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Mary Jo and Ralph Stevens v. Hollywood Towers and Condominium Association

December 29, 2011

MARY JO AND RALPH STEVENS, PLAINTIFF,
v.
HOLLYWOOD TOWERS AND CONDOMINIUM ASSOCIATION, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hon. Harry D. Leinenweber

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Plaintiffs Mary Jo and Ralph Stevens (hereinafter, collectively, the "Plaintiffs") brought the instant suit contending that their Condo Board's refusal to accommodate Mary Jo's need for an emotional support animal forced them to sell their condo. The Defendants, Hollywood Towers Condominium Association, Joseph A. Armenio, Sudler Building Services LLC, and Sudler and Co., doing business as Sudler Property Management (hereinafter, collectively, the "Defendants") have moved to dismiss for failure to state claims upon which relief can be granted. For the reasons stated, the motion is denied as to the claims brought by Plaintiffs in Counts I and III, but granted as to the remainder of the Complaint. Additionally, the Court dismisses Sudler Building Services from the case.

I. BACKGROUND

The following facts are taken from the Plaintiffs' Amended Complaint and will be considered true for the purposes of this motion. Plaintiffs owned a condominium in the Hollywood Towers building, a 541--unit building that has a no-pet policy, from 2008 to July 28, 2011.

In March 1999, Mary Jo Stevens ("Mary Jo") was in an automobile accident in which she suffered a head injury that left her disabled. As a result, she suffers unpredictable panic attacks during which she stops breathing. In November 2009, Mary Jo's doctor, Dr. Shayna Mansfield, prescribed her an emotional support animal to assist Mary Jo with her panic disorder. Mary Jo then wrote an e-mail to the Hollywood Towers building manager, Joseph Armenio ("Armenio"), on November 11, 2009, informing him of her prescription for a service animal. She volunteered to keep the dog in a carrier in the public areas of the building, although she alleges that she subsequently realized this would not be practicable.

On November 24, 2009, Armenio responded to Mary Jo's e-mail, seeking four items in order to approve the animal. Armenio wanted:

(1) proof of the service animal's training; (2) a letter explaining how the animal's specialized training would help Mary Jo deal with her condition; (3) a letter specifying the doctor's qualifications for prescribing the animal; and (4) a letter prescribing the use of the animal.

In his e-mail, Armenio told Mary Jo that the Hollywood Towers Condominium Association (the "Condo Board") would require that the emotional support animal be kept in a container at all times when in the common areas of the building. He also told Mary Jo she must enter and leave through the north and south entrances to the building instead of through the main entrance when accompanied by the animal. According to the Complaint, Armenio did not give Mary Jo or Ralph the keys to the north or south entrances. He also told Plaintiffs that when they were accompanied by the animal, they would be required to use the service elevator, which has limited hours of operation.

On November 25, 2009, Mary Jo e-mailed Armenio to let him know that her service animal, a dog, had arrived. She provided him with a copy of Mansfield's prescription for an emotional service therapy dog. The prescription stated that Mary Jo is a person with a disability resulting from a head injury and that her disability limits a major life activity. Mary Jo also told Armenio that it was unreasonable to require her to use the north and south entrances because the north entrance was usually locked from the outside and south entrance was always locked from the outside.

For the next four months, Plaintiffs did not receive any further communication from Armenio or the Condo Board. In the meantime, she obtained a different emotional support dog. The dog weighs less than 12 pounds and in the spring of 2010 was trained as a psychiatric service dog in accordance with U.S. Department of Justice regulations. He helps Mary Jo regulate her breathing, calms her, and helps prevent panic attacks. Since she got the dog, Mary Jo has rarely been away from it. Even before the dog was trained as a service animal, it was able to detect her stress-related breathing problems and lay on her chest to calm her, according to Plaintiffs' Complaint.

Mary Jo alleges that after she got the dog, she and her husband observed that the staff of Hollywood Towers stared at her when she entered and left the lobby and "also appeared to unnecessarily monitor and document her comings and goings from the building." Pl.'s Compl. ¶ 31. Mary Jo also says she was repeatedly accosted and questioned by other residents about her need for a dog and the nature of her disability. She found these questions humiliating and intrusive.

On March 8, 2010, Armenio e-mailed Plaintiffs about the emotional support dog, informing them that he had received reports that they had carried their dog into and out of the main entrance to the building without a carrier. He stated that the building lobby was "off limits to dogs of any kind." Pls.' Compl. ¶ 33. Plaintiffs responded that it was impossible to keep the dog in the carrier at all times. They also told Armenio that because the other outside doors were locked, the only way to enter or exit the building was through the main lobby. Armenio responded by insisting that Plaintiffs use the service doors.

On March 11, 2010, Ralph Stevens ("Ralph") met with Armenio to discuss Mary Jo's need for an accommodation. Armenio told him that he and his wife were not allowed to have the emotional support animal in the common areas of the building, including the main lobby, the main lobby elevators, the mail room, and the laundry room. Armenio reiterated that the dog had to be in a container when he was being moved through the building. He also reiterated that Plaintiffs must use the north or south entrances to access the building when accompanied by the support animal.

