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OXFORD HOUSE, INC. v. CITY OF ALBANY

April 16, 1993

OXFORD HOUSE, INC., "JOHN DOE I," "JOHN DOE II," and "JOHN DOE III," Plaintiffs,
v.
CITY OF ALBANY, Defendant,


McAvoy


The opinion of the court was delivered by: THOMAS J. MCAVOY

MEMORANDUM-DECISION and ORDER

 I. BACKGROUND

 Plaintiff Oxford House, Inc. ("OHI") is a not-for-profit Maryland based corporation which "helps persons in recovery from alcohol and drug dependence establish and maintain houses." First Amended Complaint P 1 (hereinafter "AC"). A number of such houses were recently established in the City of Albany, three of which are central to the instant dispute. Plaintiffs John Doe I-III are three individuals living at each of these three Oxford House residences in the City of Albany. AC PP 6-9. Each Oxford House is comprised of more than three unrelated persons living together, and each house is in an area zoned for single or two family residences.

 The City of Albany maintains a zoning law which disallows more than three unrelated persons from living together unless they are the functional equivalent of a traditional family. AC PP 1, 17; Albany City Code § 27-160 (the "Grouper Law"). From April through June of 1992 plaintiff OHI received notices from the defendant ordering each of the three OHI premises to reduce their occupancy to less than four individuals. AC P 27. OHI responded to these notices by sending a letter to the City Building Department requesting that the City make a "reasonable accommodation in the application of its zoning ordinance to allow Oxford House-Tallmadge to remain intact." AC P 28. OHI cited the Fair Housing Act in support of its request. Id.. The plaintiffs claim this request was ignored. AC P 29.

 In May of 1992, OHI filed a complaint with the U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development, alleging that the City discriminatorily refused to "reasonably accommodate" the OHI residents according to the Fair Housing Act. AC P 30. In June of 1992, a meeting was held between representatives of plaintiffs and defendant. AC P 31. At the meeting, Albany's Building Commissioner insisted that prosecution under the Grouper Law would continue unless plaintiffs applied "to the Building Department for an interpretation of the 'Grouper Law' to determine if the occupants . . . were the 'functional equivalent of a traditional family.'" AC P 32.

 OHI made applications at the cost of $ 75.00 each for each of the three OHI houses. AC P 33. Each application was denied without comment or explanation. AC P 34. OHI claims it received a letter from the Building Inspector indicating that the Building Department had "absolutely no discretion to rule in Oxford House's favor." AC P 35.

 In September, OHI appealed this denial (of the familial status) to the Zoning Board of Appeals ("ZBA"). AC P 36. After a well attended public hearing in which many residents expressed their displeasure for OHI generally (AC P 37-43), OHI received written notification that their appeal had been denied. AC P 44 and Exhibit A to complaint. This notice indicated that the appeal concerned the narrow issue of whether the OHI houses constituted a "functional equivalent" of a family. Id. The ZBA found that they did not (AC P 46) and instructed the applicants "to apply for a use variance to establish self-run, self-supported recovery houses at any of these addresses." Exhibit A, Complaint. No variance application was made and the City sought to prosecute the code violation. The matter was set down for trial on the "Grouper Law" violation before the Albany City Court on January 13 [sic], 1993. AC P 48.

 The complaint charges that the ZBA "did not consider whether the households were entitled to be reasonably accommodated due to the residents' disabilities. . . ." AC P 46. Plaintiffs also charge that "defendant's inflexible application of its 'Grouper Law' against recovery houses such as plaintiffs' has a disparate impact upon the ability of persons with disabilities to enjoy and benefit from living in residential communities from which they have historically been excluded." AC P 54. Plaintiffs further assert that the individual residents of Oxford Houses in Albany, including the three named Doe plaintiffs, will suffer irreparable harm if the Grouper Law is enforced. AC P 56. Based upon this, plaintiffs bring the following claims:

 Count I - Fair Housing Act Amendments and 42 U.S.C. § 1983

 
Defendant's refusal under color of state law (ACC 27-160) to reasonably accommodate plaintiffs' need to have households comprised of more than three unrelated individuals with disabilities violates plaintiffs' statutory rights under the Fair Housing Act Amendments, 42 U.S.C. § 3604(f)(3)(B) and 42 U.S.C. § 1983.

 Count II - Americans With Disabilities Act and 42 USC § 1983

 
Defendant's refusal under color of state law to reasonably modify their rules, policies, practices, and procedures related to enforcement of Albany's Zoning Ordinance prevents people with disabilities from securing the benefits and enjoyment of residential housing . . . [and] violates plaintiffs' statutory rights under the American's With Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. § 12131-12133 and 42 U.S.C. § 1983.

 Count III - Due Process Clause and 42 USC§ 1983

 
By failing under color of state law to provide any meaningful procedures or policies to consider plaintiffs' request for a reasonable accommodation, defendant is depriving plaintiff of liberty and property without due process of law. Such failure is violative of the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution, as well as 42 U.S.C. § 1983.

 AC PP 58-60.

 In addition, plaintiffs seek to proceed against the defendant in equity, claiming that there is no adequate remedy at law to redress defendant's illegal and wrongful acts. AC P 61. Under the wherefore clause, plaintiffs request injunctive and declaratory relief, compensatory and punitive damages, and attorney's fees and costs.

 On January 19, 1993, this court granted a temporary restraining order preventing prosecution of the then sole-plaintiff Oxford House, Inc. Following oral argument, the plaintiff was granted leave to amend the complaint to add the individual plaintiffs and the restraining order was continued by stipulation of the parties. Presently before the court is plaintiffs' motion for a preliminary injunction seeking to restrain the City from prosecuting the city code violation until such time as the federal action is resolved.

 II. DISCUSSION

 A. Anti-Injunction Statute - 28 U.S.C. § 2283

 Any request for injunctive relief against a state proceeding instantly brings into focus the important doctrines of federalism and abstention. These doctrines serve to tether the federal judiciary's otherwise valid exercise of power and to underscore its respect for the jurisdiction of the state courts. In examining these doctrines, the court first turns to a statutory prohibition of federal injunctions of state court proceedings - the Anti-Injunction Statute, 28 USC § 2283.

 
A court of the United States may not grant an injunction to stay proceedings in a State court except as expressly authorized by Act of Congress, or where necessary in aid of its jurisdiction, or to protect or effectuate its judgments.

 28 USC § 2283.

 In Mitchum v. Foster, 407 U.S. 225, 92 S. Ct. 2151, 32 L. Ed. 2d 705 (1972), the Supreme Court determined that actions under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 fell within the phrase "except as expressly authorized by Act of Congress." Given the fact that plaintiffs cloak each of their causes of action in § 1933, the court finds sufficient reason to avoid the proscriptions of the anti-injunction statute. Further, other district courts have recognized exceptions to the anti-injunction statute under the "expressly authorized" exceptions wherein the plaintiff seeks redress under the Fair Housing Act. ...


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