DISTRICT OF MONTANA
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA,
Case No. CV 99-176-M-DWM
EL DORITA VILLAGE LIMITED
PARTNERSHIP; COLLINS MANAGEMENT
COMPANY; KIM CAMDEN; BRUCE GIBSON;
and LORRAINE GIBSON,
The United States of America alleges upon information and belief as follows:
- This is a civil action brought by the United States on behalf of Alecia Ferguson, her minor daughters Ashley and Abigail Ferguson (collectively, the "Ferguson family"), and Montana Fair Housing against the Ferguson family's former landlords, to enforce the provisions of the Fair Housing Act, as amended by the Fair Housing Amendments Act of 1988, 42 U.S.C. §§ 3601 et seq., and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as amended, 29 U.S.C. § 794.
- This Court has jurisdiction over this action pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331 and 1345, 42 U.S.C. § 3612(o), 29 U.S.C. §§ 794 and 794a, and 24 C.F.R. § 8.57(a)(1).
- Venue is proper in this judicial district under 28 U.S.C. § 1391(b), in that the events giving rise to this action occurred in this district.
- Defendant El Dorita Village Limited Partnership is and was at all relevant times the owner of El Dorita Village Apartments, an apartment complex located at 420 Liberty Street, Kalispell, Montana.
- Defendant Collins Management Company is and was at all relevant times the sole general partner of El Dorita Village Limited Partnership, and the management agent for El Dorita Village Apartments. All actions taken by Defendant Collins Management Company described herein were taken on behalf of Defendant El Dorita Village Limited Partnership.
- Defendant Kim Camden is and was at all relevant times employed by Collins Management Company as the property manager with responsibility for, inter alia, El Dorita Village Apartments.
- Defendant Bruce Gibson was at all relevant times employed by Collins Management Company as an on-site manager, maintenance person, or both, at El Dorita Village Apartments.
- Defendant Lorraine Gibson was at all relevant times employed by Collins Management Company as an on-site manager at El Dorita Village Apartments.
- El Dorita Village Apartments ("El Dorita") is a multifamily housing complex in Kalispell, Montana of approximately thirty-six rental units, each of which constitute a "dwelling" within the meaning of the Fair Housing Act, 42 U.S.C. § 3602(b).
- Under the Section 8 program of the Department of Housing and Urban Development (hereinafter, "HUD"), Defendant El Dorita Village Limited Partnership operates and has at all times relevant herein operated El Dorita as a "program or activity receiving federal financial assistance" within the meaning of the Rehabilitation Act, 29 U.S.C. § 794(a).
- On information and belief, Defendant El Dorita Village Limited Partnership has not at any time relevant herein up to and including the present: (a) performed a self-evaluation for compliance with Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act as required of all operators of programs or activities receiving federal financial assistance by 24 C.F.R. § 8.51; (b) established a grievance procedure for tenants with complaints of violations of Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act as required of all operators of programs or activities receiving federal financial assistance by 24 C.F.R. § 8.53; and (c) notified applicants and tenants that it does not discriminate on the basis of handicap as required of all operators of programs or activities receiving federal financial assistance by 24 C.F.R. § 8.54.
- El Dorita at all relevant times has had an overnight guest policy. That policy, as written in the El Dorita operating standards, prohibits any tenant from having an overnight guest stay in his or her apartment for more than fourteen nights in a single month.
- On or about June 12, 1995, Alecia Ferguson signed a lease and moved into an apartment at El Dorita.
- At the time Ms. Ferguson moved in, she was pregnant with twins having discordant growth due to twin transfusion syndrome. Twin transfusion syndrome is a medical condition whereby blood and nutrients pass disproportionately from one identical twin (the "donor" twin) to the other (the "donee" twin) through connecting blood vessels within the shared placenta.
- On or about June 22, 1995, Ms. Ferguson gave birth approximately nine weeks prematurely to twin girls, Ashley and Abigail Ferguson.
- As a result of twin transfusion syndrome, Abigail, the donor twin, weighed only two pounds two ounces at birth and suffered numerous physical difficulties including difficulty breathing. She was determined to be disabled by the Social Security Administration, because even with extensive medical care, her condition at birth substantially impaired her ability to grow, develop, and mature, to attain developmental milestones at an age-appropriate rate, and to engage in age-appropriate activities of daily living.
