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Alamar Ranch, LLC v. County of Boise

April 27, 2010


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Honorable B. Lynn Winmill Chief U. S. District Judge


Before the Court are Plaintiffs' Motion for Partial Summary Judgment (Docket No. 51), Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (Docket No. 52), and Defendant's Motion to Strike documents offered by Plaintiff (Docket No. 72). The Court has reviewed the parties' pleadings, including post-hearing letter briefs requested by the Court, and has considered oral argument from hearing on February 17, 2010. For the following reasons, the Court will grant in part and deny in part, Plaintiff's Motion for Partial Summary Judgment, and grant in part and deny in part Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment. In so ruling, the Court did not rely on the documents at issue in Defendant's Motion to Strike, thus rendering that motion moot.


Plaintiffs Alamar Ranch and YTC filed this lawsuit alleging that Defendant Boise County violated the Fair Housing Act (FHA). According to Plaintiffs, Defendant violated the FHA by effectively denying Plaintiffs a conditional use permit to construct a residential treatment center for troubled youth. Plaintiffs move for partial summary judgment, requesting findings that (1) Plaintiffs are aggrieved parties under the FHA, and (2) that Defendant violated the FHA by failing to grant Plaintiffs reasonable accommodations. Plaintiffs' Motion (Docket No. 51). Defendants move for summary judgment to dismiss each of Plaintiffs' claims, and find that punitive damages are unavailable, as a matter of law. Defendant's Motion (Docket No. 52).


A. Summary Judgment Standard of Review

A primary purpose of the summary judgment rule "is to isolate and dispose of factually unsupported claims . . . ." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323-24 (1986). It is "not a disfavored procedural shortcut," but is instead the "principal tool[ ] by which factually insufficient claims or defenses [can] be isolated and prevented from going to trial with the attendant unwarranted consumption of public and private resources." Id. at 327. "[T]he mere existence of some alleged factual dispute between the parties will not defeat an otherwise properly supported motion for summary judgment; the requirement is that there be no genuine issue of material fact." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-48 (1986).

The evidence must be viewed in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, and the Court must not make credibility findings. Id. at 255. Direct testimony of the non-movant must be believed, however implausible. Leslie v. Grupo ICA, 198 F.3d 1152, 1159 (9th Cir. 1999). On the other hand, the Court is not required to adopt unreasonable inferences from circumstantial evidence. McLaughlin v. Liu, 849 F.2d 1205, 1208 (9th Cir. 1988). The Court must be "guided by the substantive evidentiary standards that apply to the case." Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. at 255. If a claim requires clear and convincing evidence, the issue on summary judgment is whether a reasonable jury could conclude that clear and convincing evidence supports the claim. Id.

The moving party bears the initial burden of demonstrating the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Devereaux v. Abbey, 263 F.3d 1070, 1076 (9th Cir. 2001)(en banc). To carry this burden, the moving party need not introduce any affirmative evidence (such as affidavits or deposition excerpts) but may simply point out the absence of evidence to support the nonmoving party's case. Fairbank v. Wunderman Cato Johnson, 212 F.3d 528, 532 (9th Cir.2000). This shifts the burden to the non-moving party to produce evidence sufficient to support a jury verdict in her favor. Id. at 256-57. The non-moving party must go beyond the pleadings and show "by her affidavits, or by the depositions, answers to interrogatories, or admissions on file" that a genuine issue of material fact exists. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 324. The Court is "not required to comb through the record to find some reason to deny a motion for summary judgment." Carmen v. San Francisco Unified Sch. Dist., 237 F.3d 1026, 1029 (9th Cir.2001) (quoting Forsberg v. Pac. Northwest Bell Tel. Co., 840 F.2d 1409, 1418 (9th Cir. 1988)). Instead, the "party opposing summary judgment must direct [the Court's] attention to specific triable facts." Southern California Gas Co. v. City of Santa Ana, 336 F.3d 885, 889 (9th Cir. 2003).

