Groteboer v. Eyota Econ. Dev. Auth.

Decision Date15 July 2010
Docket NumberCivil No. 08-6114(DSD/AJB).
Citation724 F.Supp.2d 1018
PartiesJanice L. GROTEBOER, Plaintiff, v. EYOTA ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT AUTHORITY, doing business as Arbor Gardens of Eyota and Tealwood Management, LLC, Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — District of Minnesota

OPINION TEXT STARTS HERE

John C. Beatty, Esq. and Dunlap & Seeger, PA, Rochester, MN, for plaintiff.

Robyn K. Johnson, Esq., James L. Haigh, Esq. and Cousineau McGuire, Minneapolis, MN, for defendants.

ORDER

DAVID S. DOTY, District Judge.

This matter is before the court upon the motion of defendants for summary judgment. Based on a review of the file, record and proceedings herein, and for the following reasons, the court grants the motion.

BACKGROUND

This housing dispute arises out of a lease agreement between plaintiff Janice L. Groteboer (Groteboer) and defendant Eyota Economic Development Authority, d/b/a Arbor Gardens of Eyota (Arbor Gardens). Arbor Gardens is a senior housing facility that offers independent and assisted living and respite care. (Beatty Aff. Ex. F at 24.) Groteboer has multiple sclerosis and uses an electric wheelchair. ( Id. Exs. A at 10, D.) She rented an apartment in the assisted living portion of Arbor Gardens from April 21, 2006, until August 31, 2007.

According to Arbor Gardens, Groteboer operated her electric wheelchair at excessively high speeds with inadequate control throughout her tenancy, damaging its property and endangering its residents and staff. (Rademacher Aff. ¶ 7, Ex. E; Granger Aff. ¶¶ 4, 6; Austin Aff. ¶¶ 4-5.) Shortly after Groteboer moved in, Arbor Gardens manager Donald Rademacher (“Rademacher”) noticed damage to her apartment walls caused by her electric wheelchair, and asked her to pad the chair for protection. (Rademacher Aff. ¶¶ 6, 21, Exs. B & E.) In the summer of 2006, Rademacher spoke with Groteboer about similar damage to her front door, and again suggested that she pad the chair and slow down. ( Id. ¶ 6, Ex. B.) Arbor Gardens claims that Groteboer's operation of her electric wheelchair made its elderly residents fear for their safety. ( See Johnson Aff. Exs. A at 5-6, B at 6-7, C at 5-7, D at 5-6, E at 4-6, F at 7, 10-11.) Groteboer purportedly injured two people with her electric wheelchair: she drove over staff member Barbara Austin's (“Austin”) foot and, on another occasion, ran into a dining room table, causing hot coffee to spill onto a resident. (Austin Aff. ¶ 5; Rademacher Aff. ¶ 10.)

Arbor Gardens contends that Rademacher and his staff repeatedly asked Groteboer to slow down, pad her chair and stop damaging property and endangering other residents. For instance, at a February 2007 meeting with Groteboer and her social worker, Rademacher requested that Groteboer operate the chair more cautiously. (Rademacher Aff. ¶ 9; see Johnson Aff. Exs. G at 60-61, K-L.) In addition, after the coffee spill, Rademacher delivered a warning letter to Groteboer on May 10, 2007, and asked her not to use the chair in areas where other residents were present. (Rademacher Aff. ¶ 12, Ex. C.) Groteboer allegedly ignored the requests. ( Id. ¶ 8; Granger Aff. ¶ 5; Austin Aff. ¶ 6.)

Groteboer denies that her operation of the electric wheelchair damaged property or harmed others. She admits, however, that she once ran her electric wheelchair over Austin's toe and that she caused a spill after her electric wheelchair caught and pulled a tablecloth off a dining room table. (Beatty Aff. Ex. KK at 7-8; Groteboer Aff. ¶ 8.) Groteboer maintains that prior to May 10, 2007, Arbor Gardens neither warned her about her use of the electric wheelchair nor asked her to alter her conduct. (Groteboer Aff. ¶ 11.) She also denies receiving Rademacher's warning letter, but admits that he verbally warned her. ( Id. ¶¶ 11-12; Beatty Aff. Ex. A at 62-63.)

After May 10, 2007, Arbor Gardens alleges that Groteboer continued to operate her electric wheelchair in an unsafe manner. (Rademacher Aff. ¶ 12.) On May 14, 2007, Rademacher delivered a termination of lease and services agreement letter to Groteboer that stated:

We have been working with you regularly over the past several months to find a way for you to operate your electric scooter safely, in a manner that does not pose a threat to the safety of others and that does not cause unacceptable wear and tear on your apartment and common areas in the Arbor Gardens Senior Community.

Notwithstanding our efforts to work with you on safety protocols, you recently caused an accident that could have resulted in the injury of another tenant with your electric scooter. Over the past weekend, you also repeatedly failed to comply with the safe operating agreement we made with you late last week, which was designed to permit you to continue to use of [sic] your electric scooter, yet also to avoid another incident which endangers other people. The Arbor Gardens Community has a large number of frail tenants who are unable to move out of the way to protect themselves from harm when approached by a person or a motorized device not properly controlled.