Ralph protested these conditions and told Armenio that Mary Jo could not carry the dog in a container when she was in the building's common areas because the dog could not perform its functions if it was in a container. Also, because of her disability and physical limitations, it was impossible for her to manage a carrier and her other belongings any time she enters or leaves the building, or when she needs to use the laundry room or other building facilities.

Ralph also told Armenio it was unreasonable for Mary Jo to use the service entrances whenever she had her emotional support dog with her. He also told Armenio that the building's south door was locked with no handle on the outside and no means of re-entry except propping the door open, while the north door was locked after 10:00 p.m. Ralph also told Armenio that the use of those side entrances was problematic because it required Mary Jo to walk a greater distance and put her at risk of being hit by oncoming traffic. Because of her disability, Mary Jo suffers increased anxiety in high traffic areas and suffers increased anxiety for her personal safety when using doors that are isolated and infrequently used by other tenants.

Additionally, Ralph told Armenio that he and his wife were being harassed by residents and staff about their emotional support animal. He requested that Hollywood Towers to send a letter to all residents informing them that there was an emotional support animal in the building that was exempt from the no-dog rules. Plaintiffs also told Armenio that other residents of the building were keeping dogs in violation of the no-dog rule, but that those animals had been tolerated. Armenio rejected their requests.

The next day, on March 12, 2010, Plaintiffs wrote a letter to Armenio and the Condo Board again requesting unrestricted access for the emotional support animal as a reasonable accommodation for her disability. They informed the Condo Board that they felt intimidated and harassed by the employees and tenants of Hollywood Towers, who regularly questioned them about the service animal. They requested that the Condo Board advise and train the staff on the law regarding service animals and provide a written notice to the residents that there was an emotional support animal in the building. The Condo Board did not initially respond, and Mary Jo continued to "be accosted and interrogated by building staff about the emotional support animal." Pl.'s Compl. ¶ 45. On April 3, 2010, Plaintiffs again wrote Armenio and requested a response to their letter of March 12, 2010.

On April 20, 2010, Armenio responded on behalf of the Condo Board and told Plaintiffs that they must keep the dog in a carrier while in the common areas of the building and use the north or south side doors when accompanied by the animal. Armenio said that the staff had been trained and refused to notify residents about the emotional support animal until Plaintiffs provided "tangible proof" of harassment. Armenio also told Plaintiffs that they had failed to provide proof of the animal's training.

A week later, on April 27, 2010, Armenio confronted Mary Jo in the lobby of the building about bringing the dog into the common areas of the building. She felt harassed and intimidated by the public confrontation. The same day, Armenio gave Plaintiffs a written "Warning of Rules Violation" for bringing the animal into the building lobby and other common areas. The warning also said that Plaintiffs had failed to cooperate with the Condo Board in setting a reasonable accommodation.

On May 4, 2010, Plaintiffs filed a complaint with the Chicago Commission on Human Relations regarding the Condo Board's actions. On July 16, 2010, Mary Jo notified Armenio in writing that she was unable to carry the emotional support dog for long periods of time and would need to keep him on a leash in all public areas of the building. On August 10, 2010, she received a letter from the Condo Board's attorneys indicating that Plaintiffs had brought the service animal into the laundry room and requesting additional documentation of her need for an accommodation.

Plaintiffs contend that Defendants' actions in refusing her request for an accommodation and harassing them deprived them of their use and enjoyment of their home and amounted to a constructive eviction. Plaintiffs sold their condo at a loss and moved out on July 28, 2011. They seek to recover for: (1) a failure to provide a reasonable accommodation under the Fair Housing Act Amendments of 1988, 42 U.S.C. § 3604(f) ("FHAA"); (2) interference or intimidation under the FHAA, 42 U.S.C. § 3617; (3) failure to provide a reasonable accommodation under the Illinois Human Rights Act ("IHRA"), 775 Ill. Comp. Stat. 5/3--101, et seq.; (4) nuisance; (5) intentional infliction of emotional distress; and (6) constructive eviction.

Defendants seek to dismiss the entire complaint pursuant to FED. R. CIV. P. 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.

II. LEGAL STANDARD

To survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain "sufficient facts to state a claim for relief that is plausible on its face." Justice v. Town of Cicero, 577 F.3d 768, 771 (7th Cir. 2009). The Court accepts as true all well-pleaded facts alleged in the complaint and draws all reasonable inferences in a light favorable to the plaintiff. Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 556 (2007).

Although a complaint does not need detailed factual allegations, it must provide the grounds of the claimant's entitlement to relief, contain more than formulaic recitations of the elements of a cause of action, and allege enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level. See id. at 555. Legal conclusions can provide a complaint's framework, but unless well-pleaded factual allegations move the claims from ...


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