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Oxford House Inc. v. City of Salisbury

United States District Court, D. Maryland

June 26, 2018

OXFORD HOUSE, INC., ET AL.
v.
CITY OF SALISBURY, MARYLAND,

          MEMORANDUM

          D. Bennett United States District Judge

         Plaintiffs Oxford House, Inc. ("OHI") and Jeffrey Outten ("Outten") (collectively "Oxford House") bring this action against Defendant City of Salisbury, Maryland ("the City"), alleging that the City's failure to modify its housing regulations to accommodate the disabled residents of three homes they chartered and made available for rent, respectively, violated the Fair Housing Act of 1968 ("FHA"), 42 U.S.C. § 3601, et seg., and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 ("ADA"), 42 U.S.C. § 1213, et seq. Now pending are Defendant's Motion to Dismiss or, in the Alternative, for Summary Judgment and Plaintiffs' Motion for Leave to File a Second Amended Complaint. The parties have fully briefed the issues, and no oral argument is necessary. See Local Rule 105.6. For the reasons set forth below, Defendant's Motion is treated as a Motion for Summary Judgment and GRANTED, and Plaintiffs' Motion is DENIED.

         BACKGROUND

         OHI is a Delaware non-profit corporation with a principal place of business in Silver Spring, Maryland, which assists in the establishment of affordable housing for individuals with disabilities, including those who are recovering from substance abuse. ECF No. 6, ¶ 4. OHI charters individual Oxford Houses nationally and internationally, including the three homes at issue in this case. Id. Each individual Oxford House is an unincorporated association of people recovering from substance abuse who live together in a shared residence and follow three rules: (1) each Oxford House must be financially self-supported; (2) each Oxford House must be democratically run; and (3) anyone who relapses into drug or alcohol use must be immediately expelled from his or her Oxford House. Id.al ¶¶ 4, 19, 33.

         Jeffrey Outten is the owner of the single family dwellings located at 506 South Park Drive, 809 Camden Avenue, and 504 Georgia Avenue in Salisbury, Maryland. Id. at ¶ 5. On December 1, 2011, Outten rented 506 South Park Drive to Oxford House-South Park Drive for use as an Oxford House for a maximum of seven men. Id. at ¶ 20. On May 1, 2016, Outten rented 504 Georgia Avenue to Oxford House-Georgia Place for use as an Oxford House for a maximum of eight men. Id. at ¶ 22. On July 1, 2016, Outten rented 809 Camden Avenue to Oxford House-Osiris for use as an Oxford House for a maximum often men. Id. at ¶ 24.

         The City is a municipal corporation organized and existing pursuant to the laws of the State of Maryland, which is classified as a public entity under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Id. at ¶ 6. Title 15, Chapter 24 of the City of Salisbury Code ("CSC") sets forth regulations known as the "property maintenance code." Salisbury, Md., Municipal Code § 15.24.010 (2018). The intent of the "property maintenance code" is to "establish and maintain basic minimum standards and conditions for the protection of health, safety and general welfare of the public, and to promote the prevention of blight and decay." Id. at § 15.24.030. The CSC sets forth certain occupancy limitations. Specifically, pursuant to CSC § 15.24.950(D)(1), "a detached dwelling unit (single house) may be occupied by (a) one family allowing for visiting guest, or (b) not over four unrelated occupants." Pursuant to CSC § 15.24.490, the definition of "family" includes "a group of not more than four persons who are approved by the Housing and Community Development Department pursuant to Section 15.24.1620 as a 'functional family.'"[1]Section 15.24.1620 provides:

A. Upon application of a group of not more than four persons, the Housing and Community Development Department shall make a determination of whether a "functional family" exists. Each of the following criteria shall be met:
1. Share a permanent personal bond and commitment to one another;
2. Not dependent upon or supported by someone who does not maintain legal domicile at the particular dwelling unit and reside therein (not including any alimony or child support payments made to or for the benefit of any members of the group);
3. Maintain legal domicile at the particular dwelling unit;
4. Share a single household budget;
5. Share in the repair and maintenance of the dwelling unit and its grounds, if any;
6. Prepare and eat meals together on a regular basis;
7. Share in legal ownership or tenancy of the dwelling unit, as evidenced on a deed or lease.
B. In the case of an application by persons who are disabled pursuant to the terms of the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Housing and Community Development Department shall make a determination of whether a "functional family" exists under subsection (A). When making that determination, the Housing and Community Development Department shall make any necessary and reasonable accommodations, including the modification of conditions required by subsection (A) and the allowance of more than four unrelated individuals in the same household, when necessary to comply with applicable federal and state laws regarding fair housing and persons with disabilities.

         On May 3, 2012, the City notified Outten that he was in violation of CSC § 15.24.1640 because too many unrelated individuals were living together at 506 South Park Drive. ECF No. 6, § 40. It warned Outten that he would face fines if he did not reduce the occupancy. Id. On May 25, 2012, OHI's General Counsel sent a letter to the City requesting, pursuant to the FHA, that the City modify the conditions required by § 15.24.1620(A) and grant the more-than-four unrelated individuals living at Oxford House-South Park Drive "functional family" status. Id. at § 41. The City never responded to the letter. Id. at § 43.

         More than four years later, on August 3, 2016, the City sent Outten a similar letter advising him that the use of 809 Camden Avenue was in violation of CSC § 15.24.1620 for the same reason. Id. at § 45. On August 15, 2016, the City issued Outten a civil fine for that violation in the amount of $500. Id. at § 47. The following day, the City issued Outten another civil fine in the amount of $1, 000. Id. at § 48. On August 19, 2016, the City sent Outten similar letters regarding 506 South Park Drive and 504 Georgia Avenue. Id. at §§ 53, 56.

         In two letters, dated August 23 and August 26, 2016, OHI again requested that the City modify the conditions required by § 15.24.1620(A) and grant the more-than-four unrelated individuals living at each of the three Oxford Houses "functional family" status. ECF No. 19-1, i ECF No. 19-2.

The City responded via letter on October 19, 2016, stating:
Based on your description of the typical Oxford House it appears that some of the requirements of section 15.24.1620 may be met by each group. In order to determine which of the criteria are met and whether any reasonable accommodation is necessary to comply with applicable federal and state laws, we request that you provide us with the identity of each person included in any group that is seeking the status of a functional family under the code. We will need the individual's full name (and any previous -names), date of birth, current address, and any other addresses at which the individual has resided during the past two years. Each group should explain how they meet the criteria of the Code and, if they do not meet the criteria, why and what reasonable accommodations should be made.
...
For each member of the group, we will need information regarding the source of any income or support received by that individual. The source should be identified by name, address, and any other information that would enable us to verify a particular individuals' source of income or support. In addition, we will need a copy of the driver's license or some other reasonably accepted identification and household mail or bills showing that the individual in question is domiciled at the home for which the status as a functional family is sought. We also need copies of the household checkbook, budget or other documents to demonstrate that each house maintains a "single household budget." We will require copies of records of maintenance or schedules regarding chores and repairs done at each property to evidence that the applicants share in "the repair and maintenance of the dwelling unit and its grounds." We will need a copy of the current lease showing that the tenants seeking recognition as a functional family share in the tenancy of the unit. If there are any schedules with regard to shopping, meal preparation or clean-up of the property, that information would be helpful.

ECF No. 19-4, pp. 2-3. Noting that Oxford House was "asking that reasonable accommodations be afforded by the City to each member of each group residing in each home," the City asked Oxford House to "provide specific information on each individual to allow the City to make a determination of whether that individual is disabled under the Americans with Disabilities Act." Id. at 3. Finally, because Oxford House was asking that each house be granted "functional family" status, the City asked Oxford House to:

[S]ubmit all relevant factual information regarding each group along with any applicable federal or state laws that would mandate the approval of more than four disabled persons as a functional family. If the circumstances of any household require more than four (4) unrelated persons, explain fully why more than four ...

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