Oxford House, Inc. v. Browning

Decision Date24 July 2017
Docket NumberCIVIL ACTION NO.: 15–00282–BAJ–EWD
Citation266 F.Supp.3d 896
Parties OXFORD HOUSE, INC., et al. v. H. "Butch" BROWNING
CourtU.S. District Court — Middle District of Louisiana

John Nelson Adcock, Law Offices of John N. Adcock, Elizabeth Joanne Owen, Peter Franklin Theis, New Orleans, LA, Steven G. Polin, Pro Hac Vice, Law Office of Steven G. Polin, Washington, DC, for Oxford House, Inc., et al.

Dennis J. Phayer, Elizabeth Doubleday, Mindy Nunez Duffourc, Burglass & Tankersley, L.L.C., Metairie, LA, Andrew Blanchfield, Chelsea Acosta Payne, Crews Reynolds LeBlanc, Jr., Keogh, Cox & Wilson, Ltd., Baton Rouge, LA, for H. "Butch" Browning.



Before the Court are Plaintiffs' Motion for Partial Summary Judgment (Doc. 59) and the Motion for Partial Summary Judgment (Doc. 55) filed by Defendant H. "Butch" Browning, in his official capacity as the State Fire Marshal of the Louisiana Office of the State Fire Marshal. Plaintiffs, in their Motion, seek summary judgment on their reasonable accommodation claims under the Fair Housing Act of 1968, as amended by the Fair Housing Amendments Act (collectively, "Fair Housing Act"), 42 U.S.C. ch. 45; the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, as amended by the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act of 2008 (collectively, "ADA"), 42 U.S.C. ch. 126; and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 ("Rehabilitation Act"), 29 U.S.C. ch. 16. Defendant filed memoranda in opposition to the Motion, (see Docs. 78, 79),1 and Plaintiffs filed a reply memorandum in support of the Motion, (see Doc. 94). Defendant, in his Motion, seeks summary judgment on Plaintiffs' reasonable accommodation claim under the Rehabilitation Act. Plaintiffs filed a memorandum in opposition to the Motion, (see Doc. 80); Defendant filed a reply memorandum in support of the Motion, (see Doc. 86); and Plaintiffs filed a surreply memorandum in further opposition to the Motion, (see Doc. 102). On June 12, 2017, the Court held oral argument on the Motions. For the reasons explained herein, Plaintiffs' Motion for Partial Summary Judgment (Doc. 59) is GRANTED , and Defendant's Motion for Partial Summary Judgment (Doc. 55) is DENIED.

A. The Oxford House Model

Plaintiff Oxford House, Inc. ("Oxford House, Inc." or "Corporation"), is a 501(c)(3) corporation that provides organizational support to persons attempting to establish group homes for individuals recovering from alcoholism or drug addiction. The first of these group homes—referred to as "Oxford Houses"—was established in 1976. Since that time, and due to congressional recognition of the effectiveness of Oxford Houses, Oxford House, Inc., has entered into contracts with a majority of states—including the State of Louisiana—to establish and maintain Oxford Houses. States do not provide any direct funding to individual Oxford Houses; states merely provide funding to subsidize the salaries of persons who facilitate the establishment of Oxford Houses within the state. At the time that Plaintiffs filed this Motion, 106 Oxford Houses were operating in Louisiana, including six in the Lake Charles area. In total, over 700 individuals resided in Oxford Houses in Louisiana at that time, but many more individuals sought to reside in those homes: in 2016, Oxford Houses in Louisiana received four applications for every vacancy. Oxford House residents in Louisiana—20% of whom come directly from homelessness and 16% of whom come directly from incarceration, commitment in a mental health facility, or residency in a halfway house—tend to stay in an Oxford House for an average of eleven months.

In order to reside in an Oxford House, an individual must be in recovery from alcoholism or drug addiction. The existing residents of a particular Oxford House vote to accept or deny the application of an individual seeking to reside in the home. An applicant who is currently using drugs or alcohol is disqualified from admission to an Oxford House, and any existing residents who relapse into drug or alcohol use are required to vacate the home.

