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March/April 2018 Issue

Also in this issue: PSCW Considers Making Energy Innovation Grant Funds Available to Local Government     |     Update on Options for Providing Financial Assistance for Private Lead Service Line Replacement

Seventh Circuit Rules against City in Zoning-Related Disability Discrimination Case

In a recent disability discrimination case, Valencia v. City of Springfield, 883 F.3d 959 (7th Cir. 2018), brought under the Fair Housing Act (“FHA”), Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), and Rehabilitation Act, the Seventh Circuit ruled against the City of Springfield, Illinois and in favor of a non-profit that provides residential services to adults with disabilities. Individual Advocacy Group, Inc. (“IAG”) challenged a decision of the Springfield City Council that would have required it to relocate its home for adults with disabilities (a “Community Integrated Living Arrangement”) because it was too close to a similar facility operated by a different company. Both facilities were located in a residential district in Springfield, and the City’s zoning code imposed a 600-foot separation requirement between facilities. IAG submitted an application for a Conditional Permitted Use, which would have allowed the facility to remain in place, but the City Council denied its request.

IAG alleged that the City discriminated against its disabled residents on the basis of their disabilities, in violation of the FHA, ADA, and § 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. The FHA provides that “it shall be unlawful … to otherwise make unavailable or deny … a dwelling to any buyer or renter because of a handicap.” 42 U.S.C.§ 3604(f)(1). Title II of the ADA provides that “no qualified individual with a disability shall, by reason of such disability, be excluded from participation in or be denied the benefits of the services, programs, or activities of a public entity, or be subjected to discrimination by any such entity” 42 U.S.C.§ 12132. The Rehabilitation Act provides that “[n]o otherwise qualified individual with a disability … shall, solely by reason of her or his disability, be excluded from the participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.” 29 U.S.C.§ 794(a). Claims under all three statutes apply to municipal zoning decisions, and the same analysis generally applies under each of the statutes.

Plaintiffs may prove a violation of the FHA, ADA, or Rehabilitation Act by showing disparate treatment, disparate impact, or a refusal to make a reasonable accommodation. Although IAG proposed several different theories of liability, the Seventh Circuit focused on IAG’s reasonable accommodation claim. The law requires public entities to reasonably accommodate disabled persons by making changes in rules, policies, practices, or services as necessary to provide such persons with access to housing that is equal to the access of persons who are not disabled. An accommodation is required if that accommodation is reasonable and necessary to afford a disabled person the equal opportunity to use and enjoy a dwelling.

The Seventh Circuit found that IAG was likely to prevail on its reasonable accommodation claim. The court found that the requested accommodation (granting the Conditional Permitted Use application) was reasonable. The accommodation would advance the integration of disabled individuals into the community, and the benefits were likely to outweigh the costs of implementation. Evidence presented to the lower court showed that the financial and administrative burden on the City would be negligible, and there did not appear to be substantial intangible costs to the neighborhood or to residents of the other nearby facility for adults with disabilities. Similarly, the court found that the accommodation was necessary to fulfill IAG’s mission to provide residential services to disabled adults in a community-based setting, especially because the evidence showed that group homes were in short supply in the area. Finally, the court determined that the Conditional Permitted Use sought by IAG would afford IAG’s disabled residents an equal opportunity to establish a residential home, because facilities such as IAG’s are often the only means by which disabled persons can live in a residential neighborhood, either because they need more supportive services, for financial reasons, or both. Ultimately, the court ruled in favor of IAG and granted a preliminary injunction that prohibits the City from evicting IAG’s residents while the case is pending before the district court.

This case should serve as a reminder to municipalities that special attention should be paid to how provisions of a zoning code affect individuals with disabilities. While many municipalities may be familiar with the specific state law provisions governing the zoning of community living arrangements, community-based residential facilities, and the like, it is important to also keep in mind the requirements of the Fair Housing Act, Americans with Disabilities Act, and the Rehabilitation Act when drafting zoning codes or making decisions to grant or deny conditional use permits for individuals with disabilities or the organizations that serve them.

Julia K. Potter

This newsletter is published and distributed for informational pur- poses only. It does not offer legal advice with respect to particular situations, and does not purport to be a complete treatment of the legal issues surrounding any topic. Because your situation may differ from those described in this Newsletter, you should not rely solely on this information in making legal decisions.

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