United States District Court, D. Oregon
OPINION AND ORDER
Michael J. McShane United States District Judge.
Sarah Sanders and Jo Sanders, bring this housing
discrimination action against SWS Hilltop, LLC and William
Seidl. In 2016, Jo Sanders moved to Lincoln City, Oregon with
her daughter, Sarah Sanders, and 4-year-old granddaughter.
While living out of a hotel room, Plaintiffs inquired about a
vacancy at Defendants' Hilltop Apartments complex. Their
application indicated that Jo Sanders owned a service dog.
Despite qualifying for the apartment, Defendants discouraged
Plaintiffs from pursuing a lease agreement, demanding an
inflated deposit and refusing to install clean carpeting.
Plaintiffs re-inquired about the apartment one week later,
this time without the dog, but received no response from
Defendants. After remaining homeless for two months,
Plaintiffs filed the instant suit, alleging disability
discrimination under both state and federal fair housing law.
The parties now move for summary judgment. Because no
rational trier of fact could find that Defendants'
actions were primarily motivated by anything other than
discriminatory intent, Plaintiffs' motion is
February 27, 2016, Jo Sanders moved to Lincoln City, Oregon
with her daughter, Sarah Sanders, and 4-year-old
granddaughter. Sanders Dep. 138:12-23. When Plaintiffs
arrived, they lacked permanent housing and were living out of
a hotel room. Sanders Dep. 138:12-23. On March 5, as part of
their effort to secure permanent housing, Sarah Sanders
called Hilltop Apartments to inquire about a vacant unit.
Suckow Dep. 41:9-16. She spoke with Krisitin Suckow,
property manager for the apartment complex, and was
encouraged to apply for the unit. Suckow Dep. 9:11-15,
41:9-16; Seidl Dep. 9:24-10:1.
March 11, Sarah Sanders completed and submitted an online
application. Ellis Decl., Ex. 11 at 3-4. The application
represented that Jo Sanders owned a “VA registered
service animal” which was “trained with
documentation.” Ellis Decl., Ex. 11 at 4. Jo Sanders
suffers from diabetes, congestive heart failure, high blood
pressure, vision impairment, and has difficulty walking and
balancing. Sanders Dep. 88:15-19. She previously owned a dog,
River, which she trained to detect changes in her insulin
levels and assist with her balance. Sanders Dep. 26:18-21;
Sanders Dep. 92:17-20. At the time of her application, Jo
Sanders owned a puppy, Winston, which was undergoing basic
obedience training. Sanders Dep. 25:22-26:15. She intended to
train Winston in substantially the same manner as River.
Sanders Dep. 26:8-20.
Ms. Suckow received Plaintiffs' application, she
contacted William Seidl. Suckow Decl. 1. Mr. Seidl is a
member and the manager of SWS Hilltop, LLC, the entity which
owns Hilltop Apartments. Seidl Dep. 9:15-23. Despite the
apartment complex's policy of allowing animals in their
units, Mr. Seidl stated that he was “[n]ot super
excited about a 50 pound (probably larger) dog on new
carpet” and noted that Plaintiffs were “pretty
tight on income, ” suggesting a $1200 deposit. Ellis
Decl., Ex. 11 at 3. After Ms. Suckow responded that
Defendants could not seek a deposit for service animals, Mr.
Seidl repeated that he did not want to replace the “old
and warn out carpet . . . since [Jo Sanders] has a large
service animal.” Ellis Decl., Ex. 11 at 2.
“Hopefully she'll change her mind, ” he
continued, and instructed Ms. Suckow not to contact
Plaintiffs: “Lets [sic] make it tough . . . .”
Ellis Decl., Ex. 11 at 2.
March 15, Sarah Sanders called Ms. Suckow to follow up.
According to Ms. Suckow, she requested a second application
fee in accordance with Defendants' policy and repeated
the following scripted remarks provided by Mr. Seidl:
“[T]he owner hasn't yet decided about your
application. Your income barely meets our financial approval
limits and the carpet is old and worn out in that unit, and
the owner doesn't want to replace it and then put an
animal on it. So you're going to have a really high
deposit and old carpet.” Ellis Decl., Ex. 11 at 2;
Suckow Decl. 1. A few days earlier, the carpet had been
described by one employee as “FILTHY, NASTY, . . .
