United States District Court, E.D. Tennessee
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
A. VARLAN CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
civil action is before the Court on defendants' Motion
for Summary Judgment [Doc. 37], to which plaintiffs responded
[Doc. 44] and defendants replied [Doc. 50]. Also before the
Court is plaintiffs' Motion for Partial Summary Judgment
[Doc. 41], to which defendants responded [Doc. 48] and
plaintiffs replied [Doc. 42]. For the reasons contained
herein, the Court will grant in part and deny in part
defendants' motion for summary judgment, and deny
plaintiffs' motion for partial summary judgment.
Philip Istre is a resident of Sevier County who was diagnosed
with multiple sclerosis (“MS”) in or around 2007
or 2008 [Doc. 43 p. 2; Doc. 49 p. 2]. Plaintiff William
Chretien is also a resident of Sevier County and was
diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2011 [Doc. 43 p. 2; Doc. 49
p. 3]. On or about March 4, 2005, Chretien entered into a
residential lease with defendant Hensley Partnership for real
property located at Willa View, 428 Keegan Drive, Apartment
#28, Pigeon Forge, Tennessee 37863, for a term of four months
[Doc. 43 p. 2; Doc. 49 p. 2]. The term of the lease
automatically renewed for four-month terms unless otherwise
specified by the lessor or lessee [Doc. 43 p. 2; Doc. 49 p.
2]. Istre has resided with Chretien since 2005 [Doc. 43 p. 2;
Doc. 49 p. 2]. Defendant Marion Franklin has served as
property manager at Willa View since August 3, 2010 [Doc. 43
p. 2; Doc. 49 p. 2].
about July 9, 2013, plaintiffs requested accommodations for
Istre's MS. Specifically, plaintiffs asked defendants to
designate plaintiffs' assigned parking spot as a
handicapped spot, and also to construct a wheelchair ramp
permitting ingress and egress from the leased premises [Doc.
43 p. 3-4; Doc. 49 p. 5-6]. Plaintiffs assert that they
offered to pay for the construction of the ramp [Doc. 43 p.
4; Doc. 49 p. 6]. Although defendants denied these specific
requests, defendants offered to allow for the placement of a
portable ramp permitting ingress and egress [Doc. 39 p. 7;
Doc. 45 p. 12]. Defendants had also previously offered
plaintiffs the use of a handicap-accessible apartment unit,
but plaintiffs declined this offer [Doc. 43 p. 3; Doc. 49 p.
5]. Plaintiffs contend that they declined the offer of a
handicap-accessible unit in part because Istre was not able
to stand on the wooden floors featured in the
handicapped-accessible apartment [Doc. 43-11 p. 2; Doc. 43-12
July 9, 2013, Franklin sent plaintiffs a letter, which stated
that defendants had received numerous telephone calls from
several tenants with complaints of racial harassment by
plaintiffs [Doc. 43-39 p. 20; Doc. 43-15; Doc. 49 p. 9]. The
next day, on July 10, 2013, defendants further advised
plaintiffs by letter that they had five days to vacate the
unit due to late/non-payment of rent [Doc. 43 pp. 5-6; Doc.
49 p. 9]. Plaintiffs do not dispute that rent was unpaid at
this time [Doc. 45 p. 5]. Plaintiffs subsequently paid the
back rent, and defendants allowed them to remain in the unit
[Doc. 43 pp. 5-6; Doc. 49 p. 10].
three months later, in October 2013, plaintiffs renewed their
requests for a designated handicapped parking spot and that
they be permitted to install a permanent ramp [Doc. 43-17 pp.
2-3]. Defendants again denied these specific requests [Doc.
43 p. 6; Doc. 49 p. 10]. Defendants did, however, move
plaintiffs' parking spot and place yellow stripes
outlining the parking spot and an area next to the spot [Doc.
43 p. 6; Doc. 49 p. 11].
in May 2014, defendants allegedly accused plaintiffs of
having an inoperable vehicle and demanded its removal,
threatening to tow the vehicle if it were not removed [Doc.
43-37 pp. 15-16]. According to plaintiffs, defendants treated
plaintiffs differently in this situation from other tenants
[Id. at 17]. The next month, in June 2014,
plaintiffs again requested a permanent ramp and a designated
handicapped parking space [Doc. 43-23 pp. 2-3]. Defendants
again denied the specific requests, but offered, in addition
to a portable ramp, to provide a concrete bucket handicapped
sign that plaintiffs could move in and out of their parking
space in lieu of a designated handicapped parking spot
issue of untimely rent payments arose again in December,
2014. Defendants assert that Istre promised to pay the
December rent by December 12, 2014, which he failed to do
[Doc. 38-14 p. 49]. Istre states that he only promised to try
and pay rent by December 12, 2014, as opposed to promising to
actually pay it [Doc. 45 p. 6].
