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Friedel v. Park Place Community LLC

United States District Court, S.D. Florida

August 24, 2017




         THIS CAUSE is before the Court on Plaintiff George Friedel's Motion for Partial Summary Judgment on Defendant's Liability [DE 31]. The Court has carefully considered Plaintiff's Motion, Defendant's Memorandum of Law in Opposition thereto [DE 46], and Plaintiff's Reply [DE 53], and is otherwise fully advised in the premises. For the reasons set forth below, Plaintiff's Motion is DENIED.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff, George Friedel, filed his Complaint and Demand for Jury Trial (the “Complaint”) [DE 1] on February 19, 2017. In his Complaint, Plaintiff alleges that he resides in a manufactured home community operated by Defendant, Park Place Community LLC. See DE 1 ¶¶ 5-6. Plaintiff further alleges that Defendant has demanded that Plaintiff remove Maggie, Plaintiff's ten-year-old golden retriever, from his home or face eviction. See Id. ¶¶ 9, 21. According to Plaintiff, this demand violates the Fair Housing Act, 42 U.S.C. § 3601 et seq. In support of this claim, Plaintiff alleges that he is disabled and that Maggie is an emotional support animal. See Id. ¶¶ 7-8, 22. As Defendant's demand for Maggie's removal forces Plaintiff to choose between his home and his emotional support animal, Plaintiff alleges that Defendant has made unavailable or denied a dwelling to Plaintiff because of a handicap in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 3604(f)(1)(A). See Id. ¶¶ 31-33.

         On July 21, 2017, Plaintiff filed the Motion presently before the Court, seeking partial summary judgment as to Defendant's liability for violation of the Fair Housing Act. See DE 31. Upon review of Plaintiff's Motion and the parties' respective filings in opposition thereto and in support thereof, the Court finds genuine disputes of material fact. Summary judgment is therefore inappropriate.


         Summary judgment is appropriate where “the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). The existence of a factual dispute is not by itself sufficient grounds to defeat a motion for summary judgment; rather, “the requirement is that there be no genuine issue of material fact.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-48 (1986). A dispute is genuine if “a reasonable trier of fact could return judgment for the non-moving party.” Miccosukee Tribe of Indians of Fla. v. United States, 516 F.3d 1235, 1243 (11th Cir. 2008) (citing Anderson, 477 U.S. at 247-48). A fact is material if “it would affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law.” Id. (citing Anderson, 477 U.S. at 247-48).

         In deciding a summary judgment motion, the Court views the facts in the light most favorable to the non-moving party and draws all reasonable inferences in that party's favor. See Davis v. Williams, 451 F.3d 759, 763 (11th Cir. 2006). The Court does not weigh conflicting evidence. See Skop v. City of Atlanta, 485 F.3d 1130, 1140 (11th Cir. 2007). Thus, upon discovering a genuine dispute of material fact, the Court must deny summary judgment. See id.


         “[S]ection 3604(f)(1) makes it unlawful to discriminate in the rental of, or to otherwise make unavailable or deny, a dwelling because of a disability of the renter or a person associated with the renter.” Hunt v. Aimco Properties, L.P., 814 F.3d 1213, 1222 (11th Cir. 2016) (citing 42 U.S.C. § 3604(f)(1)).[1] However, section 3604(f) does not “require[] that a dwelling be made available to an individual whose tenancy would constitute a direct threat to the health or safety of other individuals or whose tenancy would result in substantial physical damage to the property of others.” 42 U.S.C. § 3604(f)(9).[2] The Court concludes that genuine disputes of material fact exist as to whether Plaintiff has a disability and whether permitting Maggie to remain with Plaintiff constitutes a direct threat within the meaning of the Fair Housing Act. These disputes provide two independent bases for denying summary judgment.

         A. Disability

         Under the Fair Housing Act, the term “handicap”[3] includes “(1) a physical or mental impairment which substantially limits one or more of [a] person's major life activities, (2) a record of having such an impairment, or (3) being regarded as having such an impairment.” 42 U.S.C. § 3604(h); see also Hunt, 814 F.3d at 1222 (quoting 42 U.S.C. § 3604(h)(1)). The phrase “physical or mental impairment” includes any physiological disorder or condition affecting the cardiovascular system. 24 C.F.R. § 100.201(a)(1). The phrase “physical or mental impairment” also includes “[a]ny mental or psychological disorder, such as . . . emotional or mental illness, ” and “such diseases and conditions as . . . heart disease . . . [and] emotional illness.” 24 C.F.R. § 100.201(a)(2). The phrase “major life activities” includes “functions such as caring for one's self, performing manual tasks, walking, seeing, hearing, speaking, breathing, learning and working.” 24 C.F.R. § 100.201(b).

         In this case, a genuine dispute of material fact exists as to whether Plaintiff has a disability within the meaning of the Fair Housing Act. Plaintiff has submitted evidence that he suffers from depression and heart disease and that the symptoms of his depression worsen in Maggie's absence, substantially limiting his daily function. See, e.g., DE 32, Declaration of George Friedel at ¶¶ 8-10, 12 (stating that Plaintiff “was despondent, felt hopeless, had trouble getting out of bed and frequently cried” without Maggie and that Plaintiff's “depression and anxiety over possibly having to be separated from Maggie contributed to [a] panic attack”); DE 30-7, Declaration of Kathleen Friedel at ¶¶ 5-7 (stating that Plaintiff's depression causes prolonged periods of lethargy and withdrawal, difficulty sleeping, concentrating, and getting out of bed, crying spells, and irritability); DE 30-11, January 11, 2017 Letter from Guillermo F. Morel, M.D. (stating that Plaintiff “suffers from several chronic medical conditions including coronary atherosclerosis and heart failure, ” that Plaintiff “has a history of suffering from Major Depression, ” that Plaintiff's depression has recently recurred, and that Plaintiff's depression “substantially limits his daily function, including cognition and self-care”); DE 30-15, May 5, 2017 Letter from Richard Levandowski, M.D. (stating that Plaintiff “is under stress in recurrence of depression, which is helped by his attachment and caring for his dog Maggie”). However, this evidence is directly contradicted by Plaintiff's medical records, which indicate that between March 10, 2016[4] and January 30, 2017, [5] Plaintiff's depression was in full remission. See DE 46-2. The Court also notes that Defendant has submitted evidence calling into question the accuracy of Dr. Levandowski's letter. See DE 44, Deposition of George Friedel at 61:1-62:19 (acknowledging that the last time Dr. Levandowski saw Plaintiff was two or three years ago and that Dr. Levandowski was unaware that Dr. Morel had diagnosed Plaintiff's depression as in remission). Whether Plaintiff does in fact have a disability-a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more of his major life activities-must therefore be determined by the jury. Accordingly, Plaintiff is not entitled to summary judgment on his claim that Defendant has made unavailable or denied a dwelling to Plaintiff because of a disability in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 3604(f)(1)(A).

         B. ...

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