503 F.3d 1092 (9th Cir. 2007), 05-35647, Garcia v. Brockway

Docket Nº:05-35647, 06-15042.
Citation:503 F.3d 1092
Party Name:Noll GARCIA, Plaintiff-Appellant, State Farm Fire and Casualty Company, Intervenor-Appellee, v. Dennis BROCKWAY; Robert Stewart; Stewart Miles & Associates, Defendants-Appellees, and Zavoshy Rev. Inter Vivos Trust; J.J. Zavoshy; Y.W. Zavoshy; H & H Properties, Defendants. Tamara Thompson; Disabled Rights Action Committee (a Utah non-profit corporat
Case Date:September 20, 2007
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit
 
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Page 1092

503 F.3d 1092 (9th Cir. 2007)

Noll GARCIA, Plaintiff-Appellant,

State Farm Fire and Casualty Company, Intervenor-Appellee,

v.

Dennis BROCKWAY; Robert Stewart; Stewart Miles & Associates, Defendants-Appellees,

and

Zavoshy Rev. Inter Vivos Trust; J.J. Zavoshy; Y.W. Zavoshy; H & H Properties, Defendants.

Tamara Thompson; Disabled Rights Action Committee (a Utah non-profit corporation), Plaintiffs-Appellants,

v.

Gohres Construction Co., a Nevada corporation; Marc Gohres, Defendants,

and

Michael E. Turk, Defendant-Appellee.

Nos. 05-35647, 06-15042.

United States Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit.

September 20, 2007

Argued and Submitted April 9, 2007.

Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of Idaho Mikel H. Williams, Magistrate Judge, Presiding, D.C. No. CV-03-00193-MHW

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Ken Nagy, Keeton and Tait, Lewiston, ID; Maria E. Andrade, Huntley Park, Boise, ID, for plaintiff-appellant Noll Garcia.

Candy W. Dale, Hall, Farley, Oberrecht & Blanton, P.A., Boise, ID, for defendant-appellee Dennis Brockway.

Kirtlan G. Naylor and Carlton R. Ericson, Naylor & Hales, P.C., Boise, ID, for defendants-appellees Robert Stewart and Stewart-Miles & Associates.

Jed W. Manwaring, Evans Keane LLP, Boise, ID, for amicus curiae Idaho Association of Realtors, in support of appellees.

Richard Armknecht, III, Armknecht & Cowdell, P.C., Lindon, UT, for plaintiffs-appellants Tamara Thompson and Disabled Rights Action Committee.

William P. Curran and Joshua H. Reisman, Curran & Parry, Las Vegas, NV, for defendant-appellee Michael E. Turk.

Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of Idaho; Mikel H. Williams, Magistrate Judge, Presiding. D.C. No. CV-03-00193-MHW.

Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of Nevada; Edward C. Reed, Jr., District Judge, Presiding. D.C. Nos. CV-03-00193-MHW, CV-05-00156-ECR.

Before: ALEX KOZINSKI, RAYMOND C. FISHER and RICHARD C. TALLMAN, Circuit Judges.

KOZINSKI, Circuit Judge:

We consider when the statute of limitations begins to run in a design-and-construction claim under the Fair Housing Act (FHA).

Facts

In these consolidated cases, plaintiffs appeal the district court's determination that their FHA design-and-construction claim was time-barred by the two-year statute of limitations. The fact patterns in these cases (at summary judgment) differ in several significant respects:

Garcia v. Brockway, No. 05-35647: In 1993, Dennis Brockway built the South Pond Apartments in Boise, Idaho, and sold the last unit in 1994. In 1998, the Idaho Fair Housing Council filed an administrative complaint with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), and in 2001 Brockway entered into a conciliation agreement with HUD and the Idaho Fair Housing Council that resolved the complaint and provided a fund to pay for accessibility modifications to any unit for any resident with a disability.

In 2001, plaintiff Noll Garcia rented a unit at South Pond and resided there until 2003. Because of a disability Garcia uses a wheelchair for mobility. While at South Pond, his apartment did not comply with the design-and-construction requirements of the FHA. It lacked curb cuts from the parking lot to the sidewalk, it didn't have a ramp to the front entrance door and the doorways were too narrow to allow clear passage of a wheelchair. Garcia's requests that management make accessibility improvements were ignored, as was his request that management build a ramp to his door or that he be relocated to a more

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accessible unit. Within two years of leasing the apartment, Garcia sued the original builder and architect (Brockway and Robert Stewart, respectively), and the current owners and management (the Zavoshy defendants). The district court granted summary judgment in favor of Brockway and Stewart because Garcia's design-and-construction claim was not filed within the limitations period. The court denied the Zavoshy defendants' summary judgment on the accommodations and interference claims, and they subsequently settled. Garcia appeals the summary judgment in favor of Brockway and Stewart.

