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Vignola v. 151 North Kenilworth Condominium Association

United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division

November 2, 2016



          Andrea R. Wood United States District Judge.

         Plaintiff Lillian Vignola claims that Defendant 151 North Kenilworth Condominium Association (“Condo Association”) has violated the Fair Housing Amendments Act (“FHAA”), 42 U.S.C. § 3601 et seq., by denying her a reasonable accommodation for her disability that would allow her to lease her condominium unit while she undergoes treatment at an in-patient rehabilitation facility. Vignola further claims that the Condo Association's attorney, Defendant Pamela Park (of the law firm Kovitz Shifrin Nesbit, which is also named as a Defendant) violated the FHAA by demanding proof of her disability as a condition of considering her accommodation request. Lastly, Vignola claims that the Condo Association's by-laws contain an occupancy limit that violates the FHAA's prohibition on familial-status discrimination. Now before the Court is Vignola's motion for a preliminary injunction that would require the Condo Association to allow her requested accommodation. For the reasons stated below, the motion (Dkt. No. 6) is denied.


         In 2013, at the age of 93, Vignola fell in her condo at 151 North Kenilworth. (Vignola Aff. ¶ 3, Pl. Mot. for Prelim. Inj., Ex. A, Dkt. No. 6-1.) Since the fall, Vignola has suffered from a mobility-related disability, requiring 24-hour assistance in a rehabilitation facility. (Id. ¶¶ 3-4.) The goal of Vignola's treatment is for her to recover so that she can return to her home. (Id. ¶ 5.) Because Vignola cannot afford both to maintain her home and to pay the costs of the rehabilitation facility, she has asked that the Condo Association allow her to lease her unit. (Id. ¶¶ 6-7.) The Condo Association thus far has maintained that she cannot lease her home unless she first lists it for sale for a period of one year. (Id. ¶ 8.) But if Vignola were to list the unit and it sold, she would not be able to return home when her treatment is complete. (Id. ¶ 9.) She claims that she would then have lost her home solely because of her disability and her need for disability-related care. (Id.) Vignola asked the Condo Association to grant an exception to the list-before-lease requirement-that is, to allow her to rent her unit without first listing it for sale. (Id. ¶ 11.) In response, the Condo Association requested proof of her disability. (Id. ¶ 12.) Despite her compliance with that request, the Condo Association denied, and continues to deny, Vignola's request for an accommodation. (Id.)

         Vignola now seeks a preliminary injunction enjoining the Condo Association from continuing to deny the requested accommodation, which she claims is a violation of the FHAA. She contends that an injunction is necessary to preserve the status quo between the parties and to prevent her from suffering irreparable harm (i.e., the potential loss of her home). The Condo Association, on the other hand, argues that its list-before-lease rule is causing harm to Vignola, if at all, not on account of her disability but because she cannot afford to pay for two residences simultaneously. The Condo Association further argues that its refusal to waive the requirement is motivated by its fiduciary duty to treat all unit owners equally, not by any discriminatory animus toward Vignola's disability.


         A preliminary injunction is an extraordinary and drastic remedy that should not be granted unless the movant carries the burden of persuasion by a clear showing. Mazurek v. Armstrong, 520 U.S. 968, 972 (1997); see also Girl Scouts of Manitou Council, Inc. v. Girl Scouts of U.S. of Am., Inc., 549 F.3d 1079, 1085 (7th Cir. 2008) (“[A] preliminary injunction is an exercise of a very far-reaching power, never to be indulged in except in a case clearly demanding it.”) (internal quotation marks omitted). In deciding whether to grant preliminary injunctive relief, a court must, as a threshold matter, determine whether the moving party has demonstrated: (1) some likelihood of success on the merits of the underlying claim; (2) the absence of an adequate remedy at law; and (3) the suffering of irreparable harm if preliminary relief is denied. Abbott Labs. v. Mead Johnson & Co., 971 F.2d 6, 11 (7th Cir. 1992). If the moving party meets those threshold requirements, the court then must balance the harm to the non-moving party if preliminary relief is granted against the harm to the moving party if relief is denied, and also consider the consequences to the public interest of granting or denying relief. Id. at 11-12. The equitable balancing analysis employed by the Seventh Circuit involves a “sliding scale” approach, “weighting harm to a party by the merit of his case.” Cavel Int'l, Inc. v. Madigan, 500 F.3d 544, 547 (7th Cir. 2007).

