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Geraci v. Union Square Condominium Association

United States Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit

May 25, 2018

Holly B. Geraci, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
Union Square Condominium Association, Defendant-Appellee.

          Argued February 22, 2018

          Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division. No. 15 C 2466 - Matthew F. Kennelly, Judge.

          Before Bauer, Easterbrook, and Rovner, Circuit Judges.

          Bauer, Circuit Judge.

         This appeal arises from a Fair Hous- ing Act ("FHA") failure to accommodate and retaliation claim. A jury found in favor of the defendant, Union Square Condo- minium Association ("Union Square"). The plaintiff, Holly Geraci, now appeals asserting that the district court errone- ously instructed the jury as to the elements for her retaliation claim, and erroneously allowed Union Square to present testimony from an expert witness as to whether or not she qualified as handicap under the FHA.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Geraci owns and lives in a unit at Union Square with her husband and dog. This claim originates from an incident in one of Union Square's elevators involving another individual and an unspecified number of dogs. Due to this incident, Geraci sought psychological treatment and was subsequently diag- nosed with post-traumatic stress disorder ("PTSD").

         Geraci filed an accommodation request with Union Square, and upon denial of her request, she filed a four count com- plaint against Union Square. Relevant to this appeal, Geraci alleged a failure to accommodate her handicap and retaliation by the association for her seeking an accommodation, both in violation of the FHA. Geraci asserted entitlement to a reason- able accommodation based on her diagnosis of PTSD, which, she asserted, rose to the level of a handicap. She further asserted Union Square retaliated against her when Union Square's Board ("the Board") published two litigation updates and held an open forum to discuss and update Union Square's co-owners about the status of the lawsuit.

         After the district court denied Union Square's motion for summary judgment, the case went to trial. Over Geraci's objection, Union Square presented testimony of the psychiatrist who had previously conducted a court ordered Rule 35 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure examination during litigation. The psychiatrist's testimony contradicted the diagnosis of Geraci's treating psychologist, diagnosing her with three separate mental conditions, none of which were PTSD. Geraci's overarching objection was to the district court allowing Union Square to question whether Geraci had a mental impairment.

         After the district court instructed the jury, the case was submitted to the jury. During deliberations, the jury sent a note to the district court that read, "[i]f all of us jurors agreed she did not have a handicap per FHA criteria, do we need to go through all items on the first and second claims to establish verdict?" The district court responded by referring the jury back to the instructions that had been provided. The jury returned a verdict in favor of Union Square. This appeal followed.

         On appeal, Geraci argues the district court erred in instruct- ing the jury that in order to recover for retaliation in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 3617, Geraci first had to prove she has a handi- cap, and in allowing Union Square to present testimony from an expert witness challenging Geraci's claimed mental impair- ment.

         II. ANALYSIS

         A. Retaliation

         At trial, Geraci alleged Union Square retaliated against her because she requested an accommodation. On appeal, she argues the district court erred in instructing the jury that she must first prove she is handicapped to prevail on a retaliation claim under § 3617. We affirm not on the basis that the district court properly ...


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