Foreman v. Anchorage Equal Rights Com'n, Nos. S-2677

CourtSupreme Court of Alaska (US)
Writing for the CourtBefore MATTHEWS; BURKE
Citation779 P.2d 1199
PartiesOliver F. FOREMAN and Helen G. Foreman, Appellants/Cross-Appellees, v. ANCHORAGE EQUAL RIGHTS COMMISSION and Sally Hohman, Appellees/Cross-Appellants.
Decision Date08 September 1989
Docket NumberS-2716,Nos. S-2677

Page 1199

779 P.2d 1199
Oliver F. FOREMAN and Helen G. Foreman, Appellants/Cross-Appellees,
v.
ANCHORAGE EQUAL RIGHTS COMMISSION and Sally Hohman,
Appellees/Cross-Appellants.
Nos. S-2677, S-2716.
Supreme Court of Alaska.
Sept. 8, 1989.

Page 1200

Randall E. Farleigh, Farleigh & Waldock, Anchorage, for appellants/cross-appellees.

John E. Havelock and Paula M. Haley, Anchorage Equal Rights Comm'n, Anchorage, for appellees/cross-appellants.

Nancy R. Gordon, Asst. Atty. Gen., Anchorage, Grace Berg Schaible, Atty. Gen., Juneau, for amicus curiae, State Com'n for Human Rights.

Before MATTHEWS, C.J., and RABINOWITZ, BURKE, COMPTON and MOORE, JJ.

OPINION

BURKE, Justice.

This is an appeal by a landlord from a decision of the superior court affirming a determination by the Anchorage Equal Rights Commission (AERC) that the landlord's policy against renting to unmarried couples unlawfully discriminated on the basis of marital status. The landlord argues that the AERC erred in its interpretation of the pertinent state and local laws, and that the AERC's delay in rendering a decision divested the AERC of jurisdiction. The AERC cross-appeals from that part of the court's decision holding that the rental policy did not violate state law.

I

Oliver and Helen Foreman own several rental properties in the Anchorage area. Their tenants include single parents with children, married couples and married couples with children. The Foremans' rental policy limits occupancy of a single unit to what the Foremans characterize as a "single legal entity" or a family unit related by blood or marriage.

In 1984, Sally Hohman, a single woman with an infant child, attempted to rent a single-bedroom unit for herself, her child and the child's father, Steven Kiefer. The Foremans refused to rent the apartment to Hohman and Kiefer when they learned that they were not married. 1

Page 1201

Hohman filed a discrimination complaint with the AERC. After a public hearing, the AERC adopted the hearing examiner's proposed decision and held that the Foremans had violated anti-discrimination provisions found in both the Anchorage Municipal Code, AMC 05.20.020, 2 and state law, AS 18.80.240(2). 3 The Foremans appealed to the superior court. The superior court reversed that part of the AERC's decision holding that the Foremans had violated AS 18.80.240(2). The court, however, upheld the AERC on all other issues. This appeal and cross-appeal followed.

II

The Foremans argue that the state and municipal prohibitions against discrimination based on marital status do not protect the interests of unmarried couples such as Hohman and Kiefer. The AERC and the State Commission for Human Rights contend that discrimination against unmarried couples constitutes discrimination based on marital status.

When interpreting an ordinance or a statutory provision, words are given their ordinary and common meaning. Wilson v. Municipality of Anchorage, 669 P.2d 569, 571-72 (Alaska 1983). Our goal is to give effect to the legislature's intent 4 with due regard for the meaning that the language in the provision conveys to others. State v. Alex, 646 P.2d 203, 208-09 n. 4 (Alaska 1982). Because this is a case of first impression in this state, "[o]ur duty is to adopt the rule of law that is most persuasive in light of precedent, reason, and policy." Guin v. Ha, 591 P.2d 1281, 1284 n. 6 (Alaska 1979).

Both AS 18.80.240 and AMC 05.20.020 plainly prohibit discrimination based on marital status. The Foremans reason, however, that these provisions only prohibit discrimination against an individual, based on that person's marital status, rather than prohibiting discrimination against two people. See Prince George's County v. Greenbelt Homes, 49 Md.App. 314, 431 A.2d 745, 747-48 (1981) (unmarried couple has no collective marital status).

It is true that the statute and ordinance refer to discrimination against "a person." AS 18.80.240; AMC 05.20.020. However, both the state statute and the municipal code define "person" to include "one or more individuals." 5 AS 18.80.300(11);

Page 1202

AMC 05.20.010(M). Thus, we believe that these provisions were intended to prevent discrimination against more than one person.

The Foremans next argue that the anti-discrimination provisions were not intended to protect unmarried couples because cohabitation was a criminal offense at the time the state and municipal acts were first amended to prohibit marital status discrimination. See McFadden v. Elma Country Club, 26 Wash.App. 195, 613 P.2d 146, 148 (1980) (former statute outlawing unmarried cohabitation vitiates argument that legislature intended to prohibit housing discrimination against unmarried couples).

