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LaRosa v. River Quarry Apartments, LLC

United States District Court, D. Idaho

August 3, 2019





         Plaintiffs filed this action in August 2018, alleging that defendants violated their rights under the Fair Housing Act. Plaintiffs' central allegation was that defendants wrongfully denied Robert LaRosa's request for a reasonable accommodation allowing his companion dog, Sid, to live with him in his apartment. In March 2019, the Court dismissed the complaint, reasoning that because Sid had lived with the LaRosas during their entire tenancy at River Quarry Apartments, there had been no FHA violation. See Mem. Decision & Order, Dkt. 31.

         The plaintiffs have now filed an amended complaint. The amended complaint names the same defendants - River Quarry Apartments, LLC; Rafanelli & Nahas Management Corporation; Deanne Pirnie; attorney Kirk A. Cullimore; and the Law Offices of Kirk A. Cullimore. All defendants have moved to dismiss the amended complaint. See Dkts. 33, 34. For the reasons explained below, the Court will again dismiss plaintiffs' disparate treatment claim as well as their claim that defendants denied their request for a reasonable accommodation under the Fair Housing Act. The Court will, however, allow plaintiffs' interference and negligence claims to proceed.


         Plaintiffs reallege many of the same facts in their amended complaint. Those facts will be described here, alongside the new factual allegations. The Court will not, however, detail the new allegations in the amended complaint that consist solely of argument, legal conclusions, or quotations from the Joint Statement issued by DOJ and HUD in this section.[1] See, e.g., Am. Compl., Dkt. 32, ¶¶ 15-18, 34, 43, 46, 57, 64.

         The factual allegations in the amended complaint fall into three main categories: (1) allegations related to Mr. LaRosa's efforts to obtain a reasonable accommodation at River Quarry Apartments; (2) allegations related to plaintiff Intermountain Fair Housing Council (IHFC) testers; and (3) allegations related to attorney defendant Kirk Cullimore's legal practice.

         1. Allegations Related to the LaRosas

         On August 30, 2017, Plaintiffs Robert and Iva LaRosa applied to live at River Quarry Apartments. Am. Compl., Dkt. 32, ¶ 39. River Quarry typically charges additional fees for residents who own dogs, but the LaRosas requested a reasonable accommodation to keep their dog, Sid, without paying the fee. Id. ¶ 40. The LaRosas provided River Quarry with a copy of a September 2016 note from a nurse practitioner, stating: “Please allow Mr. Larosa (sic) to have a companion dog with him to help manage his post-traumatic stress disorder.” Id. ¶¶ 34, 40.

         Roughly a week later, on September 7, 2017, the LaRosas received an email from River Quarry management approving their residence application. Id. ¶ 41. Regarding the reasonable accommodation request for Sid, the email said, “We still need to process the approval of approving (sic) your assistance animal.” Id. The email further instructed the LaRosas to complete two forms entitled (1) “Animal Identification Form, ” and (2) “Resident's Request for Assistance Animal.” Id. ¶¶ 41-42. The second form requested information about “the anticipated length of the disability.” Id. ¶ 43. Both documents included a logo and copyright symbol for “The Law Offices of Kirk A. Cullimore.” Id. ¶ 42.

         On the same day they received the forms, the LaRosas completed and returned them to River Quarry. Id. ¶ 44. They again submitted the 2016 nurse practitioner note which said: “Please allow Mr. Larosa (sic) to have a companion dog with him to help manage his post-traumatic stress disorder.” Id. ¶¶ 34, 44. On one of the forms, Mr. LaRosa identified his primary care physician as Dr. Andrew Wilper at the Boise Veterans Affairs Medical Center (VAMC). Id. ¶ 44. River Quarry then asked Mr. LaRosa to have Dr. Wilper complete a third form, titled “Verification for Assistance Animal.” Id. ¶ 45. This form also included a logo and copyright symbol for “The Law Offices of Kirk A. Cullimore.” Id. Dr. Wilper did not initially complete the form; instead, on September 12, he wrote a letter to the LaRosas bearing his digital signature, which said:

I attest that you have been under my care since October 2016 to the present. I am familiar with your history and with the functional and coping limitations imposed by your emotional/mental health-related issues. In my opinion, an emotional support animal may help mitigate the symptoms you are currently experiencing.

