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FLYNN v. 3900 WATSON PLACE

August 5, 1999

WILLIAM B. FLYNN, JR., ET AL., PLAINTIFFS,
v.
3900 WATSON PLACE, INC., DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Roberts, District Judge.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

On August 10, 1998, plaintiff William B. Flynn, Jr., a co-owner and resident at a local cooperative apartment building, hit the building receptionist, called her a "bitch," and was arrested and charged with assault.*fn1 This was neither his first nor last act that triggered a complaint.*fn2 Between November of 1997 and August 18, 1998, the cooperative board received complaints that Mr. Flynn harassed a resident; harassed, yelled at, insulted, threatened and was verbally abusive toward the receptionist; damaged a car blocking his parking space; attempted to force entry into the switchboard cage; was drunk in public areas of the building; vandalized a resident's car, and twice stole plates from a resident's car.*fn3 Mr. Flynn did not attend a meeting to which the board had invited him where it considered his behavior and his continued residency.*fn4 The cooperative ultimately sued in D.C. Superior Court to evict plaintiffs.

One day before the scheduled Superior Court trial, plaintiffs filed in federal court a motion for a temporary restraining order essentially seeking to stop the local court trial.*fn5 They argued that the cooperative was illegally discriminating against them because of Mr. Flynn's alcoholism, a condition he first claimed only days before the scheduled trial.*fn6 Following a hearing the same day, this court denied the motion. The trial proceeded and the Superior Court awarded judgment to the cooperative.

Plaintiffs William and Francine Flynn allege in the instant complaint that the defendant housing cooperative, 3900 Watson Place, Inc., violated the Fair Housing Act, 42 U.S.C. § 3601, et seq., by discriminating against them on the basis of Mr. Flynn's alcoholism and hearing impairment. The defendant asserts that this claim is barred by the doctrine of res judicata because the claim arises out of a cause of action already litigated between the parties in the Landlord and Tenant Branch of D.C. Superior Court. The court concludes that District of Columbia law precludes relitigation of plaintiffs' Fair Housing Act claim in federal court because that claim arises from the same nucleus of facts as those adjudicated in the landlord-tenant court, and the plaintiffs had an opportunity to raise their Fair Housing Act claim as a defense in that proceeding. Therefore, as a matter of law, plaintiffs' claim must be dismissed with prejudice.*fn7

I. BACKGROUND

On February 17, 1999, trial was held in the Landlord and Tenant Branch of the Superior Court of the District of Columbia to determine whether the Flynns' residency rights could be lawfully terminated under the bylaws of 3900 Watson Place, Inc. and the terms of the Flynns' perpetual use and equity contract. 3900 Watson Place sought to terminate the Flynns' residency rights based upon the complaints received about Mr. Flynn's conduct.*fn8

The Flynns were represented by counsel at trial and were permitted to call witnesses, cross-examine witnesses, present evidence, and file a post-trial brief with that court before that court issued its decision on the merits of the case.*fn9 The Flynns were granted limited discovery fifteen days before trial,*fn10 and received discovery documents one week before trial.*fn11 The Flynns planned to but did not call a witness from the Psychiatric Institute because that witness reportedly was unavailable on the afternoon of February 17, 1999.*fn12

While the Flynns were prohibited by the Landlord and Tenant Branch's procedural rules from filing a counterclaim alleging a violation of the Fair Housing Act, see Super. Ct. R. Civ. P. L & T 5(b), the Flynns did raise their Fair Housing Act claim as a defense in the landlord-tenant possession action.*fn13 The Flynns voluntarily withdrew that defense at the end of the trial.*fn14

In a Memorandum and Order issued on March 18, 1999, Judge Burgess of the D.C. Superior Court determined that the Board of Directors at 3900 Watson Place "acted within their authority in terminating the residency rights of the [Flynns]."*fn15 Judge Burgess entered judgment for possession in favor of 3900 Watson Place and against the Flynns.

On February 16, 1999, the day before trial commenced in landlord-tenant court, the Flynns filed this action in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia alleging that 3900 Watson Place violated the Fair Housing Act by failing to accommodate Mr. Flynn's alcoholism and hearing impairment and by wrongfully terminating the Flynns' residency because of Mr. Flynn's disabilities. Defendant 3900 Watson Place has filed a brief urging this Court to dismiss plaintiffs' Fair Housing Act claim with prejudice because it is barred by the doctrine of res judicata, an affirmative defense asserted in defendant's Answer. The Court will treat defendant's brief as a motion for summary judgment.*fn16 Plaintiffs argue that res judicata does not bar their Fair Housing Act claim because they were not provided a full and fair opportunity to litigate their discrimination claim in the Landlord and Tenant Branch of the D.C. Superior Court.

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

Summary judgment may be granted in defendant's favor if there is no genuine issue as to any material fact, and the defendant demonstrates that he is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. See Fed. R.Civ.P. 56(c). It is the defendant who bears the initial burden of demonstrating that there are no genuine issues of material fact in dispute. See Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986). In reviewing the defendant's motion for summary judgment, this Court must draw all justifiable inferences in the plaintiffs' favor. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. 242, 255, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986).

The facts in this case are largely undisputed. The question which must be resolved is whether, viewing the facts in a light most favorable to the plaintiffs, defendant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law because the doctrine of res judicata bars plaintiffs' from pursuing their Fair Housing Act claim in federal district court.

Under 28 U.S.C. § 1738, federal courts are required "to give the same preclusive effect to state court judgments that those judgments would be given in the courts of the State from which the judgments emerged." Kremer v. Chemical Construction Corp., 456 U.S. 461, 466, 102 S.Ct. 1883, 72 L.Ed.2d 262 (1982). This Court must therefore look to the District of Columbia ...


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