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Parshotam Chahil v. Episcopal Church Home

September 7, 2012

PARSHOTAM CHAHIL, PLAINTIFF,
v.
EPISCOPAL CHURCH HOME FRIENDSHIP, INC. T/A FRIENDSHIP TERRACE RETIREMENT HOME, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Robert L. Wilkins United States District Judge

SUMMARY MEMORANDUM AND OPINION; NOT INTENDED FOR PUBLICATION

MEMORANDUM OPINION*fn1

This matter is before the Court on Defendant Episcopal Church Home Friendship, Inc. t/a Friendship Terrace Retirement Home's ("FTR") Motion for Summary Judgment. (Dkt. No. 17). Plaintiff Parshotam Chahil ("Chahil"), a tenant of FTR, is a blind man of Indian descent and the Sikh faith. Chahil asserts six counts against FTR:

 Count I: That FTR discriminated against Chahil based on his blindness and failed to accommodate him under the Fair Housing Act ("FHA") and the District of Columbia Human Rights Act ("DCHRA") with regard to his evening meal program;

 Count II: That FTR discriminated against Chahil based on his race, national origin and religion under the FHA and DCHRA by failing to accommodate his dietary needs and exempt him from the evening meal program;

 Count III: That FTR discriminated against Chahil based on his blindness in violation of the FHA and DCHRA with regard to informational notices;

 Count IV: That FTR breached its lease with Chahil by failing to modify his rental rates in accordance with HUD regulations;  Count V: That FTR breached the anti-discrimination clause of its lease with Chahil; and  Count VI: That FTR is liable to Chahil for common law defamation/libel.

For the following reasons, FTR's Motion is GRANTED IN PART and DENIED IN PART. For purposes of this ruling, the Court will assume the reader is familiar with the factual assertions and arguments that the parties have made, and will not recite those again here.*fn2

ANALYSIS

A.Standard of Review

Summary judgment is appropriate when there is no genuine issue of material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. See Moore v. Hartman, 571 F.3d 62, 66 (D.C. Cir. 2009) (citing FED. R. CIV. P. 56(c) and Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247 (1986)). The "function of the court on a summary judgment motion is limited to ascertaining whether any factual issue pertinent to the controversy exists; it does not extend to resolution of any such issue." Weiss v. Kay Jewelry Stores, Inc., 470 F.2d 1259, 1261-62 (D.C. Cir. 1972) (internal citation and quotation marks omitted). A genuine issue of material fact exists if the evidence "is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248. A party, however, must provide more than "a scintilla of evidence" in support of its position; the quantum of evidence must be such that a jury could reasonably find for the moving party. Id. at 252. In considering a motion for summary judgment, the "evidence of the non-movant is to be believed, and all justifiable inferences are to be drawn in his favor." Id. at 255.

B.Count One: Discrimination and Failure to Accommodate Under the FHA And DCHRA Based On Disability (Blindness) With Regard To Mandatory Meal Program.

Chahil alleges that FTR unlawfully discriminated against him and failed to accommodate his blindness with regard to the mandatory evening meal program. (Compl. at ¶¶ 22-25). Chahil contends that FTR: 1) refused to read him the menu; 2) refused to provide appropriate utensils; 3) failed to inform him how to file a complaint about the food; 4) failed to accommodate his request to be exempted from the food program; and 5) failed to accommodate his dietary needs. (Id.). Because there is a genuine dispute of material fact, summary judgment is denied as to Count I.

1.FHA and DCHRA

Under the FHA, it is unlawful "[t]o discriminate against any person in the terms, conditions, or privileges of sale or rental of a dwelling, or in the provision of services or facilities in connection with such dwelling, because of [the person's] handicap." 42 U.S.C. § 3604(f)(2); Geter v. Horning Bros. Mgmt, 537 F. Supp. 2d 206, 209 (D.D.C. 2008). "Discrimination includes 'a refusal to make reasonable accommodations in rules, policies, practices, or services, when such accommodations may be necessary to afford such person equal opportunity to use and enjoy a dwelling.'" Id. (quoting 42 U.S.C. § 3604(f)(3)(B)). To succeed on a failure to accommodate claim under the FHA, a plaintiff must show:

1) He suffers from a handicap as defined by the [FHA]; 2) defendants knew or reasonably should have known of the plaintiff's handicap; 3) accommodation of the handicap 'may be necessary' to afford plaintiff an equal opportunity to use and enjoy the dwelling; and 4) defendants refused to make such accommodation.

Id. (citing Giebeler v. M & B Assocs., 343 F.3d 1143, 1147 (9th Cir. 2003)). According to the District of Columbia Court of Appeals, a landlord may only be held liable for a failure to accommodate if the landlord knew or should have known the tenant suffered from a handicap, as recognized by the FHA. Douglas v. Kriegsfeld Corp., 849 A.2d 951, 992 (D.C. 2004) (opinion superseded on other grounds by Douglas v. Kriegsfeld Corp., 884 A.2d 1109 (D.C. 2005)). Once a landlord is made aware of a needed accommodation, both parties must participate in an interactive process of good faith communications to identify the limitation resulting from the disability and a reasonable accommodation. Bartee v. Michelin North America, Inc., 374 F.3d 906, 916 (10th Cir. 2004) (citing Smith v. Midland Brake Inc., 180 F.3d 1154, 1171 (10th Cir. 1999)). It is not, however, sufficient for the tenant to show that the landlord failed to engage in an interactive process or that it caused the interactive process to break down. See Pantazes v. Jackson, 366 F. Supp. 2d 57, 70 (D.D.C. 2005) (internal citations omitted). The tenant must show that the result of the inadequate process was the failure of the landlord to fulfill its role in determining a reasonable accommodation. Id. Once the process has begun, both the employer and employee have a duty to act in good faith, "and the absence of good faith, including unreasonable delays caused by an employer, can serve as evidence" of a violation. Id. (emphasis added); see also Douglas, 884 A.2d at 1122-23 & n.23 (stating that any undue delay in responding to a tenant's request for a reasonable accommodation may itself constitute a failure to accommodate).

For purposes of this analysis, the relevant provisions of the FHA and the DCHRA will be construed under the same standards as the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) with regard to comparable sections of these statutes. The District of Columbia Court of Appeals has held:

When courts apply the reasonable accommodation provision of the Fair Housing Act, it is their established practice to rely on the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), 42 U.S.C. §§ 12101, 12102, and the Rehabilitation Act (RA), 29 U.S.C. § 794, both of which mandate an interactive process through which employers and employees explore what accommodations are reasonable. See 29 C.F.R. § 1630.2(o)(3) (1995); 29 C.F.R. pt. 1630 Appendix (1996); 29 U.S.C. § 794(d); Giebeler [v. M& B Assocs.], 343 F.3d [1143] at 1156-57 [9th Cir. 2003] (stating that court ordinarily applies RA case law in applying reasonable accommodation provisions of ...


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