Thompson v. Gohres Construction Co., No. 06-15042: In 1997, Gohres Construction built the Villas at Rancho del Norte in North Las Vegas, Nevada. Shortly thereafter, the Villas were issued a final certificate of occupancy, and the property was sold through foreclosure in 2001. Defendant Michael Turk is the most recent owner. In 1997, the Disabled Rights Action Committee (DRAC) filed a complaint with HUD, and HUD terminated the complaint in 2001 because the complainants, as "testers," lacked standing. We subsequently held that testers have standing to sue under the FHA. See Smith v. Pac. Props. & Dev. Corp., 358 F.3d 1097, 1104 (9th Cir. 2004).

In 2004, plaintiff Tamara Thompson, a member of DRAC, "tested" the Villas and found discriminatory conditions- including an inaccessible building entrance, no curb cuts for the handicapped parking spaces and inadequate access to the pool. Within a year of Thompson's inspection, plaintiffs Thompson and DRAC sued Turk, Marc Gohres and Gohres Construction, asserting an FHA design-and-construction claim. The district court granted defendants' motion to dismiss because the claim was time-barred. We granted plaintiffs' motion to voluntarily dismiss the appeal as to Gohres and Gohres Construction. Plaintiffs thus only appeal the district court's order with respect to Turk.

Analysis

The FHA prohibits the design and construction of multi-family dwellings that do not have certain listed accessibility features. 42 U.S.C. § 3604(f)(3)(C). The statute provides three enforcement mechanisms. First, an administrative complaint may be initiated with HUD, see id. §§ 3610-3612, and remedies include actual damages to the aggrieved person, civil penalties and injunctive relief. See 24 C.F.R. § 180.670(b)(3). An aggrieved person —i.e., any person who "claims to have been injured by a discriminatory housing practice," 42 U.S.C. § 3602(i)(1)-must file the complaint "not later than one year after an alleged discriminatory housing practice has occurred or terminated." Id. § 3610(a)(1)(A)(i). HUD may also file a complaint sua sponte; it's unclear whether HUD is subject to the same limitations period. See id.

Second, the Attorney General may bring a civil action if a defendant has "engaged in a pattern or practice of resistance" to FHA rights, or if a "group of persons has been denied any [FHA] rights . . . and such denial raises an issue of general public importance." Id. § 3614(a). The FHA does not provide a statute of limitations for these actions, and other courts have held that such actions seeking equitable relief are not subject to any time limit. See, e.g., United States v. Inc. Vill. of Island Park, 791 F.Supp. 354, 364-68 (E.D.N.Y. 1992); United States v. City of Parma, 494 F.Supp. 1049, 1094 n.63 (N.D. Ohio 1980). Actions seeking damages are subject to the general three-year statute of limitations, see 28 U.S.C. § 2415(b), and those for civil penalties must be "commenced within five years from the date when the claim first accrued." Id. § 2462.

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The third enforcement mechanism—the one at issue here—is a private civil action. The FHA provides that "[a]n aggrieved person may commence a civil action in an appropriate United States district court or State court not later than 2 years after the occurrence or the termination of an alleged discriminatory housing practice." 42 U.S.C. § 3613(a)(1)(A). In other words, an aggrieved person must bring the lawsuit within two years of either "the occurrence . . . of an alleged discriminatory housing practice" or "the termination of an alleged discriminatory housing practice." Here, the practice is the "failure to design and construct" a multifamily dwelling according to FHA standards.1 Id. § 3604(f)(3)(C). The statute of limitations is thus triggered at the conclusion of the design-and-construction phase, which occurs on the date the last certificate of occupancy is issued. In both cases, this triggering event occurred long before plaintiffs brought suit.2

Plaintiffs advance three theories that would extend the limitations period to cover their lawsuits. We address each in turn.

1. Plaintiffs contend that an FHA design-and-construction violation is a continuing one that does not terminate until the building defects are cured. The Supreme

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Court has held that "where a plaintiff, pursuant to the Fair Housing Act, challenges not just one incident of conduct violative of the Act, but an unlawful practice that continues into the limitations period, the complaint is timely when it is filed within [the statutory period, running from] the last asserted occurrence of that practice." Havens Realty Corp. v. Coleman, 455 U.S. 363, 380-81, 102 S.Ct. 1114, 71 L.Ed.2d 214 (1982) (footnote omitted). Congress has since codified this continuing violation doctrine by amending the FHA to include both "the occurrence [and] the termination of an alleged discriminatory housing practice" as events triggering the two-year statute of limitations. 42 U.S.C. § 3613(a)(1)(A) (emphasis added).

Plaintiffs claim Congress's insertion of "termination" would be meaningless if it weren't read as termination of the design-and-construction defect. HUD's Fair Housing Act Design Manual supports this reading: "With respect to the design and construction requirements, complaints could be filed at any time that the building continues to be in noncompliance, because the discriminatory housing practicefailure to design and construct the building in compliancedoes not...

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