         I. Likelihood of Success on the Merits

         Vignola's request for a preliminary injunction in this case fails at the first hurdle: she has not presented evidence sufficient to support a likelihood of a success on the merits of her FHAA claim.

         The FHAA makes it illegal (1) to “discriminate in the sale or rental, or to otherwise make unavailable or deny, a dwelling to any buyer or renter because of a handicap, ” and (2) 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 dwelling, because of a handicap.” 42 U.S.C. §§ 3604(f)(1)-(2). Unlawful discrimination includes “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.” 42 U.S.C. § 3604(f)(3)(B). To prevail on her reasonable accommodation claim, Vignola must show that the requested accommodation is reasonable and necessary to afford her an equal opportunity to use and enjoy her condo unit. See Oconomowoc Residential Programs, Inc. v. City of Milwaukee, 300 F.3d 775, 783 (7th Cir. 2002).

         Determining the reasonableness of a requested accommodation requires a highly fact-specific inquiry that balances the needs of the parties. Id. at 784. Generally, “[a]n accommodation is reasonable if it is both efficacious and proportional to the costs to implement it.” Id. (quoting Vande Zande v. Wis. Dep't of Admin., 44 F.3d 538, 543 (7th Cir. 1995)). With respect to whether her requested accommodation is necessary, Vignola must establish that, without it, she will be denied an equal opportunity to use and enjoy her condo. See Wis. Cmty. Servs., Inc. v. City of Milwaukee, 465 F.3d 737, 749 (7th Cir. 2006). The term “necessary” is linked to the goal of equal opportunity, and the Seventh Circuit has made clear that “the ‘equal opportunity' element limits the accommodation duty so that not every rule that creates a general inconvenience or expense to the disabled needs to be modified.” Id. “Instead, the statute requires only accommodations necessary to ameliorate the effect of the plaintiff's disability[.]” Id. To enforce this limitation, courts faced with a potentially discriminatory rule must ask “whether the rule in question, if left unmodified, hurts ‘handicapped people by reason of their handicap, rather than . . . by virtue of what they have in common with other people, such as a limited amount of money to spend on housing.” Id. (quoting Hemisphere Bldg. Co. v. Vill. of Richton Park, 171 F.3d 437, 440 (7th Cir. 1999)) (emphasis in original).

         The problem for Vignola is not the requirement that her requested accommodation be reasonable, which, as noted above, is usually a fact-intensive inquiry. Rather, her primary obstacle is her inability to show that the requested accommodation is necessary to allow her an equal opportunity to use her home. The case law applying the above-referenced limitation to claims similar to Vignola's-that is, claims seeking modifications or exceptions to policies limiting access to property that, on their faces, apply equally to everyone seeking access to the property regardless of whether they are disabled-is simply not on her side. See, e.g., Good Shepherd Manor Found., Inc. v. City of Momence, 323 F.3d 557, 561 (7th Cir. 2003) (affirming the district court's conclusion that, because the service of water is something that is needed by all people, the city's failure to provide water to plaintiffs' property did not hurt plaintiffs' residents by reason of their disability); Riggs v. Howard, 234 F.3d 1273 (7th Cir. 2000) (rejecting the plaintiff's reasonable accommodation claim because she did not relate her alleged inability to obtain an affordable apartment to her status as a disabled person).

         Vignola faces a difficult, if not insurmountable, task in attempting to show that the potential loss of her home is due to her disability as opposed to her lack of financial means to keep her condo while staying at the rehabilitation facility. It is difficult, at this stage, to see how Vignola will be able to show that her situation is different from any other individual who while not disabled must live away from his or her primary residence for an undetermined period of time and cannot afford to maintain two residences. Does the law entitle Vignola to an accommodation that would not be available to someone transferred temporarily for work or who must move temporarily to care for a sick relative? Under her view, it seems that it would.

         Vignola attempts to distinguish those situations from her own by arguing that the temporarily transferred employee or short-term caregiver would still have a place to live if their condos sold (i.e., wherever they were currently living), whereas Vignola will have nowhere to go once her treatment is complete. Thus, she contends, it is her disability-necessitated stay in a rehabilitation facility that would cause the list-before-lease rule to deprive her of her home. But this effort to distinguish her situation fails for at least two reasons. First, there is no evidence that Vignola would have nowhere else to live-for instance, with family or in a retirement home-if her condo sold. Second, there is no basis to assume that, in the examples cited above, the individuals' temporary housing would be available indefinitely. Someone who is transferred for work may be ...

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