738 N.E.2d 1044 (Ind. 2000), 27S02-0004-CV-270, State, Civil Rights Com'n v. County Line Park, Inc.

Docket Nº:27S02-0004-CV-270.
Citation:738 N.E.2d 1044
Party Name:STATE of Indiana, CIVIL RIGHTS COMMISSION, Appellant-Plaintiff, v. COUNTY LINE PARK, INC., Paul D. Fox and Carolyn Fox, Appellees-Defendants.
Case Date:November 29, 2000
Court:Supreme Court of Indiana
 
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Page 1044

738 N.E.2d 1044 (Ind. 2000)

STATE of Indiana, CIVIL RIGHTS COMMISSION, Appellant-Plaintiff,

v.

COUNTY LINE PARK, INC., Paul D. Fox and Carolyn Fox, Appellees-Defendants.

No. 27S02-0004-CV-270.

Supreme Court of Indiana

November 29, 2000

Page 1045

[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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Jacquelyn Thompson, Indiana Civil Rights Commission, Indianapolis, Indiana, Attorney for Appellant.

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Mark E. Spitzer, Browne Spitzer Herriman, Stephenson Holderead & Musser, Marion, Indiana, Attorney for Appellees.

ON PETITION TO TRANSFER

RUCKER, Justice

Under the Indiana Fair Housing Act, it is unlawful to discriminate based on familial status. The Act defines familial status in part as a parent or custodian who is domiciled with "an individual" under the age of eighteen. We conclude that the Act also protects families living with more than one individual under the age of eighteen.

Factual and Procedural History

In December 1996, James and Martha Cain purchased a three-bedroom mobile home located in a mobile home park owned and operated by County Line Park, Inc. ("County Line"). The Cains submitted a written application to County Line to rent a lot in the park. The application indicated that in addition to the Cains their four children, ages sixteen, nine, six, and two, would also live in the home. Paul Fox, president of County Line, responded to the Cains that he was denying their application because of County Line's long-standing policy of not renting mobile home lots to families with more than two children.

In February 1997, James Cain filed an administrative complaint with the Indiana Civil Rights Commission ("Commission") and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development ("HUD"). Initially the complaint named County Line and Paul Fox as defendants and alleged discrimination in housing based on familial status and the disability of one of the Cains' children. The complaint was later amended to include Martha Cain as an additional plaintiff and Carolyn Fox, secretary of County Line, as an additional defendant. The Commission conducted an investigation and in January 1998 issued a notice that concluded there was reasonable cause to believe discrimination based on familial status had occurred in violation of the Indiana Fair Housing Act ("Act"), Ind.Code §§ 22-9.5-1-1 et seq., and the federal Fair Housing Act ("FHA"), 42 U.S.C. §§ 3601-3631. The notice did not find reasonable cause with respect to the disability of one of the Cains' children. County Line and the Foxes (collectively referred to as "Landowners") then elected to have the merits of the complaint tried in a civil action rather than by an administrative law judge. 1

In March 1998, the Commission filed a complaint in Grant Superior Court on its own behalf and on behalf of James and Martha Cain alleging that Landowners had violated the Act by refusing to rent the mobile home lot to the Cains based upon its two children per mobile home occupancy limit. In response, Landowners filed a motion to dismiss the complaint under Indiana Trial Rule 12(B)(6) contending that although the Act prohibits discrimination against families in general, it does not provide protection to "large families" such as the Cains. Landowners also contended that under the Act, the Foxes, as corporate officers and shareholders of County Line, could not be sued in their individual capacities. Landowners sought attorney's fees pursuant to the "prevailing party" provision of the Act. The trial court granted the motion to dismiss and awarded attorney's fees to Landowners of $350. The Commission appealed. The Court of Appeals affirmed the judgment and remanded the case to the trial court for a determination of appellate attorney's fees. Civil Rights Comm'n v. County Line Park, Inc., 718 N.E.2d 768 (Ind.Ct.App.1999). Having previously granted transfer, we now reverse the judgment of the trial court.

Discussion

I.

The Act makes it unlawful to "refuse to sell or to rent after the making of a bona

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fide offer, refuse to negotiate for the sale or rental of, or otherwise make unavailable or deny a dwelling to any person because of race, color, religion, sex...

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