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Martin v. Emanuel

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

August 27, 2019

LAURA MARTIN, Plaintiff,


          Robert W. Gettleman United States District Judge.

         Plaintiff Laura Martin has rheumatoid arthritis. She walks with a cane and cannot go up or down stairs. When she lost her home, she called the City of Chicago's emergency homeless shelter line. She was unable to access a shelter for three nights. Two shelters allegedly denied her access because of her mobility limitations: one refused to take people who needed help moving their luggage; the other had a broken elevator. She ended up spending one night in a hostel and two nights in hospital waiting rooms. She eventually moved into an apartment that she used a housing voucher to secure.

         Plaintiff sued the City of Chicago for discriminating against people with disabilities, which the Rehabilitation Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act forbid. 29 U.S.C. § 794 et seq.; 42 U.S.C. § 12131 et seq. She seeks declaratory, compensatory, and injunctive relief. The City moves to dismiss, arguing that: (1) plaintiff lacks Article III standing for injunctive relief because she fails to allege an imminent injury; (2) plaintiff fails to state claims under the Rehabilitation Act and Americans with Disabilities Act because she fails to allege that the City's homeless shelter system disparately impacts people with disabilities; and (3) plaintiff cannot recover damages because she fails to allege that the City discriminated against her intentionally.

         The court agrees that plaintiff lacks standing for injunctive relief: she now lives in an apartment and faces no imminent threat of becoming homeless and facing discrimination again. Plaintiff has, however, plausibly alleged a disparate impact on people with disabilities. The City argues that the analysis should exclude a shelter that receives no City funding. But the question is whether that shelter-Pacific Garden Mission-is part of the City's services, programs, or activities. Plaintiff's allegations raise that inference: the City refers and transports people to Pacific Garden. Plaintiff has also plausibly alleged that the City intentionally discriminates against people with disabilities. Intentional discrimination is not discriminatory animus; it is deliberate indifference. Plaintiff alleges that the largest shelter in Chicago is inaccessible and that another shelter-Cornerstone Community Outreach-has an elevator that has never been fixed. Those allegations raise an inference of deliberate indifference: the City knows that its shelters are disproportionately likely to turn away people with disabilities, and the City has nonetheless failed to fix that disparity.


         Because the City challenges the legal sufficiency of the complaint's allegations, the court takes those allegations as true. Firestone Financial Corp. v. Meyer, 796 F.3d 822, 826 (7th Cir. 2015); Silha v. ACT, Inc., 807 F.3d 169, 173-74 (7th Cir. 2015).

         The City funds most of the shelters in Chicago that provide emergency housing. To access a shelter bed, a homeless person must call 3-1-1 or ask hospital or police station staff to call 3-1-1 for them. The City funds a delegate agency to coordinate shelter placement. That agency, Catholic Charities, responds to shelter requests and transports people to shelters.

         Plaintiff Laura Martin tried to use the City's homeless shelter system. She has rheumatoid arthritis, which limits her mobility. She needs a cane or a walker to walk and cannot go up or down stairs. She has a Housing Choice Voucher under Section 8 of the Housing Act, 42 U.S.C. § 1437(f). Her Section 8 voucher lets her rent an apartment that she otherwise could not afford.

         In fall 2017, plaintiff found a landlord who would rent to her. Before her new landlord and the Chicago Housing Authority completed the paperwork, the family member with whom plaintiff had been living moved into a nursing home. Plaintiff had no place to stay.

         Day 1. On October 6, 2017, plaintiff went to Rush University Medical Center. She told a social worker that she had no place to stay. The social worker called 3-1-1. A driver from Catholic Charities came. The driver told plaintiff that the only available shelter, Pacific Garden Mission, would not take her because she needed help to transport herself and her luggage. Pacific Garden is the largest homeless shelter in Chicago; it receives no City funding. The driver told plaintiff to call back later because more shelters would be open then.

         Still at the hospital, plaintiff called an organization named "Heartland Alliance." A Heartland Alliance employee told plaintiff that he had confirmed a bed for her at Cornerstone Community Outreach, a City-funded shelter. Plaintiff told a social worker the good news. The social worker called Catholic Charities and asked them to take plaintiff to Cornerstone.

         Plaintiff arrived at 11:00 p.m. As plaintiff got out of the van, a woman who appeared to work for Cornerstone approached and said, "She can't come in here." Plaintiff believed that the Cornerstone employee was talking about plaintiff's difficulty walking. Plaintiff said that the Heartland Alliance employee had confirmed that Cornerstone had an elevator. The Cornerstone employee expressed great frustration. She said that this problem happened frequently-the elevator had never worked since it had been installed. The Cornerstone employee asked the Catholic Charities drivers how plaintiff would be expected to walk across the street to eat. Plaintiffs arthritis prevents her from walking more than a block at a time.

         Plaintiff asked the drivers to drop her off at a hostel. She stayed there for a night. That was all she could afford-she was saving for moving expenses and the security deposit for her new apartment.

         Day 2. Plaintiff arrived at Rush Hospital the next afternoon. She told the hospital staff that she was homeless. A social worker called 3-1-1. A driver from Catholic Charities came and said that the only available shelter was Pacific Garden Mission. Plaintiff said that Pacific Garden would not take her because of her disability. The driver left. Plaintiff stayed in the emergency room and called a Catholic Charities employee. That employee told plaintiff ...

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