Id. ¶ 46. The LaRosas provided Dr. Wilper's letter to River Quarry on the same day. Id. One week later, on September 19, the LaRosas moved into River Quarry with Sid. Id. ¶ 47.

         Sometime between September 12 and September 27, Mr. Cullimore called Dr. Wilper's secretary, Kimberly Barker. Am. Compl., Dkt. 32, ¶ 50. Mr. Cullimore asked to speak directly to Dr. Wilper about Mr. LaRosa's request for a reasonable accommodation. Id. Ms. Barker declined to speak to Mr. Cullimore further without a release form signed by Mr. LaRosa. Id. On September 27, defendant Dianne Pirnie, manager at River Quarry, wrote this letter to the LaRosas:

We contacted your doctor at the VA. He refused to verify the information. They refused to even state that the letter was authentic. They stated that you, the patient, needed to provide them with further documentation and releases to provide the verification.
As a consequence, we cannot yet approve your request for an assistance animal. You will need to contact your doctor at the VA and provide them with them (sic) information and documentation necessary for them to not only confirm the need for the animal but to discuss the letter and verify it with us.

Id. ¶ 51.

         Mr. LaRosa signed a release form on September 28 authorizing VA representatives to speak to “Kirk Cullimore” for the purpose of “discuss[ing] 9/12/17 letter written by Dr. Wilper regarding Assistive (sic) Animal.” Id. ¶ 55.

         On October 2, Mr. Cullimore spoke with Dr. Wilper by telephone. Id. ¶ 56. Plaintiffs describe the salient points of that call as follows:

• “Mr. Cullimore told Dr. Wilper that, in Mr. Cullimore's opinion, Dr. Wilper's letter was “contradictory” because it did not clearly distinguish whether the dog was a support animal or a service animal.” Id. (footnote omitted). Plaintiffs allege that Mr. Cullimore raised this topic to confuse Dr. Wilper, or to “intimidate Dr. Wilper into withdrawing his medical verification.” Id.
• During the call, “Mr. Cullimore also asked Dr. Wilper about Mr. LaRosa's diagnosis. Dr. Wilper did not disclose the diagnosis, but he confirmed that Mr. LaRosa was a person with a disability. Mr. Cullimore asked Dr. Wilper how long Dr. Wilper had been treating Mr. LaRosa, and when Mr. Larosa got the dog.” Id. ¶ 57. Plaintiffs say Mr. Cullimore asked these particular questions “to force Dr. Wilper to spend additional time reviewing his medical records or meeting with Mr. LaRosa, and ultimately discourage or delay Dr. Wilper in confirming his medical verification, and more broadly, to cause Dr. Wilper to refrain from assisting people with disabilities in requesting reasonable accommodations in the future, including those who need an assistive animal in their housing.” Id. ¶ 58.
• In response to Mr. Cullimore's inquiries, “Dr. Wilper told Mr. Cullimore that he would follow up with Mr. Cullimore after Mr. LaRosa's appointment on October 4, 2017. Because Dr. Wilper is the chief of staff at the VAMC and was very busy, Dr. Wilper told Mr. Cullimore to expect a delay.” Id. ¶ 59.

         On the following day, October 3, Ms. Pirnie wrote a letter to Mr. LaRosa which read:

We have been diligently attempting to resolve your request for an Assistance Animal. As you know, we have been in contact with your medical provider and he requested more information from you.
Our most recent discussion with him has determined that you do not qualify under the Fair Housing Act for this accommodation. This determination was made by your medical provider. Because the letter he sent was vague, we contacted him to clarify the information. When given the two prong test requirements (that you must be handicapped as defined by the Fair Housing Act and there is a nexus between the handicap and the need for the animal), your medical provider declined to verify that you met the necessary standard.
As a consequence, we cannot grant the requested accommodation. If we can further assist you, please let us know.
As you know we do allow pets. You can come into the office and apply to have a pet addendum that would allow you to peek (sic) an approved animal. Of course, there are fees, deposits and rent that will be required for a pet.

Id. ¶ 60.

         The next day, October 4, Mr. LaRosa had an appointment with Dr. Wilper. Id. ¶ 62. At the appointment, Dr. Wilper completed and signed the “Verification for Assistance Animal” form that River Quarry had provided to Mr. LaRosa on September 4. Id. The LaRosas returned the form to Ms. Pirnie the same day. Id. Ms. Pirnie acted surprised to ...

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