Oxford House, Inc., provides no direct financial assistance to individual Oxford Houses; each individual Oxford House must be financially self-reliant. Nor does Oxford House, Inc., own property. Rather, the mission of Oxford House, Inc., is to encourage groups of individuals who are recovering from alcoholism or drug addiction to lease homes, live together, affiliate with the Corporation's network, and utilize the Oxford House model. The Corporation endeavors to establish Oxford Houses in single-family homes located in residential neighborhoods, ideally with common areas that are large enough to accommodate all of the residents of the home during "house meetings" and informal gatherings. Oxford Houses typically are established in homes with four bedrooms, and residents customarily share bedrooms. In order for residents to fulfill both the responsibilities for the continued functioning of the home and the mission of the home to foster its residents' recovery, Oxford Houses must lodge at least six individuals. Five residents are charged with officer positions, entrusted with particular responsibilities and duties.

B. The Beneficial Effects of the Oxford House Model

The Oxford House model aims to facilitate the development of relationships among residents that resemble familial bonds. This aim is accomplished through the layout of homes and the lodging in a single-family home of several individuals who are all recovering from alcoholism or drug addiction: residents can avoid feelings of isolation and loneliness—which have been shown to contribute to relapse—by sharing bedrooms and by having the ability to congregate and socialize in communal living spaces. Oxford Houses provide stable housing for individuals recovering from alcoholism or drug addiction, and the communal living arrangement encourages residents to hold each other accountable for their actions in order to prevent relapse.

For example, Plaintiff Dana Daniel ("Daniel")—who has suffered from an addiction to opioids for her entire adult life, detrimentally affecting her finances, personal and familial relationships, and housing situation—has described the Oxford House model as providing a "safe place ... to go" for persons recovering from alcoholism or drug addiction.3 Daniel, who has resided at multiple Oxford Houses, explained that the presence of "other people ... that are striving to ... have healthy lives and recover ... h[e]ld[ ] [her] accountable" and provided her with "guidance."4 Daniel also credited the responsibilities conferred by the elected officer positions with promoting her sense of accountability to others. "You learn responsibility," stated Daniel.5

Additionally, the Oxford House model aids residents in repairing relationships that have been negatively affected by their alcoholism or drug addictions. Courtney Catanese ("Catanese")—who, at the time of Plaintiffs' Motion, had maintained sobriety for a one-year period since moving into Oxford Houses—described her recent success in attempting to repair the familial relationships that she had damaged during the period of her addiction.6

The effectiveness of the Oxford House model in preventing an individual's relapse into drug and alcohol use has been confirmed by an academic study.7 In a longitudinal study, researchers observed 897 Oxford House residents who resided in 219 Oxford Houses nationwide over the course of a year. Researchers found that the relapse rate for these Oxford House residents was 13.5%. The finding that over 86% of the observed Oxford House residents retained their sobriety throughout the study represents an outcome that is at least four times greater than normal outcomes following traditional detoxification and addiction treatment.

C. Oxford House West Hale

In 2012, an Oxford House was established in a house located at 236 West Hale Street in Lake Charles, Louisiana ("Oxford House West Hale"). The house is owned by Plaintiffs David and Janet Miller (collectively, "the Millers"), who lease the property to the residents for $1500 per month.

The house is a one-story, single-family home and is located in a residential neighborhood. The house has four bedrooms, two bathrooms, a living and dining area, a kitchen, and a garage. Each of the bedrooms either features a window or an exterior door, and the living and dining area, as well as the garage, has an exterior door. The house contains connected smoke detectors and fire extinguishers, but it does not have a sprinkler system, a fire alarm system, or single-station smoke alarms that are powered by the house's electrical infrastructure.

Oxford House West Hale operates as an all-female Oxford House. Due to the house's layout, a maximum of seven women may reside in the home. Catanese, at the time of Plaintiffs' Motion, resided at Oxford House West Hale and served as its "President." Daniel previously resided at Oxford House West Hale from December 2014 to May 2015.

In addition to holding weekly "house meetings" to discuss the management of the house, the residents of Oxford House West Hale socialize with each other on a daily basis, both inside and outside of the house. The residents often congregate on the house's patio, discussing their efforts to recover from their addictions and to remain sober. Residents also accompany each other to meetings of the local chapters of Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous, at which the residents present to those in attendance the availability of Oxford Houses as an option for those seeking to retain their sobriety. Apart from these recovery-and house-management-related interactions, residents dine with each other in nearby restaurants and see movies together. Residents of Oxford House West Hale "become very close" with each other,8 and they maintain some of these tight-knit relationships even after leaving the house. "We ... know all of each other's personal details, ... and we hold each other...

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