Fed 6th Circuit reviews use of miniature horse as service animal under ADA and FHAA (Part II – FHAA claims)
by Gary Taylor
Anderson v. City of Blue Ash
Federal 6th Circuit Court of Appeals, August 14 2015
[Note: This is Part II of a lengthy case. Yesterday’s post gives the facts of the case and reviews the decision on the Americans with Disabilities Act claims. Today’s post is on the Fair Housing Act Amendments claims.]
The FHAA makes it unlawful to “discriminate against any person in the terms, conditions, or privileges of sale or rental of a dwelling, or in the provision of services or facilities in connection with such a dwelling because of a handicap,” which includes “refusal to make reasonable accommodations in rules, policies, practices, or services when such accommodations may be necessary to afford such person equal opportunity to use and enjoy a dwelling.” The courts have interpreted this to allow three different types of claims: (1) reasonable accommodation, (2) disparate treatment, and (3) disparate impact. The Anderson made arguments on all three.
Reasonable accommodation. Unlike the ADA, the FHAA does not have minimum regulatory requirements for animals to qualify as a reasonable accommodation. Under this FHAA claim, a municipality has an affirmative duty…”to afford its disabled citizens reasonable accommodations in its municipal zoning practices if necessary to afford such persons equal opportunity in the use and enjoyment of property.” The city argued that C.A. did not need therapy with a horse at her house but rather could travel to a local farm or stable. It also argued that accommodation at the house was unnecessary because C.A. can ambulated and otherwise function without the horse. The Andersons contended that the accommodation was necessary for C.A. to play independently in her backyard as a non-disabled child could, and that therapy at a farm or stable is no substitute for therapy at home.
The 6th Circuit found that summary judgment for the city (as was granted by the district court) was inappropriate because there were sufficient facts to indicate that the Andersons might win at trial. In so ruling, the 6th Circuit observed that the FHAA requires accommodations “that are necessary to achieve housing equality, not just those accommodations that are absolutely necessary for the disabled individual’s treatment or basic ability to function.”
As to the “reasonableness” of the accommodation, the 6th Circuit found that factual issues “pervade the question of the accommodation’s reasonableness.” The record needs more development on whether C.A.’s therapy would be diminished by traveling to receive therapy at another location, and whether the city’s zoning scheme would be “fundamentally altered” by allowing the horse. “Requiring public entities to make exceptions to their rules and zoning policies is exactly what the FHAA does…[it doesn’t mean that] any modification permitting a horse necessarily amounts to a fundamental alteration.”
Disparate treatment. This claim failed for the same reason that the Anderson’s claim for intentional discrimination under the ADA failed: there was no evidence that the city harbored discriminatory animus against the disabled.
Disparate impact. This claim also failed. The Andersons failed to recognize that the ordinance in question specifically exempts any animals protected by federal law, including the FHAA; thus it has less of an impact on disabled individuals than on the general public.
The 6th Circuit reversed the district court’s grant of summary judgment and remanded for further proceedings.