- From her birth in June of 1995, and continuing until at least on or about December 31, 1995, Abigail was a person with a "handicap" within the meaning of the Fair Housing Act, 42 U.S.C. § 3602(h), and an "individual with a disability" within the meaning of the Rehabilitation Act, 29 U.S.C. § 705(20).
- Prior to the birth of her twins, Ms. Ferguson had been diagnosed with depression. After the birth of the twins, that depression escalated, to the point that in or about early August of 1995, Ms. Ferguson was diagnosed with major depressive disorder, and began receiving psychological counseling and medication.
- Even with medication and counseling, the major depressive disorder substantially limited Ms. Ferguson's major life activities, including her ability to care for herself and her newborn twins, her ability to sleep, her ability to socialize, and her ability to work.
- From at least in or about August 1995, and continuing until at least on or about December 31, 1995, Ms. Ferguson was a person with a "handicap" within the meaning of the Fair Housing Act, 42 U.S.C. § 3602(h), and an "individual with a disability" within the meaning of the Rehabilitation Act, 29 U.S.C. § 705(20).
- On or about August 8, 1995, Abigail was released from the hospital to live with her mother and sister at El Dorita on the condition of the twins' physician that Ms. Ferguson would receive round-the-clock assistance in caring for the twins, including nursing care. Continuous assistance was necessitated both by Abigail's disability and by Ms. Ferguson's disability; assistance was essential to monitor Abigail's breathing, to feed both twins and administer medication to them on an extremely frequent round-the-clock schedule, and to reduce the stress being placed on Ms. Ferguson.
- When Abigail returned home to her family's apartment at El Dorita, and continuing through at least on or about September 22, 1995, the Ferguson family received assistance in caring for the twins from home health care nurses and aides during the day, and from family and friends during nights and weekends.
- From on or about September 22, 1995, and continuing through at least on or about December 31, 1995, although home health care nurses and aides no longer provided full-time assistance to the Ferguson family, the family continued to receive necessary assistance from family and friends in caring for the twins for many hours of the day and night.
- Between in or about June 1995 and continuing through in or about December 1995, Defendants Bruce Gibson, Lorraine Gibson, and Kim Camden were repeatedly informed by Alecia Ferguson, Ferguson family physicians, and others, that the twins suffered discordant growth due to twin transfusion syndrome, that Ms. Ferguson suffered from depression severe enough to require medication, and that the Ferguson family needed overnight guests to provide assistance for the twins' health needs due to the demands of Abigail's disabilities and the limitations on Ms. Ferguson's ability to care for her daughters due to Ms. Ferguson's disability.
- Despite this knowledge, Defendants refused to make any exception to the El Dorita overnight guest policy to accommodate the Ferguson family's need for overnight guests to assist them due to the disabilities of Abigail and Ms. Ferguson.
- To the contrary, Defendants issued notices of lease violation to the Ferguson family for having overnight guests, and, in or about December 1995, terminated the Ferguson family's lease for having too many overnight guests.
- Defendants' refusal to reasonably accommodate the Ferguson family violated the Fair Housing Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 3604(f)(1), (f)(2), and (f)(3)(B), and the Rehabilitation Act, 29 U.S.C. § 794 and 24 C.F.R. §§ 8.4, 8.11, and 8.33.
- On or about December 31, 1995, solely as a result of the refusal of Defendants to reasonably accommodate Ms. Ferguson's and Abigail's disabilities, and Defendants' consequent decision to terminate their lease, the Ferguson family were forced to move from El Dorita.
- Defendants' refusal to reasonably accommodate the disabilities of Ms. Ferguson and Abigail caused the Ferguson family, who are "aggrieved persons" as defined in 42 U.S.C. § 3602(i), substantial injuries, including emotional distress, loss of housing, and monetary damages.
- Defendants' refusals to reasonably accommodate the Ferguson family were intentional, willful, and taken in disregard for the fair housing rights of the Ferguson family.
- To seek assistance in responding to Defendants' illegal actions, Ms. Ferguson contacted Montana Fair Housing, a non-profit corporation that promotes fair housing opportunities throughout the state of Montana.
- In furtherance of its purpose, Montana Fair Housing provides educational, counseling, research, referral, and other services and information to its members, constituents, and the general public regarding nondiscriminatory housing opportunities in Montana.
