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ADVOCACY AND RESOURCE CENTER v. TOWN OF CHAZY

August 11, 1999

ADVOCACY AND RESOURCE CENTER AND MENTAL RETARDATION SERVICES, INC., PLAINTIFFS,
v.
TOWN OF CHAZY, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Kahn, District Judge.

MEMORANDUM — DECISION AND ORDER

Plaintiffs, two not-for-profit corporations that own and use housing in Chazy, New York, commenced this action pursuant to the Fair Housing Act ("FHA"), 42 U.S.C. § 3601, et. seq., Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"), 42 U.S.C. § 12101, et. seq., the Equal Protection clause of the United States Constitution, and the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the New York State Constitution for an order enjoining defendant from enforcing its zoning code against plaintiffs. Presently before the Court is plaintiffs' motion for summary judgment and defendant's cross-motion for summary judgment. For the reasons discussed below, both motions are denied.

I. BACKGROUND

Advocacy Resource Center ("ARC") is a non-profit corporation that operates community residences for people with developmental disabilities in Clinton County, New York. In 1995, Mental Retardation Services, Inc. ("MRS"), a subsidiary holding company of ARC, purchased a single-family residence on 3 Sunny Patch Lane in the Town of Chazy. The residence borders Lake Champlain and is located within the Town's "Lake Area Residential District." Under the Town zoning code, the District is zoned for both single and two family dwellings, agricultural and forestry use, and seasonal camps.

ARC has made no application for a variance, and since 1995 has operated the Sunny Patch residence as a vacation home for the disabled with supervisory staff members present. Although it remains unclear how many disabled individuals and supervising staff members are present, ARC does not contest that the number exceeds five, and the Town contends it approaches twenty-three following the restoration of another dwelling on the property. ARC maintains that its Sunny Patch residence should be regarded as either a permissible seasonal camp or a single-family dwelling. For purposes of zoning, however, the Town zoning code defines a "family" as "[o]ne or more persons related to each other by blood, marriage or adoption, or not more than 4 individuals who are not related, living together as a single housekeeping unit." ARC contends that the Town must modify its definition of family to permit a community residence for the disabled, who otherwise would be unable to enjoy a residence in the District.

ARC and MRS filed a complaint against the Town on September 29, 1995. Plaintiffs then moved for summary judgment seeking to enjoin defendant from enforcing its zoning ordinance against them. Defendant replied and cross-moved for summary judgment.

II. PLAINTIFF'S SUMMARY JUDGMENT MOTION

Summary judgment is appropriate where there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). Thus, summary judgment is warranted where the non-moving party has no evidentiary support for an essential element on which it bears the burden of proof. See Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 2552-53, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986). As explained below, plaintiffs' failure to establish the threshold fact that group-living is necessary at the Sunny Patch Lane residence precludes summary judgment.

A. Exhaustion of Administrative Remedies/Ripeness

In both its reply to plaintiffs' motion and its own cross-motion, defendant contends that plaintiffs' claims should be dismissed since administrative remedies have not been exhausted and the claims are not yet ripe.

The FHA clearly states that an aggrieved party does not need to exhaust parallel administrative remedies provided through the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) before commencing a Federal action. See 42 U.S.C. § 3613(B)(2). It would seem logical that if an aggrieved party does not need to exhaust HUD remedies before filing a federal action, he or she should not have to exhaust local remedies. Indeed, the Second Circuit held in Huntington Branch, N.A.A.C.P. v. Town of Huntington, 689 F.2d 391, 394 n. 3 (2d Cir. 1982), that administrative remedies need not be exhausted before the commencement of a FHA action in federal court, even where the "reasonable accommodation" test is invoked. The court noted that the FHA's drafters intended administrative remedies to be a primary and not an exclusive method for seeking redress. See id., at 394. Under the caselaw of this circuit, plaintiffs are therefore not required to exhaust all administrative and state remedies.

Defendant's arguments concerning ripeness are similarly unavailing. This case was ripe from the moment the Town issued its violation letter since it could have acted against the residence anytime thereafter. Moreover, in its statement of material facts, defendant expressly states its belief that the violation letter "is now final and binding on plaintiffs." Defendant's Statement of Material Facts ...


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