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Michael and Tina Carpenter v. Churchville Greene Homeowner's

December 2, 2011

MICHAEL AND TINA CARPENTER, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
CHURCHVILLE GREENE HOMEOWNER'S ASSOCIATION, INC., BETH BIECK, TOM BIONDOLILLO, HOPE JOHNSON, GARY HUTCHERSON, BARB KOEPKE, PAMELA HILL, CHARLES HAWKINS, PAT CIPOLLA, RICK WALDO, AND REALTY PERFORMANCE GROUP, INC. DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Michael A. Telesca United States District Judge

DECISION and ORDER

INTRODUCTION

Plaintiffs, Michael and Tina Carpenter ("Plaintiffs"), bring this action pursuant to the Fair Housing Act, Title VIII of the Civil Rights Act of 1968, 42 U.S.C. § 3601 et seq., alleging that the Defendants, the Churchville Greene Homeowner's Association, Inc., ("HOA"), Beth Bieck, Tom Biondolillo, Hope Johnson, Gary Hutcherson, Barb Koepke, Pamela Hill, Charles Hawkins, Pat Cipolla, and Rick Waldo (collectively, the "Individual Defendants" or the "board"), and Realty Performance Group, Inc. ("Realty"), (collectively, "Defendants"), discriminated against them in the terms and conditions of their housing on the basis of Plaintiffs' disabilities.*fn1 Specifically, Plaintiffs' Amended Complaint alleges that Defendants treated them differently than non-disabled persons by unevenly enforcing parking regulations; denied them a reasonable accommodation with respect to disabled guest parking; and initially denied them permission to construct a reasonable modification (a concrete pad) to their property to provide them with better wheelchair access to their home. Plaintiffs further allege that the denial and delay of approval for the concrete pad were in retaliation for Plaintiffs having filed the instant action.*fn2

In a Decision and Order dated February 22, 2011, this Court granted Defendants' Motions for Summary Judgment with respect to the reasonable modification claim (the concrete pad), as that issue had been resolved by the parties with the assistance of the Court. The Court denied the Defendants' motions with respect to the disabled parking claims and noted that Defendants had not moved for summary judgment on the retaliation claim.

Now before the Court are Defendants' Motions for Summary Judgment on the remaining claims in the Complaint. Defendants contend that Plaintiffs have not established that there is a triable issue of fact with respect to any of the remaining claims. Defendant Realty further contends that discovery did not reveal any actions on its part in furtherance of the alleged violations of law, and therefore the claims against Realty should be dismissed. Lastly, the Individual Defendants move for summary judgment on the grounds that, as members of the board of directors of the HOA, they can not be held personally liable for acts performed in that capacity - and discovery has not revealed facts that suggest they committed any discriminatory actions for which they can be held personally liable. Plaintiffs oppose the instant motions.

For the reasons set forth herein, Defendants' motions are granted in part and denied in part. The Court specifically finds that there are material issues of fact remaining with respect to Plaintiffs' claim for retaliation against Realty, the HOA and the Individual Defendants who were involved with the decisions relating to the installation of the concrete pad. Plaintiffs' parking claims against all defendants and all claims against the following Individual Defendants: Gary Hutchurson, Pamela Hill and Charlie Hawken are dismissed with prejudice. Accordingly, what remains is Plaintiffs' claim for retaliation against the HOA, Realty and the remaining Individual Defendants.

DISCUSSION

Rule 56(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides that summary judgment "should be rendered if the pleadings, the discovery and disclosure materials on file, and any affidavits show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." See Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). When considering a motion for summary judgment, all genuinely disputed facts must be resolved in favor of the party against whom summary judgment is sought.*fn3 See Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 381 (2007). If, after considering the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, the court finds that no rational jury could find in favor of that party, a grant of summary judgment is appropriate. See Id. at 381 (citing Matsushita Elec. Industrial Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586-587). "The mere existence of some alleged factual dispute between the parties will not defeat an otherwise properly supported motion for summary judgment; the requirement is that there be no genuine issue of material fact. When opposing parties tell two different stories, one of which is blatantly contradicted by the record, so that no reasonable jury could believe it, a court should not adopt that version of the facts for purposes of ruling on a motion for summary judgment." Id. (internal citations and quotations omitted).