PUKE.” Ellis Decl., Ex. 8 at 1 (capitalization in
original). Sarah Sanders maintains that, although Ms. Suckow
related the carpet's condition and noted the missing
application fee, she also “stated there was no point
[to paying the second fee] because the owner was not going to
rent to us.” Sanders Dep. 158:4-16.
inquired once more about the apartment on March 17, this time
after giving away Winston. Ellis Decl., Ex 11 at 1; Sanders
Dep. 172:12-19. When Ms. Suckow informed Mr. Seidl that
Plaintiffs had given away their dog and wished to be
reconsidered, he instructed her not to return their call,
stating that “they'll just move the dog in later
and we won't be able to stop them.” Ellis Decl.,
Ex. 11 at 1. “Let's be picky, ” he continued,
“[w]e're coming into the time of the month when
responsible people are looking.” Ellis Decl., Ex. 11 at
1. Although the parties disagree as to whether they ever
discussed Plaintiffs formally withdrawing their application,
compare Seidl Decl. 2, with Sanders Dep.
166:12-20, they agree that Defendants issued a refund shortly
before the second inquiry and despite Plaintiffs having
offered to submit a second application fee. Ellis Decl., Ex.
11 at 1-2.
April 4, Jo Sanders, now living out of her car with Sarah
Sanders and her granddaughter, called Ms. Suckow to determine
why Plaintiffs' application had been denied. Sanders Dep.
172:12-17. Ms. Suckow asked her to submit the request in
writing, which she did that afternoon. Ellis Decl., Ex. 12 at
1. Defendants never responded. Suckow Dep. 72:1-9. Shortly
thereafter, and after remaining empty for nearly two weeks,
Defendants leased the unit to another applicant, Kelly Bay.
Ellis Decl., Ex. 13 at 1. Although Ms. Bay reported a lower
income than Plaintiffs, she did not own a dog and indicated
no plans to acquire one. Seidl Dep. 66:10-21. Three months
after starting her lease, Ms. Bay signed a Pet Agreement so
that her brother, who visited “on [an] occasional
basis, ” could bring his dog. Ellis Decl., Ex. 13 at 2.
February 15, 2017, Plaintiffs initiated the present action,
alleging disability discrimination under both state and
federal fair housing law. After completing discovery, the
parties filed cross-motions for summary judgment. The matter
is now before this Court. Because no rational trier of fact
could conclude that Defendants' actions were primarily
motivated by anything other than discriminatory intent,
Plaintiffs' Motion for Summary Judgment is GRANTED.
Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment is DENIED.
Court must 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). A fact is “material” if it
could affect the outcome of the case and an issue is
“genuine” if a reasonable jury could return a
verdict in favor of the non-moving party. Rivera v.
Phillip Morris, Inc., 395 F.3d 1142, 1146 (9th Cir.
2005) (citation omitted). When ruling on a motion for summary
judgment, the Court must view the evidence in the light most
favorable to the non-movant and draw all reasonable
inferences in its favor. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby,
Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986). If the movant carries
its burden, however, then the non-movant must present
“specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue
for trial.” Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith
Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586-87 (citation omitted).
The “mere existence of a scintilla of evidence in
support of the plaintiff's position, ”
Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255, as well as uncorroborated
allegations and “self-serving testimony, ”
Villiarimo v. Aloha Island Air, Inc., 281 F.3d 1054,
1061 (9th Cir. 2002), are insufficient to avoid summary
federal Fair Housing Act (“FHA”) makes it
unlawful to, inter alia, “discriminate in the
sale or rental, or to otherwise make unavailable or deny, a
dwelling” because of a renter or associated
person's disability. 42 U.S.C. § 3604(f)(1). Under the
FHA, discrimination claims are analyzed in the same manner as
claims under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, which
prohibits discrimination in employment. Gamble v. City of
Escondido, 104 F.3d 300, 304 (9th Cir. 1997). Although
Title VII, and therefore the FHA, allows plaintiffs to bring
claims under both disparate treatment and disparate impact
theories of liability, Comm. Concerning Cmty. Improvement
v. City of Modesto, 583 F.3d 690, 711 (9th Cir. 2009),
the plaintiffs here advance only disparate treatment claims,
Comp. ¶ 20. An individual suffers disparate treatment
“when he or she is singled out and treated less
favorably than others similarly situated on account of [his
or her disability].” Jauregui v. City of
Glendale, 852 F.2d 1128, 1134 (9th Cir. 1988) (citations
and quotation marks omitted). To prevail on a claim of