250 F.3d 1039 (6th Cir. 2001), 00-3189, Groner v Golden Gate Gardens Apartments

Docket Nº:00-3189
Citation:250 F.3d 1039
Party Name:Howard Groner and Metropolitan Strategy Group, Plaintiffs-Appellants, v. Golden Gate Gardens Apartments, Midwest Management, Inc., Robert Goldberg, and Hillcrest Golden Gate, LLC, Defendants-Appellees.
Case Date:May 25, 2001
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit

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250 F.3d 1039 (6th Cir. 2001)

Howard Groner and Metropolitan Strategy Group, Plaintiffs-Appellants,

v.

Golden Gate Gardens Apartments, Midwest Management, Inc., Robert Goldberg, and Hillcrest Golden Gate, LLC, Defendants-Appellees.

No. 00-3189

United States Court of Appeals, Sixth Circuit

May 25, 2001

Argued: May 4, 2001

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Ohio at Cleveland. No. 99-00040, Patricia A. Gaughan, District Judge.

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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Edward G. Kramer, KRAMER & ASSOCIATES, Cleveland, Ohio, Diane E. Citrino, FAIR HOUSING LAW CLINIC, Cleveland, Ohio, for Appellants.

Brendan E. Delay, Cleveland, Ohio, for Appellees.

Before: SILER and GILMAN, Circuit Judges; DUGGAN, District Judge[*].

OPINION

RONALD LEE GILMAN, Circuit Judge.

Howard Groner and the Metropolitan Strategy Group, a nonprofit housing rights organization, brought suit against the owners and the manager of Golden Gate Gardens Apartments under the federal Fair Housing Act and Ohio's analogous anti-discrimination housing provisions. The dispute arose when Golden Gate threatened to evict Groner, a tenant with a known mental disability, following numerous complaints from another tenant about Groner's excessive noisemaking at all hours of the day and night. Groner alleges that Golden Gate's refusal to provide a reasonable accommodation that would have enabled him to remain in his apartment amounted to unlawful discrimination. The district court granted Golden Gate's motion for summary judgment, concluding that the defendants had attempted to reasonably accommodate Groner, albeit unsuccessfully. Groner now challenges that decision. For the reasons set forth below, we AFFIRM the judgment of the district court.

I. BACKGROUND

A. Factual background

The Golden Gate apartment complex is located in Mayfield Heights, Ohio. Groner, who suffers from schizophrenia and depression, moved into one of the apartments in April of 1997. Golden Gate was aware of his mental disability, but Groner was able to live independently and had no special needs. He paid his rent in a timely manner and properly maintained the condition of his apartment.

Diane Arter had lived in the apartment located directly above Groner's since 1992. Approximately four months after Groner moved in, she registered her first complaint with the apartment manager, Kathleen Boyle. Arter reported that she was unable to sleep because Groner was screaming and slamming doors within his apartment throughout the night. In response to this complaint, Boyle contacted Ray Gonzalez, Groner's social worker, to inform him of the problem created by Groner's behavior. The disturbances persisted during the next month and a half, causing Arter to file a second complaint. Boyle again notified Gonzalez, who replied that he was working with Groner to resolve the issue. Shortly thereafter, with no noticeable improvement, Arter complained a third time. Gonzalez was once again contacted by Boyle. This time, he informed her that he had counseled Groner

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to "scream into the pillow" to muffle the noises at night.

By May of 1998, Arter had registered a total of four or five complaints concerning Groner's noisemaking. Because the situation remained unchanged when Groner's year-to-year lease expired that month, Golden Gate did not renew the annual lease. Groner became a month-to-month tenant, whose tenancy could be terminated on 30-days' notice to vacate the premises.

During the period in question, Golden Gate soundproofed the front door to Groner's apartment in an attempt to lessen the noise. This was done after Arter complained that Groner's door-slamming had caused a picture to fall off the wall in her apartment and break. Golden Gate also gave Arter the option of moving to a different apartment within the complex, or terminating her lease without penalty. Arter, however, refused the offer, saying that it would be unfair to expect her to move as the solution to a problem caused by Groner's behavior.

When Arter complained again in August of 1998 about Groner's yelling and door-slamming, Boyle notified Groner that his month-to-month tenancy was not being renewed, and that he would have to vacate his apartment by November 1. Groner relayed this information to Gonzalez, who then contacted Boyle to ascertain why Groner's tenancy was being terminated. Boyle informed him that Groner's noisemaking had continued and was disturbing Arter.

