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Hollis v. Chestnut Bend Homeowners Association

United States District Court, M.D. Tennessee, Nashville Division

September 10, 2014

CHARLES M. HOLLIS, JR., and MELANIE HOLLIS, Individually and as Next Friends for H.H. and C.A.H., two minors, Plaintiffs,
v.
CHESTNUT BEND HOMEOWNERS ASSOCIATION and WESTWOOD PROPERTY MANAGEMENT, LLC, Defendants.

MEMORANDUM

ALETA A. TRAUGER, District Judge.

This case is again before the court on a Motion for Summary Judgment filed by defendant Chestnut Bend Homeowners Association (the "CBHA") (Docket No. 22). The court previously granted summary judgment to the CBHA. Hollis v. Chestnut Bend Homeowners Assoc. et al., 974 F.Supp.2d 1096 (M.D. Tenn. 2013). Upon appeal, the decision was vacated and remanded with instructions to apply a proper summary judgment framework to the plaintiffs' claims. See Hollis v. Chestnut Bend Homeowners Assoc. et al., ___ F.3d ___, No. 13-6434, 2014 WL 3715088 (6th Cir. July 29, 2014.) For the reasons discussed herein, the defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment will be denied and the plaintiffs' claims will proceed to trial.

FACTUAL BACKGROUND[1]

The facts of this case have been described thoroughly by this court and the Sixth Circuit. See 974 F.Supp.2d 1096, 1097 (M.D. Tenn. 2013); see also 2014 WL 3715088, at *1-5. For purposes of context, however, the court will briefly describe the events underlying the plaintiffs' claims.

I. Overview

In late 2011 and early 2012, Charles and Melanie Hollis lived with their five children, including two minors who are physically and mentally disabled, in a home they owned in Franklin, Tennessee. Their home was situated in a residential subdivision known as Chestnut Bend. The defendant, the CBHA, is an organization of homeowners within the Chestnut Bend community that is responsible for managing the subdivision. A board of five members governs the CBHA and is responsible for appointing members of various committees (the "Board"). The CBHA employs a property manager, Westwood Property Management ("Westwood"), to handle daily affairs. Mary Jean Turner, employed by Westwood, met and corresponded regularly with the Board during the relevant period.

Properties within Chestnut Bend are subject to various covenants, conditions, and restrictions. One such covenant precludes homeowners from building above-ground structures or improvements until the homeowner receives approval from the CBHA's Architectural Review Committee (the "ARC"). The ARC is comprised of three members, all of whom are appointed by the Board.

Homeowners submit architectural improvement applications to Turner, using a form that requires disclosure of various specifications of the proposed improvement. At all relevant times, Turner was in charge of reviewing homeowners' applications, to ensure their completeness, and party. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986); Brown v. United States, 583 F.3d 916, 919 (6th Cir. 2009). then submitting the applications to the ARC members for review. The ARC members would review the proposal and convey their decision to Turner.

In March 2011, Mrs. Hollis sent an email to an ARC member declaring the Hollises' intention to add a sunroom to their house. The Hollises stated that the purpose of the sunroom was to add a "particularized living environment" for H.H. and C.A.H. that was "therapeutically designed to stimulate their development." The first proposal was incomplete and the ARC rejected it, for reasons detailed in this court's September 24, 2013 Opinion. 974 F.Supp.2d at 1099-1101. Over several months, the Hollises submitted two additional proposals to the ARC, which were also rejected for a variety of reasons, including the applications' deficiencies. Id. at 1101-05. Because of the numerous applications filed by the Hollises and discord that arose among the parties over time, the Board became involved in the review process of the Hollises' applications (in conjunction with the ARC).

II. The December Request

The fourth application submitted by the Hollises is the only application at issue here. 2014 WL 3715088 at *2. On December 6, 2011, the Hollises' attorney, Tracey McCartney, submitted a complete application to the ARC (the "December Request"). The December Request expressly stated that the plaintiffs' addition "is to be a reasonable modification of the Hollis home under the federal Fair Housing Act." After the Board reviewed and discussed the proposal at the December meeting, the Board's attorney, Bob Notestine, prepared an "approval letter" that included a "request for consideration of a shingled roof, " instead of the metal roof proposed by the plaintiffs in their December Request ("December Board Letter"). The December Board Letter, which Notestine sent to the Hollises' attorney on December 15, 2011, stated that the "ARC prefers not to approve a metal roof" because "there is some feeling that approval of metal roofs could create a new standard or at least would cause confusion about the shingle roof preference" of the neighborhood. Notestine further requested assurances, on behalf of the Board, that H.H. and C.A.H.'s exercise equipment, which the plaintiffs mentioned would be stored in the sunroom, would not be left outside. The letter concluded: "Please review these comments and advise if your client would agree to the above... requests by the ARC. If so, I would suspect that approval will be forthcoming."

McCartney responded to the December Board Letter on the same day. McCartney wrote that her clients would consider the shingled roof option but were leaning towards a metal roof. She further explained that cost was a consideration with regard to the roofing material. McCartney's response also directed Notestine to a letter sent by Turner on October 31, 2011, which stated that a metal roof was permissible under the ARC's guidelines. (Docket No. 25, Ex. 5 (citing Docket No. 31, Ex. 6 at 23).) She wrote that she would consult with her clients about the shingled roof consideration but requested that the ARC honor the October letter and approve the proposed metal roof. Notestine forwarded McCartney's December 15, 2011 letter to Turner, who in turn forwarded it to the board members. At least one board member immediately responded: "We said it in writing so we honor it. Our request for alternate roofing has been acknowledged; perhaps they will come through on it."

On December 16, 2011, McCartney followed up with Notestine. In a letter, she wrote that the Hollis family would be moving forward with a metal roof, which was acceptable per Turner's October 31, 2011 letter and the ARC guidelines, because "[a] metal roof has a number of advantages for the Hollises, including cost and relative ease of installation." The letter further stated that the Hollises prefer metal because of the sensory stimulation that it can provide for H.H. and C.A.H. McCartney wrote that the Hollises would proceed with legal options if the ARC did not "consent[] to the design as submitted, metal roof included, " within six days.

A month passed before Notestine responded to McCartney's letter. On January 16, 2012, Notestine replied to McCartney by email, copying Turner:

I obviously was unable to get back to you by December 22, 2011. The end of the year was particularly hectic for me (as was the start of this year). You stated in your letter that your clients would proceed "with available legal ...

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