Supreme Court declines to hear group home ordinance case

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U.S. Supreme Court

The Supreme Court announced November 3 that it is denying certiorari to an appeal from the town of Newport Beach regarding a recent appellate court decision finding that a 2008 ordinance may have illegally discriminated against people with disabilities.

Prior to 2008, more than 73 group homes for recovering alcoholics and drug users existed in Newport Beach, an affluent central California city of more than 80,000 people. That year, the City Council enacted an ordinance preventing the further construction of these groups homes in residential zones, and subjecting existing facilities to stringent location.

Three of the existing facilities sued the city on the grounds that the ordinance violated the ADA by discriminating against people on the basis of their disabilities. Attorneys from the Law Offices of Steven G. Polin and Brancart & Brancart represented the plaintiffs. Amicus briefs on behalf of the plaintiffs were filed by the Disability Rights Legal Center, Hunton & Williams, Disability Rights California, the Western Center on Law and Poverty and the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund, as well as the Department of Justice.

Claims were brought under the Fair Housing Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Equal Protection Clause and the California Fair Employment and Housing Act. The U.S. District Court for Central District of California initially ruled for the city, but the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit reversed, finding that a jury could determine that the city intentionally discriminated against people with disabilities in enacting the ordinance.

“Taken in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, Plaintiffs’ evidence shows that the City’s purpose in enacting the Ordinance was to exclude group homes from most residential districts and to bring about the closure of existing group homes in those areas,” the 9th Circuit wrote.

The city argued that the plaintiffs could not bring an intentional discrimination claim, under a “disparate treatment” theory, because they could not demonstrate they were treated worse than another “similarly situated” group.

While the 9th Circuit acknowledged that that is one way to bring a disparate treatment claim, the plaintiffs only need to demonstrate “direct or circumstantial” evidence of discrimination for the case to proceed to a jury.

The 9th Circuit pointed to a number of factors in finding such evidence, including the city council’s decision not to include large vacation homes in the ordinance, comments from city council members, and the council’s lack of transparency in enacting the ordinance, among other factors.

The case now returns to the District Court for further proceedings.

Disability Rights California and Disability Rights Washington, which operates this Galaxy website, are part of the federally funded protection and advocacy system and members of the National Disability Rights Network.

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