The state prohibition against housing discrimination based on marital status was first enacted in 1975; the municipal ordinance was passed in 1976. Ch. 104, § 10, SLA 1975; Assembly Ordinance 203-76 (Nov. 9, 1976); compare AMC 05.20.020 with former City of Anch.Mun.Code 08.36.090 (1975). Until 1978, it was a crime under state law for an unmarried couple to live together as husband and wife. AS 11.40.040. 6 According to the Foremans, the antidiscrimination statutes should not be construed to protect conduct which was criminal when the provisions were amended.

In 1975, before the pertinent amendments to AS 18.80.240 and AMC 05.20.020, the legislature declared that "the criminal code of the State of Alaska represents a considerable and vital body of law which has not undergone substantive revision and is consequently vastly out of step with constitutional and social developments of recent decades." S.Con.Res. No. 5, (1975). In 1978, the legislature undertook a comprehensive revision of the criminal code and repealed in its entirety chapter 40 of title 11, which had governed "crimes against morality and decency." See ch. 166, § 21, SLA 1978. Certain provisions in former chapter 40 were replaced by scattered sections prohibiting contributing to the delinquency of a minor, AS 11.51.130; unlawful marrying, AS 11.51.140; disorderly conduct, AS 11.61.110; misconduct involving a corpse, AS 11.61.130; cruelty to animals, AS 11.61.140; and prostitution, AS 11.66.100-11.66.150. Notably, former AS 11.40.040 was not re-enacted.

Given the intent...

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  • Smith v. Fair Employment & Housing Com., No. S040653
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court (California)
    • April 9, 1996
    ...547 N.E.2d 43; Swanner v. Anchorage Equal Rights Com'n., supra, 874 P.2d at p. 278; Foreman v. Anchorage Equal Rights Com'n (Alaska 1989) 779 P.2d 1199, Some of the cases Smith cites are of little value for our purposes. The courts in Illinois, Minnesota, and Washington had the burden of re......
  • Buntin v. Schlumberger Tech. Corp., Supreme Court Nos. S-17309/17519
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Alaska (US)
    • June 11, 2021
    ...to others.’ " Marlow v. Municipality of Anchorage , 889 P.2d 599, 602 (Alaska 1995) (quoting Foreman v. Anchorage Equal Rights Comm'n , 779 P.2d 1199, 1201 (Alaska 1989) ). "We interpret statutes ‘according to reason, practicality, and common sense, considering the meaning of the statute's ......
  • Donahue v. Fair Employment and Housing Com'n, No. B052118
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals
    • November 27, 1991
    ...two individuals, and that discrimination against unmarried couples was prohibited. (Foreman v. Anchorage Equal Rights Com'n (Alaska 1989) 779 P.2d 1199, 1201-1202.) Similarly, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court observed that their state's antidiscrimination statute described the prote......
  • Thomas v. Anchorage Equal Rights Com'n, Nos. 97-35220
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (9th Circuit)
    • January 14, 1999
    ...on the basis of "marital status" includes discrimination against unmarried couples. See Foreman v. Anchorage Equal Rights Comm'n, 779 P.2d 1199, 1202 (Alaska 1989). There is no dispute that Thomas and Baker have previously declined to rent to unmarried cohabitants. Nor is there any question......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
25 cases
  • Smith v. Fair Employment & Housing Com., No. S040653
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court (California)
    • April 9, 1996
    ...547 N.E.2d 43; Swanner v. Anchorage Equal Rights Com'n., supra, 874 P.2d at p. 278; Foreman v. Anchorage Equal Rights Com'n (Alaska 1989) 779 P.2d 1199, Some of the cases Smith cites are of little value for our purposes. The courts in Illinois, Minnesota, and Washington had the burden of re......
  • Buntin v. Schlumberger Tech. Corp., Supreme Court Nos. S-17309/17519
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Alaska (US)
    • June 11, 2021
    ...to others.’ " Marlow v. Municipality of Anchorage , 889 P.2d 599, 602 (Alaska 1995) (quoting Foreman v. Anchorage Equal Rights Comm'n , 779 P.2d 1199, 1201 (Alaska 1989) ). "We interpret statutes ‘according to reason, practicality, and common sense, considering the meaning of the statute's ......
  • Donahue v. Fair Employment and Housing Com'n, No. B052118
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals
    • November 27, 1991
    ...two individuals, and that discrimination against unmarried couples was prohibited. (Foreman v. Anchorage Equal Rights Com'n (Alaska 1989) 779 P.2d 1199, 1201-1202.) Similarly, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court observed that their state's antidiscrimination statute described the prote......
  • Thomas v. Anchorage Equal Rights Com'n, Nos. 97-35220
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (9th Circuit)
    • January 14, 1999
    ...on the basis of "marital status" includes discrimination against unmarried couples. See Foreman v. Anchorage Equal Rights Comm'n, 779 P.2d 1199, 1202 (Alaska 1989). There is no dispute that Thomas and Baker have previously declined to rent to unmarried cohabitants. Nor is there any question......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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