December 22, 2014, Franklin provided plaintiffs with an
eviction notice. [Doc. 38-5]. As grounds, the final eviction
notice provided: (1) “[l]ate/non-payment of
rent;” (2) “[n]on-payment of rent promised to pay
by 12/12/14 per Philip [Istre] $600 w/ late [fee];” (3)
“[d]isorderly conduct;” (4) “[h]arassment
of multiple tenants who have in the past occupied WV34, WV35,
WV 29, or still do;” (5) “[r]epeated rule
violations;” (6) “[v]andalism - damage to ceiling
in kitchen living area from broom/mop;” and (7)
“refusing pest control A/C filter change”
[Id.]. Plaintiffs submit that when they contacted
Franklin regarding the eviction, Franklin told them that they
were being evicted because “[Istre] had pushed her and
the tenants for the last time, ” and that she was
“tired of all the phone calls from [Istre] in
general” [Doc. 47-33 p. 34].
subsequently initiated the instant action, asserting claims
for violations of the Fair Housing Act (“FHA”),
42 U.S.C. § 3601, et seq.; Tennessee common law
breach of contract; violations of the Landlord Tenant Act,
Tenn. Code. Ann. § 66-28-101, et seq.; and
Tennessee common law conspiracy [Doc. 1]. Defendants moved
for summary judgment as to all claims [Doc. 37]. Plaintiffs
then moved for partial summary judgment [Doc. 41].
Standard of Review
judgment under Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil
Procedure is proper “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). The moving party bears the burden of establishing that
no genuine issues of material fact exist. Celotex Corp.
v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 330 n.2 (1986); Moore v.
Phillip Morris Cos., 8 F.3d 335, 339 (6th Cir. 1993).
All facts and all inferences to be drawn therefrom must be
viewed in the light most favorable to the non-moving party.
Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp.,
475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986); Burchett v. Kiefer, 301
F.3d 937, 942 (6th Cir. 2002).
the moving party presents evidence sufficient to support a
motion under Rule 56, the nonmoving party is not entitled to
a trial merely on the basis of allegations.” Curtis
Through Curtis v. Universal Match Corp., 778 F.Supp.
1421, 1423 (E.D. Tenn. 1991) (citing Celotex, 477
U.S. at 317). The plaintiff must offer “concrete
evidence from which a reasonable juror could return a verdict
in his favor.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby,
Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 256 (1986). “[M]ere conclusory
and unsupported allegations, rooted in speculation, do not
meet that burden.” Bell v. Ohio State Univ.,
351 F.3d 240, 253 (6th Cir. 2003) (citation omitted). Summary
judgment may not be defeated “based on rumors,
conclusory allegations, or subjective beliefs.”
Hein v. All Am. Plywood Co., 232 F.3d 482, 488 (6th
Cir. 2000). To establish a genuine issue as to the existence
of a particular element, the non-moving party must point to
evidence in the record upon which a reasonable finder of fact
could find in its favor. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248.
The genuine issue must also be material; that is, it must
involve facts that might affect the outcome of the suit under
the governing law. Hein, 232 F.3d at 488.
Court's function at the point of summary judgment is
limited to determining whether sufficient evidence has been
presented to make the issue of fact a proper question for the
factfinder. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 250. The Court
does not weigh the evidence or determine the truth of the
matter. Id. at 249. Nor does the Court search the
record “to establish that it is bereft of a genuine
issue of material fact.” Street v. J.C. Bradford
& Co., 886 F.2d 1472, 1479-80 (6th Cir. 1989). Thus,
“the inquiry performed is the threshold inquiry of
determining whether there is a need for a trial-whether, in
other words, there are any genuine factual issues that
properly can be resolved only by a finder of fact because
they may reasonably be resolved in favor of either
party.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 250.
there are cross-motions for summary judgment before the
Court, for the claims where both parties have moved for
summary judgment, the Court must look at the evidence in the
light most favorable to plaintiffs, and also look at the
evidence in the light most favorable to defendant, to
determine whether either party is entitled to summary
judgment. Matsushita Elec. Indus., 475 U.S. at 587;
Burchett, 301 F.3d at 942.
and defendants each moved for summary judgment on the FHA
claim based on failure to reasonably accommodate/ permit
modification. Defendants also moved for summary judgment on
all additional claims. The Court will discuss each claim in
Failure to Provide Reasonable
parties each moved for summary judgment on the failure to
reasonably accommodate/permit modification claim. Plaintiffs
argue that by refusing to construct a permanent ramp at
plaintiffs' expense, and by refusing to designate
plaintiffs' parking spot as a handicapped spot,
defendants failed as a matter of law to follow the mandates
of the FHA. Defendants counter by arguing that
plaintiffs' claims fail as a matter of law because the
requests were not reasonable, and that defendants offered to
make other reasonable accommodations, specifically the
portable ramp, new designated parking space, cement
handicapped sign, and the use of a handicapped apartment
prohibits discrimination in the sale or rental of housing
based on race, color, religion, sex, familial status,
national origin, or handicap. See 42 U.S.C. §
3604. The FHA defines “handicap” with respect to
a person as “(1) a physical or mental impairment which
substantially limits one or more of such person's major
life activities; (2) a record of having such an impairment,
or (3) being regarded as having such an impairment.”
Id. § 3602(h).
Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 3604(f)(3)(A), discrimination
a refusal to permit, at the expense of the handicapped
person, reasonable modifications of existing premises
occupied or to be occupied by such person if such
modifications may be necessary to afford such person full
enjoyment of the premises except that, in the case of a
rental, the landlord may where it is reasonable to do so
condition permission for a modification on the renter
agreeing to restore the interior of the premises to the
condition that existed before the modification, reasonable
wear and tear excepted.
Id. § 3604(f)(3)(A). Furthermore, pursuant to
§ 3604(f)(3)(B), discrimination also includes:
a refusal to make reasonable accommodations in rules,
policies, practices, or services, when such accommodations
may be necessary to afford such person equal ...