

          Thomas S. Zilly United States District Judge.

         THIS MATTER comes before the Court on Plaintiff Fair Housing Center of Washington's First and Second Petitions for Order to Show Cause Why Defendants Should Not Be Held in Civil Contempt, docket nos. 76 & 93. Having reviewed all papers filed in support of, and in opposition to, the motions, and having conducted a hearing on February 14, 2019, the Court enters the following Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law.

         FINDINGS OF FACT

         1. By Order dated May 12, 2017, this Court granted summary judgment in favor of the Plaintiff in this housing discrimination case and held that, “Defendants' one-person-per studio occupancy restriction at the Granada has a disparate impact on families with children in violation of the Fair Housing Act, Washington Law Against Discrimination, and Seattle Municipal Code.” May 12, 2017, Order, docket no. 42, at 11.

         2. The Court also awarded Plaintiff $100, 000.00 in punitive damages against Defendants after finding that the Defendants exhibited a “level of recklessness or callous indifference to the fair housing rights of others, and that punitive damages are necessary to deter future conduct.” Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law, docket no. 60, at 7-8.

         3. On June 2, 2017, Plaintiff filed a Supplemental Brief in Support of Injunctive Relief, with attached exhibits, seeking entry of a permanent injunction prohibiting the continuance of the discriminatory one-person-per studio apartment occupancy policy. See Supplemental Brief, docket no. 43.

         4. On October 5, 2017, after a limited trial on damages, this Court awarded the Plaintiff $27, 302 in actual damages against the Defendants related to its diversion of resources. Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law, docket no. 60, ¶ 12. The Court also found that

Defendants' stated justifications for their occupancy restriction were insufficient. They maintained their illegitimate occupancy restriction excluding families with children after FHCW filed its complaint, after SOCR issued its findings of discrimination, after FHCW filed this lawsuit, and after FHCW's expert submitted an unchallenged expert declaration showing the adverse impact on families with children. On the basis of this evidence, the Court awards punitive damages against Defendant Breier-Scheetz Properties LLC's and Frederick Breier-Scheetz in the total amount of $100, 000. The Court concludes that these punitive damages are ‘both reasonable and proportionate to the amount of harm to the plaintiff and to the general damages recovered.' State Farm Auto. Ins. Co. v. Campbell, 538 U.S. 408, 426 (2003).

Id. ¶ 11.

         5. On October 6, 2017, this Court entered judgment, including injunctive relief, ordering the following: “Defendants are forever permanently enjoined from enforcing any occupancy restriction which violates the Fair Housing Act, the Washington Law Against Discrimination, RCW 49.60.222(1), or the Seattle Open Housing Ordinance, Seattle Municipal Code 14.08.” Judgment, docket no. 61. The Court further ordered the Defendants to cooperate in good faith with FHCW to, among other items, set up one three-hour fair housing training session annually for three years and prepare or review/modify Breier-Scheetz Properties' policies on fair housing. Id. The Court subsequently awarded Plaintiff attorney's fees in the amount of $184, 741. Supplemental Judgment, docket no. 74.

         6. On April 24, 2018, Plaintiff FHCW performed tests at Grenada Apartments to determine whether the Defendants had changed their discriminatory one-person occupancy policy at their studio apartments. See Declaration of Carolyn Benbow, docket no. 107, Ex. 1 at 1-2. The building Apartment Manager informed the tester, who said she was inquiring on behalf of herself and her three month old son, that they only rent studios for one person. Id. at 2.

         7. On May 25, 2018, the Plaintiff filed its First Petition for an Order to Show Cause seeking civil contempt sanctions for Defendants' alleged failure to comply with the injunctive relief ordered by the Court. See Petition for Order to Show Cause, docket no. 76. The Defendants did not contest the factual allegations in the Petition, and argued that the injunction was vague in that “they cannot know whether any ‘occupancy restriction' beyond one-person per studio policy, that it might implement, would be judged violative of the law.”

         8. By Minute Order dated August 29, 2018 (docket no. 91), the Court granted the Petition to Show Cause and denied Defendants' request to stay the injunctive relief portion of the Judgment. The Court deferred any evidentiary hearing to show cause pending Defendants' appeal to the United States Court of Appeals to the Ninth Circuit.

         9. On September 26, 2018, the Plaintiff again tested the Grenada Apartments to determine whether the Defendants had changed their one-person per studio apartment policy. See Benbow Decl., ¶ 8. The tester, who said she was seeking a studio apartment for herself and her son, was told that studio apartments would not be rented to two people. Id. ΒΆ 9. The Apartment Manager told the tester that the owner made the decision not to rent a studio to two ...


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