Therefore, Arbor Gardens Senior Community is terminating your Lease and Services Agreement effective June 30, 2007.

( Id. ¶ 13, Ex. D.) After receiving this letter, Groteboer allegedly met with Rademacher and her social worker on June 4, 2007, to discuss possible accommodations. (Beatty Aff. Exs. GG at 22-23, HH.) At the meeting, Groteboer offered to pay for any property damage, but Arbor Gardens declined the offer. ( Id. Exs. GG at 25-26, HH.)

Thereafter, on June 7, 2007, JaPaul Harris (“Harris”), Groteboer's former counsel, sent a letter to Barbara Blumer (“Blumer”), counsel for Arbor Gardens, requesting that “all tenancy termination proceedings cease” and that Groteboer “be permitted to propose a plan as an accommodation of her disability.” (Blumer Aff. ¶ 3, Ex. A.) Specifically, Harris stated that:

Ms. Groteboer has agreed to have her power chair outfitted with padding. She will also use her motorized power chair in her unit and outside. She will also use the motorized power chair in speed 1 or 2 while going to the laundry room door, her designated spot in the dining room, down the hallway and down the elevator to get to the dining room or outside, and to the public restrooms. She will make a conscious effort to call for assistance or utilize the assistance of family or friends when leaving her apartment. She will not use her motorized power chair when within the dining room, laundry room or kitchen area.

( Id. Ex. A at 2.) Blumer responded on June 12, 2007, noting that Arbor Gardens was willing to work with Groteboer to “develop a detailed plan for her mobility within Arbor Gardens.” ( Id. ¶ 4, Ex. B at 1.) Blumer also noted that Arbor Gardens would seek a condition allowing it to terminate Groteboer's tenancy if she failed to comply with the mobility plan. ( Id. ¶ 4, Ex. B at 2.) On June 19, 2007, Harris sent a proposed agreement to Blumer, including the same conditions outlined in his June 7 letter and the termination provision requested by Arbor Gardens. ( Id. ¶ 5, Ex. C.) Blumer responded with a revised proposed agreement on June 21, 2007, suggesting that Groteboer use a manual wheelchair in all hallways and common areas inside Arbor Gardens. ( Id. Ex. D at ¶ 2(c).) Blumer further proposed that Arbor Gardens provide Groteboer five escorts per day and that:

Groteboer will not use her power chair for any reason or purpose at Arbor Gardens, except as follows:

1. In Groteboer's unit; 2. In exceptional cases only as outlined [here], in hallways and common areas, and at all times with an escort and at speed 1 or 2....

3. [On] sidewalks and parking lots at Arbor Gardens, so long as Groteboer has been escorted from her unit to the outside door....

( Id. Ex. D at ¶¶ 2(e)(1)-(3), 2(g).) Harris responded on July 2, 2007, proposing that Groteboer be allowed to use her electric wheelchair in Arbor Garden's hallways and common areas at any time, so long as she was accompanied by an escort, and that Arbor Gardens provide her seven escorts per day. ( Id. ¶ 7, Ex. E ¶¶ 2(e)(2), 2(g).) Blumer accepted this proposal and stated that Arbor Gardens would provide Groteboer ten one-way escorts each day. ( Id. ¶ 8, Ex. F ¶¶ 2(e)(2), 2(g).) After counsel reached the agreement, however, Groteboer refused to sign it. ( Id. ¶ 9; Beatty Aff. Ex. A at 115-16; Groteboer Aff. ¶ 17; Rademacher Aff. ¶ 16.) Groteboer alleges that Arbor Gardens imposed the escort condition despite her refusal to abide by it. ( See Beatty Aff. Ex. DD.)

On July 18, 2007, Groteboer told Arbor Gardens that she planned to move to a different facility on August 31, 2007. (Rademacher Aff. ¶ 18; Blumer Aff. ¶ 11.) Thereafter, Blumer and Harris negotiated a mutual termination agreement. The agreement noted that the lease termination was mutual and voluntary, and provided that Groteboer would drive her electric wheelchair slowly and be accompanied by an escort during busy periods, such as meal and snack times, throughout the remainder of her tenancy. (Rademacher Aff. ¶ 19; Blumer Aff. ¶ 12, Ex. G ¶¶ 1-2, 5.) Groteboer did not sign the mutual termination agreement, and Arbor Gardens alleges that she continued to operate her electric wheelchair dangerously and without escorts until August 31, 2007. (Rademacher Aff. ¶¶ 19-20; Blumer Aff. ¶ 14.)

On November 21, 2008, Groteboer filed a complaint against Arbor Gardens and the company that manages its operations, Tealwood Management, LLC (collectively, Defendants), alleging violations of the Fair Housing Amendments Act (“FHAA”), 42 U.S.C. §§ 3601-3619. The court now considers Defendants' March 10, 2010, motion for summary judgment.

DISCUSSION
I. Summary Judgment Standard

Rule 56(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides that summary judgment is appropriate “if the pleadings, deposition, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving...

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