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United States v. Avatar Properties, Inc.

United States District Court, D. New Hampshire

May 7, 2015

United States of America
v.
Avatar Properties, Inc., Midridge Condominium Assoc., Richard Morway and Stacey Diodati Opinion No. 2015 DNH 093

ORDER

LANDYA McCAFFERTY, District Judge.

The United States of America has sued in one count, on behalf of Edward Tirrell ("Edward"), Michaela Tirrell ("Michaela"), and Edward's minor son, all of whom once resided at the Midridge Condominium Complex ("Midridge"). The United States claims that defendants violated the Fair Housing Amendments Act of 1988 ("FHA"), 42 U.S.C. §§ 3601-3631, by denying the Tirrells' requests to use a parking area that would have given Edward, who has physical impairments, easier access to his unit than the parking area assigned to that unit. Before the court is defendants' motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim on which relief can be granted. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). The United States objects. For the reasons described below, defendants' motion to dismiss is denied.

I. The Legal Standard

Under Rule 12(b)(6), the court must accept the factual allegations in the complaint as true, construe reasonable inferences in the plaintiff's favor, and "determine whether the factual allegations in the plaintiff's complaint set forth a plausible claim upon which relief may be granted." Foley v. Wells Fargo Bank, N.A., 772 F.3d 63, 71 (1st Cir. 2014) (citation omitted). A claim is facially plausible "when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). Analyzing plausibility is "a context-specific task" in which the court relies on its "judicial experience and common sense." Id. at 679.

II. Background

The facts in this section are drawn from the complaint filed by the United States, document no. 1.

From 1999 until April of 2014, Michaela owned and lived in Unit 5 at Midridge. Edward and his minor son lived there with Michaela between 2011 and April of 2014. Midridge is governed by the Midridge Condominium Association ("Association"), and is managed by Avatar Properties ("Avatar"). Richard Morway was Avatar's on-site property manager, and Stacey Diodati was Avatar's liaison for Midridge.

Edward's left leg is partially paralyzed, which causes him to wear a leg brace. He also suffers from arthritis in his hips. As a result, he cannot walk for more than 50 feet without being at risk of falling, and he has difficulty going up or down stairs.

The parking area assigned to the Tirrells' unit at Midridge is located behind the unit, and was accessible from the unit by means of a nine-step stairway. There was another parking area designated for visitors only, which is located in front of the Tirrells' unit. That parking area is on the same level as the front door of the Tirrells' unit. Thus, that parking area was accessible to Edward without his having to ascend or descend a stairway.

In December of 2013, Michaela sent an accommodation request to Diodati, informing her that Edward needed to use the visitor parking area because it was too painful for him to use the stairway leading to his unit's designated parking area. Diodati forwarded the request to the Association's board of directors, which denied it without offering Edward any alternative to using his unit's designated parking area.

In January of 2014, the Tirrells directed a second request for an accommodation to Diodati and Morway. The Association's board also denied that request. Again, the Association declined to offer the Tirrells any alternative to using their unit's designated parking area.

Because he was denied access to a parking area located on the same level as the front door of his unit, Edward experienced difficulties getting to his vehicle. As a result of those difficulties, his physical condition has deteriorated. In April of 2014, the Tirrells moved out of Midridge.

In March 2014, the Tirrells filed a housing-discrimination complaint with the Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity of the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development ("HUD"). In due course, this action followed. In it, the United States claims that defendants violated 42 U.S.C. §§ 3604(f)(2) and (f)(3)(b) by ...


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