In a letter dated October 5, 1998, Gonzalez requested that Groner's lease be renewed as a reasonable accommodation in light of his disability. When Gonzalez had received no response by October 13, he faxed the letter along with a cover sheet that asked Boyle to call him to discuss the matter further. Boyle then sent Gonzalez a response by fax, agreeing to grant Groner a one-month extension that would provide additional time for Gonzalez to develop a strategy to resolve Groner's noisemaking. The letter cautioned, however, that the extension was conditioned on Boyle not receiving any further complaints about Groner. Otherwise, he would have to vacate his apartment.

In a reply dated October 16, 1998, Gonzalez wrote that he was continuing to work with Groner on a weekly basis in an attempt to modify Groner's behavior. Gonzalez again requested that Golden Gate make reasonable accommodations for Groner by (1) providing him a regular, twelve-month lease and (2) contacting Gonzalez immediately upon the receipt of any complaints about Groner. On October 21, 1998, Boyle called Gonzalez to inform him that Groner could remain in his apartment until at least November 30.

Less than two weeks later, Arter complained that Groner's noisemaking had persisted. Again Boyle notified Gonzalez, who consulted with Groner. Groner allegedly told Gonzalez that he was no longer making any noise. Despite Groner's purported denial to Gonzalez, Boyle notified Groner by letter dated November 21, 1998 that his month-to-month tenancy would not be renewed and that he should plan to vacate his apartment by December 31. Gonzalez then phoned Boyle on December 2 to urge her to reconsider. Boyle, however, refused, stating that previous delays had not helped to resolve the problem and that it would be too burdensome for Golden Gate to continue apprising Gonzalez each time Groner caused a disturbance. By this point, Arter had registered approximately ten to twelve complaints concerning Groner's excessive noisemaking.

In an attempt to extend Groner's tenancy, Gonzalez wrote Boyle on December 14, 1998 to request a face-to-face meeting and to reiterate the request for a reasonable accommodation. Gonzalez's affidavit

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states that when he did not hear from Boyle, he left her a phone message on December 23 and wrote yet another letter on December 28, restating his desire to discuss these matters in person. Boyle apparently never responded to these final inquiries made by Gonzalez. When Groner had not vacated his apartment by December 31, 1998, Golden Gate served him with an eviction notice to leave by January 5, 1999. Groner moved from his apartment at some point thereafter without awaiting the final outcome of this litigation.

B. Procedural background

On January 8, 1999, Groner and the Metropolitan Strategy Group filed this suit pursuant to the federal Fair Housing Act (42 U.S.C. §§ 3601, 3604) and equivalent Ohio anti-discrimination provisions (Ohio Rev. Code Ann. § 4112.02). The complaint alleged that Golden Gate had violated federal and state fair housing laws when it threatened to evict Groner rather than provide a reasonable accommodation that would have enabled him to remain in his apartment. Groner filed a contemporaneous motion for emergency injunctive relief to prevent Golden Gate from evicting him. Golden Gate agreed not to take any action until a court-ordered mental health analysis of Groner took place. Accordingly, the preliminary injunction was denied as moot.

Golden Gate then filed its answer, as well as a counterclaim against the Metropolitan Strategy Group, asserting that Metropolitan was interfering with Arter's contractual and common law right to the quiet enjoyment of her apartment. On September 21, 1999, Golden Gate moved for summary judgment on all of Groner's claims. Groner requested leave to file a supplemental reply, which included an affidavit of Groner's treating psychiatrist to the effect that any loud noises he made were directly related to his mental disability. Golden Gate opposed this motion. The district court entered a marginal order denying Groner's motion to file the supplemental reply. On December 3, 1999, the district court granted Golden Gate's motion for summary judgment and dismissed the case. Golden Gate then moved to dismiss without prejudice its counterclaim against the Metropolitan Strategy Group. Upon the district court's grant of Golden Gate's motion, Groner filed the instant appeal.

II. ANALYSIS

A. Standard of review

We review de novo the district court's grant of summary judgment. See, e.g., Holloway v. Brush, 220 F.3d 767, 772 (6th Cir. 2000). Summary judgment is proper when there are no genuine issues of material fact in dispute and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). In deciding a motion for summary judgment, the court must view the evidence and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the nonmoving party. See Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986). The judge is not to "weigh the evidence and determine the truth of the matter but to determine whether there is a genuine issue for trial." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249 (1986). A genuine issue for trial exists only when there is sufficient "evidence on which the jury could reasonably find for the plaintiff." Id. at 252.

B. The district court did not err in...

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