Eleventh Circuit Affirms Summary Judgment in Suit Against Sober Living Facility

An opinion was issued by the Eleventh Circuit on Friday in a case filed by Sailboat Bend Sober Living LLC against the City of Fort Lauderdale, Florida. The initial complaint alleged that the City of Fort Lauderdale enacted codes and regulations that discriminated against individuals with disabilities, like those served by the plaintiff’s facility.

Sailboat Bend Sober Living, a “for-profit sober living home in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, houses up to eleven people recovering from addiction who support each other in their sobriety.”

The opinion explains that Sailboat has had issue abiding by the defendant’s Building and Fire Codes and their Zoning Ordinance in the past. Past violations have included blocked emergency escape routes, the performance of unpermitted and un-inspected work, lack of compliant smoke alarms, no fire alarm system, and more. When the violations were discovered, the plaintiffs were given a deadline by which they had to remedy the violations.

Five days before the deadline, the plaintiffs filed reasonable accommodation requests which were denied, the opinion says. The plaintiffs alleged in their initial complaint that the defendant’s “code enforcement decisions were motived by hostility to the disabled, their accommodation request was wrongfully denied, and the Zoning Ordinance was facially discriminatory against people with disabilities.” Their complaint cited claims under the Fair Housing Act and Amendments and the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The defendants moved for summary judgment of the suit, which was granted by the district court and upheld by the Eleventh Circuit. The opinions explained that the defendant’s regulations were not discriminatory, but that to accommodate the regulations Sailboat “chose to reduce its occupancy to three people rather than make the required (albeit allegedly expensive) safety upgrades to the Property.”

The court upheld the district court’s decision that rather than working in a discriminatory manner against the plaintiffs, the City of Fort Lauderdale’s Zoning Ordinance actually works to their benefit since it exempts individuals with disabilities from some regulations. Judges Jordan, Jill Pryor, and Marcus further conclude that there is no evidence to demonstrate that the defendant determines their Codes in a way that discriminates against those with disabilities and that the plaintiffs’ requested accommodation on account of disability was not necessary.

The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the Southern District of Florida’s decision granting the defendant’s motion for summary judgment on Friday.

The plaintiffs were represented in the litigation by Smolker Bartlett Loeb Hinds & Thompson and the Law Office of Steven G. Polin, while the defendants were represented by Johnson, Anselmo, Murdoch, Burke, Piper & Hochman.