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Relman, Dane & Colfax Wins First Appellate Decision Holding that Intent not Required to Prove FHA Reasonable Accommodation and Reasonable Modification Claims

In the first appellate decision squarely addressing the issue, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit has held that evidence of intent or pretext is not required to establish reasonable accommodation or reasonable modification claims under the Fair Housing Act.

Plaintiffs Chappy and Melanie Hollis have two small children with severe developmental disabilities. After they sought, but were denied, permission from their homeowners association to add a sunroom to their home in order to provide increased sensory stimulation for the children, the Hollises filed suit in federal district court. The district court analyzed their reasonable accommodation claims under the McDonnell Douglas analytical framework, even though none of the parties believed that intent was an element of any claim. The court granted summary judgment to defendant on the ground that the plaintiffs had failed to produce any evidence of discriminatory intent or "pretext." The district court also dismissed the parents' claims for lack of standing.

On appeal, the Sixth Circuit agreed with plaintiffs that the McDonnell Douglas methodology does not apply to claims of discrimination under the Fair Housing Act that do not involve intent as an element of proof, such as those involving disparate impact, reasonable accommodation or reasonable modification. The appellate court therefore vacated the district court judgment and remanded the case for application of the "proper" analysis. The court also found that the Hollis parents had standing to sue in their own right, and reinstated their individual claims.

The Relman, Dane & Colfax appellate team was led by Steve Dane and Ryan Downer, with valuable assistance provided by co-counsel Tracey McCartney of the Tennessee Fair Housing Council and local counsel Larry Crain.

The case caption is Hollis v. Chestnut Bend Homeowners Association, 760 F.3d 531, No. 13-6434 (6th Cir., 6/29/2014). To read the Court's Opinion and Judgment click here.