Only admissible evidence may be considered in ruling on a motion for summary judgment. Orr v. Bank of America, 285 F.3d 764, 773 (9th Cir.2002); see also Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e). In determining admissibility for summary judgment purposes, it is the contents of the evidence rather than its form that must be considered. Fraser v. Goodale, 342 F.3d 1032, 1036-37 (9th Cir. 2003). If the contents of the evidence could be presented in an admissible form at trial, those contents may be considered on summary judgment even if the evidence itself is hearsay. Id. (affirming consideration of hearsay contents of plaintiff's diary on summary judgment because at trial, plaintiff's testimony of contents would not be hearsay). In order to preserve a hearsay objection, "a party must either move to strike the affidavit or otherwise lodge an objection with the district court." Pfingston v. Ronan Engineering Co., 284 F.3d 999, 1003 (9th Cir. 2002). In the absence of objection, the Court may consider hearsay evidence. Skillsky v. Lucky Stores, Inc., 893 F.2d 1088, 1094 (9th Cir. 1990).

Statements in a brief, unsupported by the record, cannot be used to create an issue of fact. Barnes v. Independent Auto. Dealers, 64 F.3d 1389, 1396 n.3 (9th Cir. 1995). The Circuit "has repeatedly held that documents which have not had a proper foundation laid to authenticate them cannot support a motion for summary judgment." Beyene v. Coleman Sec. Services, Inc., 854 F.2d 1179, 1182 (9th Cir. 1988). Authentication, required by Federal Rule of Evidence 901(a), is not satisfied simply by attaching a document to an affidavit. Id. The affidavit must contain testimony of a witness with personal knowledge of the facts who attests to the identity and due execution of the document. Id.

B. Plaintiffs' Standing

Plaintiffs ask the Court to find that they have standing as aggrieved parties under the FHA. An "aggrieved person" is defined under the Act as any person who "(1) claims to have been injured by a discriminatory housing practice; or (2) believes that such person will be injured by a discriminatory housing practice that is about to occur." 42 U.S.C. § 3602(i). The Supreme Court recognizes a liberal standing requirement for actions brought under the FHA. Gladstone Realtors v. Village of Bellwood, 441 U.S. 91, 99 S.Ct. 1601 (1979). A plaintiff may sue to recover under the FHA without being the direct subject of discrimination, so long as plaintiff has suffered the "[Article] III minima of injury in fact." Havens Realty Corp. v. Coleman, 455 U.S. 363, 372, 102 S.Ct. 1114 (1982); see Trafficante v. Metropolitan Life Ins. Co., 409 U.S. 205, 212, 93 S.Ct. 364 (1972).

Defendant here argues that Plaintiffs lack standing because the relief requested will not redress the injury to would-be residents of Alamar Ranch. Defendant's Opposition (Docket No. 59) at 7, citing Conti v. City of Fremont, 919 F.2d 1385, 1387 (9th Cir. 1990). As noted by Plaintiffs, the Conti case cited by Defendant is inapplicable because it concerned a plaintiff's standing to redress injuries caused to others rather than to plaintiff himself. Id. at 1387. Plaintiffs in this case seek relief for interference with Plaintiffs' development of Alamar Ranch. See Plaintiff's Motion (Docket No. 51-1) at 7.

Defendant also contends that the profitability -- even the mere survival -- of Plaintiffs' proposed development is "purely speculative," thus Plaintiffs cannot show injury. Defendant's Opposition (Docket No. 59) at 8. The Court finds this argument too restrictive, as it could defeat discrimination claims by any proposed housing development. Such a limited interpretation of the standing requirements is contrary to that envisioned by the Supreme Court in Gladstone Realtors, 441 U.S. 91.

The FHA "allows anyone sustaining an actual injury from an alleged discriminatory housing practice to commence a suit." San Pedro Hotel Co., Inc. v. City of Los Angeles, 159 F.3d 470, 475 (9th Cir. 1998)(citation omitted)(property owners had standing under FHA to challenge city's interference with sale of property for development of housing for the mentally disabled); see also Smith v. Stechel, 510 F.2d 1162, 1164 (9th Cir. 1975)(realtor who was fired for renting apartments to minorities had standing to sue under the FHA). Defendant in this case does not explicitly dispute that it impeded the development of Alamar Ranch. Instead, Defendant argues it was unaware of any impediment to the project's development, and believed that conditions imposed on Alamar Ranch were reasonable. Defendant's Opposition (Docket No. 59) at 9, 12.

The Court finds that Plaintiffs, as developers of the housing project in dispute, were "injured" under San Pedro Hotel. The Court therefore finds that Plaintiffs are ...

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