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Root v. Salazar

United States District Court, M.D. Florida, Orlando Division

August 27, 2019

KIRK ERNEST ROOT, Plaintiff,
v.
NILO SALAZAR, Defendant.

          ORDER

          JOHN ANTOON II JUDGE

         Plaintiff Kirk Root brought the instant action alleging that Defendant Nilo Salazar violated two provisions of the Fair Housing Act-42 U.S.C. §§ 3604(f)(1) and 3604(c)- and §§ 57.48 and 57.49 of the Orlando City Code. Root contends that Salazar made discriminatory statements indicating his intention to refuse tenancy to Root because of Root's disability and ultimately denied Root tenancy because of the disability. (Doc. 1). Root now moves for summary judgment. (Doc. 30).[1] As set forth below, Root's motion is denied on his claims under 42 U.S.C. § 3604(f)(1) and Orlando City Code § 57.48 but is granted on his claims under 42 U.S.C. § 3604(c) and Orlando City Code § 57.49.

         I. Background

         On January 7, 2017, Roottexted Salazar to inquire about renting one of the units in a duplex that Salazar owns in Orlando, Florida. (Ex. 1 to Root Decl.[2]). Root sought to take the place of the roommate of the unit's tenant. (Root Dep. at 32). Salazar responded to the text and emailed Root a rental application. (Salazar Dep. at 43). The application listed rental requirements including rent-to-income ratio, present and past rental history, and references. (Id. at 13-14).

         Within a few days, a friend of Root's, Tom Scala, contacted Salazar on Root's behalf and disclosed to Salazar that Root uses a wheelchair and occasionally crutches due to a mobility impairment.[3] (]d. at 53-54, 64-65). Salazar never met Root or spoke with him directly. (Id. at 55-56). After Salazar's conversation with Scala, Salazar researched the Fair Housing Act, Housing and Urban Development requirements, and Root himself. (Id. at 54-59).

         In researching Root online, Salazar discovered a Go Fund Me website that Root set up in December 2016 to ask for spare change. (Id. at 54). He also found a second Go Fund Me website that Root set up on January 8-one day after Root first texted Salazar- to ask for funds to help him pay the security deposit for a new apartment. (Id. at 61; Root Dep. at 43). Salazar never told Root that he had found these webpages. (Salazar Dep. at 61-62).

         On January 12, Salazar sent Root a text message stating:

After the conversation this morning I understand better the situation. It is unfortunately [sic], but I have to say the property that I will have available does not provide the accommodations suggested by the U.S. DEPARTMENT OF HOUSING AND URBAN DEVELOPMENT OFFICE OF FAIR HOUSING AND EQUAL OPPORTUNITY. When you read the section under: ACCESSIBILITY (DESIGN AND CONSTRUCTION) REQUIREMENTS FOR COVERED MULTIFAMILY DWELLINGS UNDER THE FAIR HOUSING ACT You [sic] realize my 1959 building does not comply with the guidelines establish [sic] on March 6, 1991. Renting that building to a handicap person with challenging mobility motor skills will be doing a dishonesty to that person. Furthermore, allowing the possibility of an accident that will further limit the person [sic] mobility will be a negligent act on my behalf.
I am sorry but I want all of us to be safe and avoid accidents. I have to say no. There are plenty [sic] properties out there that were built after 1991 that comply with the Fair Housing Act.

(Ex. 1 to Root Decl.). Salazar later repeated these and similar statements to an employee of the Orange County Citizen Resource and Outreach Office and to a City of Orlando discrimination investigator. (Ex. B to Gillespie Decl., at 3-5). Salazar did not mention finding the Go Fund Me webpages to these two individuals. (Salazar Dep. at 61-62).

         On January 17, Salazar was informed that Root had been staying at the duplex with the then-current tenant for several weeks without signing a lease, (Id. at 70). Salazar then changed the locks to the duplex, and Root's personal belongings were removed and returned to him. (Id. at 73-74; Root Dep. at 63-64). The tenant remained in the duplex without a roommate for the remainder of the lease term. (Salazar Dep. at 32). Root filed the present action on December 18, 2017.

         II. Legal Standard

         "The court shall grant summary judgment if 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 Court must construe the facts and all reasonable inferences therefrom in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Reeves v. Sanderson Plumbing Prods.. Inc.. 530 U.S. 133, 150 (2000). However, when faced with a "properly supported motion for summary judgment, [the nonmoving party] must come forward with specific factual evidence, presenting more than mere allegations." Gargiulo v. G.M. Sales. Inc.. 131 F.3d 995, 999 (11th Cir. 1997). "[A]t the summary judgment stage the judge's function is not himself to weigh the evidence and determine the truth of the matter but to determine whether there is a genuine issue for trial." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249 (1986). "Essentially, the inquiry is 'whether the evidence presents a sufficient disagreement to require submission to the jury or whether it is so onesided that one party must prevail as a matter of law.'" Sawyer v. Southwest Airlines Co., 243 F.Supp.2d 1257, 1262 (D. Kan. 2003) (quoting Anderson, 477 U.S. at 251-52).

         III. ...


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