- In furtherance of its purpose, Montana Fair Housing provided Ms. Ferguson and her family with assistance by gathering information and investigating her complaint that Defendants had discriminated against her family in refusing to provide her family with a reasonable accommodation in violation of the Fair Housing Act and the Rehabilitation Act.
- As a direct result of providing services to the Ferguson family, Montana Fair Housing, which is an "aggrieved person" as defined in 42 U.S.C. § 3602(i), was forced to divert scarce resources and staff away from its other programs, thus sustaining actual losses as a result of Defendants' violations of the Fair Housing Act and the Rehabilitation Act.
- Defendants' discriminatory refusal to accommodate the Ferguson family also frustrates Montana Fair Housing's corporate mission to promote fair housing, and frustrates its ability to refer its staff, members, and constituents with disabilities who may need reasonable accommodations to El Dorita.
- On or about January 29, 1996, Alecia Ferguson, on behalf of herself and her minor daughters, Ashley and Abigail, and Montana Fair Housing, both timely filed complaints with the Human Rights Commission of the State of Montana and with HUD, pursuant to the Fair Housing Act, 42 U.S.C. § 3610(a), and the Rehabilitation Act, 29 U.S.C. § 794 and 24 C.F.R. § 8.56. The complaints alleged, inter alia, that the Defendants had improperly refused to grant the Ferguson family a reasonable accommodation necessary to provide them equal opportunity to use and enjoy a dwelling and necessary to provide them an equal opportunity to benefit from a program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.
- As required by the Fair Housing Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 3610(a) and (b), the Secretary of HUD (hereinafter the "Secretary") has conducted an investigation of the complaints, attempted conciliation without success, and prepared a final investigative report. Based on the information gathered in this investigation, the Secretary, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 3610(g)(1), has determined that reasonable cause exists to believe that a discriminatory housing practice has occurred. Therefore, on September 30, 1999, the Secretary issued a Charge of Discrimination pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 3610(g)(2)(A), charging the Defendants with engaging in discriminatory practices in violation of the Fair Housing Act, 42 U.S.C. § 3604.
- On October 26, 1999, both the Ferguson family and Defendants elected to have the charges resolved in a federal civil action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 3612(a).
- The Defendants thereafter agreed that the deadline for filing this action would be extended beyond the statutory period of thirty days from the date of the federal court election, until December 22, 1999. The Complaint was therefore timely filed.
- After the filing of the Complaint in this matter, HUD's Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity issued Final Determinations of Noncompliance with Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as amended, 29 U.S.C. § 794, against Defendant El Dorita Partnership. HUD had previously performed an investigation and issued Preliminary Findings of Noncompliance with the Rehabilitation Act, pursuant to 24 C.F.R. § 8.56. Pursuant to 24 C.F.R. § 8.57, and upon the request of Defendant El Dorita Partnership, HUD then referred the Rehabilitation Act Determinations to the Department of Justice for resolution.
WHEREFORE, the United States prays that this Court enter an ORDER that:
- Declares that the Defendants' discriminatory housing practices violate the Fair Housing Act, as amended, 42 U.S.C. §§ 3601 et seq., and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as amended, 29 U.S.C. § 794;
- Enjoins the Defendants, their officers, agents, employees, and successors, and all other persons in active concert or participation with any of them, from discriminating against people with disabilities, including, inter alia, refusing to grant reasonable accommodations to tenants;
- Awards such damages as will fully compensate Alecia Ferguson, Ashley Ferguson, Abigail Ferguson, and Montana Fair Housing for all injury occasioned by the Defendants' denial of equal housing opportunity, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 3612(o)(3) and 3613(c) and 29 U.S.C. § 794a; and
- Awards punitive damages because of the intentional and willful nature of the Defendants' conduct, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 3612 (o)(3) and 3613(c).
The United States further prays for such additional relief as the interests of justice may require.
Bill Lann Lee
Acting Assistant Attorney General
Joan A. Magagna
Chief, Housing and Civil Enforcement Section
Brian F. Heffernan
Lauren E. Willis
Housing and Civil Enforcement Section
Civil Rights Division
Department of Justice
P.O. Box 65998
Washington, D.C. 20035-5998
Sherry Scheel Matteucci
United States Attorney
William W. Mercer
Asst. United States Attorney
Post Office Box 8329
Missoula, Montana 59807 > >