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United States District Court for the District of Maryland Grants Defendant’s Motion to Dismiss Regarding Plaintiff’s Fair Housing Act Claims

Brian Nichols v. Carriage House Condominiums at Perry Hall Farms, Inc., et al.
Civil No. RDB-14-3611 (United States District Court for the District of Maryland, July 15, 2015)

by Nida Kanwal, Summer Associate
Semmes, Bowen & Semmes (www.semmes.com)

Available at: http://www.mdd.uscourts.gov/Opinions/Opinions/Nichols%20v.%20Carriage%20
House%20MEMO%20AND%20ORDER.pdf

In 2001, Brian Nichols bought a condominium from Carriage House Condominiums at Perry Hall Farms, Inc. (“Carriage House”) and Residential Realty Group, Inc. (“Residential Realty”) (collectively, “Defendants”). He had been diagnosed with osteoarthritis, gout, and an anxiety-based driving disorder. Due to his medical conditions, he used a cane, crutches, and a wheelchair. Moreover, he relied on friends and co-workers for car rides and transportation due to his anxiety. In 2010, Nichols wrote a letter to Defendants asking them to make modifications to his driveway to accommodate his disabilities. Two weeks later, he filed a housing discrimination complaint against Defendants with the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (“HUD”).

On November 17, 2010, counsel for Defendants sent Nichols a letter declining the request stating that Nichols “[had] not ever requested a reasonable modification due to [his] claimed handicap, [Carriage House] has decided to treat [his] cover letter dated October 13, 2010 and accompanying Exterior Alteration Application as a request for a reasonable modification of the driveway adjacent to your Unit under the Fair Housing Act.” Thus, counsel for Defendants requested that Nichols provide documentation of his disability and an explanation of the nexus between the disability and the modification in question. Defendant maintains that once Plaintiff had provided the requisite documentation, Defendant would consider approval of a modification of 156 inches, as set forth by the Americans with Disability Act Accessibility Guidelines.

Nichols did provide this information and both of the parties attended a fact finding conference before the Maryland Commission on Civil Rights during which Defendants allegedly offered to approve an extension of 156 inches in exchange for a release of any and all future claims by Nichols. Moreover, Nichols refused to pay for any modification during the conference. The Commission found that the circumstances did not support the approval of Nichols’ request for a modification that would include a second parking space, beyond the 156 inches set by the Guidelines. Nichols stated that he required a driveway of 228 inches that would accommodate vehicles of persons transporting him.

Nichols filed the suit against Defendants, alleging that they violated the Fair Housing Act, 42 U.S.C. § 3601, et seq., and the parallel Maryland housing discrimination law, Md. Code Ann., State Gov’t, § 20-701, et seq. Nichols alleged that he was discriminated and retaliated against when he was denied his request for a modification to accommodate his disability. He demanded $100,000,000 in compensatory damages, punitive damages, and an order permitting the installation of his requested modified driveway.

Defendants moved to dismiss the Complaint under Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Instead of filing a response, Nichols filed an Amended Complaint, attempting to cure the timeliness issues highlighted by Defendants in their Motion. Defendants again moved to dismiss the Amended Complaint. The United States District Court for the District of Maryland found Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss to be moot and granted Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss the Amended Complaint.

Defendants argued (1) under the applicable statute of limitations Nichols’s claims were barred, because he filed this lawsuit more than two (2) years after the alleged discriminatory acts occurred and (2) Nichols failed to state claims for which relief may be granted under the Fair Housing Act and the parallel Maryland law.

The Court found that under the Fair Housing Act an action must be filed no later than two (2) years after the occurrence or the termination of an alleged discriminatory practice. Here, the last occurrence of alleged discrimination was the Defendants’ denial of Nichols’s modification request on November 17, 2010. Further, assuming that the Commission’s conference tolled the limitations period, the period again began to run on March 22, 2012. Nichols, however, filed the action on November 17, 2014, over two (2) years later.

The Court held that under the Fair Housing Act, discrimination occurs when there is “a refusal to permit, at the expense of the handicapped person, reasonable modifications of existing premises occupied” and when there is a “a 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.” Here, it was clear Nichols did not state a modification or an accommodation claim. Nichols could have paid for the modification, at his own expense, but refused to do so. Further, he only stated he needed a driveway extension of 228 inches, but he did not refer to any “rules, policies, practices, or services” from which he needed relief.

Therefore, the Court granted Defendants’ motion to dismiss.


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