A. Parking Claims

Plaintiffs allege that the Defendants denied them a reasonable accommodation with respect to disabled guest parking and that the Defendants unevenly enforce parking regulations in favor of non-disabled persons in violation of the Fair Housing Act. (Docket No. 26.) After being fined for their guests breaking a parking regulation that prohibits parking on the road directly in front of their home, the Plaintiffs requested a variance for their disabled guests. The board denied the variance request and instead sought to accommodate the Plaintiffs' concerns by designating two handicap parking spots in the parking lot located by the barn in the development which is remotely located from the Plaintiffs' home. The board initially cited safety concerns, but discovery has revealed that the road on which the Plaintiffs seek to park is a "Fire Apparatus Road" pursuant to the New York State Fire Code, and parking is prohibited by law on such roads at all times to enable uninhibited emergency vehicle access. See Def. Statement of Facts at ¶13 (Docket No. 85).

With respect to the accommodation offered (designated handicap parking spots in the parking lot), the Plaintiffs contend that this accommodation is not reasonable because the parking lot is too far from their home for their disabled guests to be able to walk to and from the parking lot. However, discovery revealed that of the "disabled" guests Plaintiffs seek to accommodate, only one was actually unable to walk from the designated lot to their home, and this guest was still able to visit the Plaintiffs home by either parking in their driveway (the Plaintiff's garage and driveway will accommodate at least 3 cars) or by having his wife (who is not disabled) drop him off at their home and park in the parking lot. See Def. Statement of Facts at ¶¶7-11, 15.

Plaintiffs do not contest these facts, but they contend that the Defendants violated the Fair Housing Act based on the fact that they make certain exceptions to the parking rules for construction vehicles and for a visitors to a yearly garage sale. They further contend that the Defendants could have paved a "grassy-area" that was directly across from the Plaintiffs' property to accommodate their disabled guests' needs.

The Court finds that Plaintiffs have not met their burden of establishing that the accommodations requested are reasonable or necessary to afford the Plaintiffs an equal opportunity to use and enjoy their dwelling. See Shapiro v. Cadman Towers, Inc., 51 F.3d 328 (2d Cir. 1995). First, allowing the Plaintiffs the right to park on a road on which parking is prohibited by state law is not a reasonable accommodation under the circumstances. While the Fair Housing Act may require housing providers or governmental agencies to alter certain rules and regulations to provide disabled individuals the opportunity to equally enjoy their homes (for example, relaxing zoning laws to allow disabled individuals to live in group homes); it cannot be read to require housing providers to place other homeowners (disable or non-disabled) in jeopardy based on a purported need to allow guests to park on the street. Because parking is prohibited on the road to allow uninhibited access by emergency vehicles under state law, the Court finds that it would not be a reasonable accommodation to permit the Plaintiffs or their guests to park on the roadway.

Further, the Plaintiffs have not established that such an accommodation is necessary to the use and enjoyment of their property. The evidence indicates that none of the guests the Plaintiffs seek to accommodate actually requires a parking space that is closer than the parking lot with designated disabled parking spaces - and the Plaintiffs admit that they have a driveway and a garage that can accommodate at least three vehicles. The fact that the Plaintiffs may use their garage or driveway for other purposes does not create the requisite "necessity" required to establish a claim under the Fair Housing Act. The Court also notes that Plaintiffs contention that it is necessary based on their need to occasionally clear leaves from the driveway is also unpersuasive as Plaintiffs have simply not shown that "but for" the ability to park in the street, Plaintiffs could not clear the leaves from the driveway - as ...


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