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Lau v. Honolulu Park Place

United States District Court, D. Hawaii

December 3, 2019

GARRICK LAU, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
HONOLULU PARK PLACE, et al., Defendants.

          ORDER GRANTING IN PART AND DENYING IN PART DEFENDANTS' MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

          DERRICK K. WATSON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This lawsuit arises from allegations that Plaintiffs had for some time parked their wheelchair-accessible van in designated guest parking spots without repercussion, even though condominium residents, like Plaintiffs, were prohibited from doing so pursuant to Defendants' parking regulations. When Defendants eventually towed Plaintiffs' van and refused to grant Plaintiffs an accommodation to resume parking in the guest parking area, Plaintiffs brought this action under the Fair Housing Amendments Act of 1988 (FHAA), 42 U.S.C. Section 3601 et seq., seeking compensatory and injunctive relief.

         Defendants have now moved for summary judgment (Dkt. No. 68) on the basis that Plaintiffs' request for injunctive relief is moot because Defendants have formally granted Plaintiffs permission to park in guest parking, and Plaintiffs' claims for damages should be dismissed because Plaintiffs have not supported their claims with evidence. For the reasons explained below, Plaintiffs' claim for prospective injunctive relief is moot, but a jury trial is warranted on the sole issue of Plaintiffs' damages for emotional distress. Accordingly, Defendants' motion is GRANTED IN PART AND DENIED IN PART.

         FACTUAL & PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         A. Factual Background

         The underlying facts in this case are largely undisputed. Plaintiffs Wilson and Mabel Lau own two units at the Honolulu Park Place condominiums (HPP), where they live with their adult son, Plaintiff Garrick Lau.[1] Because Garrick is a quadriplegic and depends on a wheelchair for mobility, [2] the Laus use a minivan that has been modified to accommodate Garrick's wheelchair, such that the van's floor and undercarriage are closer to the ground than the manufacturer's specifications.[3]

         Residents at HPP have assigned parking spaces near their respective units.[4]The Laus' assigned parking spaces are on the third level of the parking structure.[5]To get there, the Laus must drive up several ramps, and in the process, the undercarriage of the modified van allegedly strikes the ground.[6] HPP guest parking, on the other hand, is on the ground level and does not present the same problem for the Laus.[7] HPP's written policies, however, provide that residents are not permitted to park in any of the (44) designated guest parking spaces.[8] “Violators of any [HPP] parking regulations risk having their vehicles towed away at their own expense.”[9]

         Notwithstanding HPP's guest parking policy, it is undisputed that, for some time, the Laus regularly parked in HPP's dedicated guest parking area without consequence.[10] In 2017, HPP revoked its tacit permission.[11] According to Defendants, this occurred at a meeting with Garrick on June 20, 2017.[12] In any event, the parties agree that the Laus continued to park in guest parking.[13] As a result, on July 10, 2017, the Laus' vehicle was towed pursuant to the instructions of HPP security personnel.[14]

         Wilson subsequently sent a letter to the HPP President and Board of Directors (Board) on August 1, 2017.[15] In the letter, Wilson requested that the Board allow the Laus to “park at the guest parking as before . . .”[16] The Board President offered to exchange one of the Laus' parking spaces with another unit's parking space located close to the building entrance, and the President himself even offered to exchange his parking space for Garrick's.[17] The Laus rejected these alternative options, none of which appear to have offered them the ground floor space that they wanted, and, instead, Wilson and Mabel renewed their parking request at the Board of Director's August 16, 2017 meeting, requesting that “the Board grant [their] son a reasonable accommodation to allow him to park in designated Guest parking stalls.”[18]

         On August 23, 2017, the Board denied the Laus' request for an accommodation in a letter issued by counsel.[19] Among other things, the Board explained that in light of HPP's guest parking policy, it could not grant a resident the right to use the guest parking area without an affirmative vote by the membership of the HPP Association of Apartment Owners (AOAO).[20] The Laus then filed this lawsuit on August 2, 2018, asserting one count under the FHAA. Dkt. No. 1.

         B. Procedural History

         On May 6, 2019, the Court heard oral argument on Defendants' Motion to Dismiss. Dkt. No. 38. At the hearing, the Laus' counsel represented that it “is the plaintiffs' position that we are not looking for any sort of assigned space on the ground floor, we are not looking for any proprietary interest in any particular space. We want to continue, just like we did for ten years, which is to park if there is an open space.”[21] In other words, the Laus sought permission to park in guest parking “[i]f there is an open space in the guest parking . . . And if there isn't, then [the Laus are] just out of luck . . .”[22] Indeed, the Laus later confirmed in response to interrogatories that these statements “accurately reflect” the parking accommodation they requested from Defendants.[23]

         On July 26, 2019, the HPP AOAO, through counsel, sent a letter to the Laus' counsel, granting Garrick the following parking accommodation:[24]

1. The non-exclusive use of a single guest parking stall for Garrick Lau to park his modified wheelchair accessible vehicle in the dedicated guest parking at [HPP].
2. [The] use of the guest parking will be subject to availability and if no such parking spot is available, Garrick Lau will be required to park elsewhere off property.
3. No property interest is passing to Garrick Lau as a result of the accommodation.

         The Laus later admitted that as of July 26, 2019, Garrick had the nonexclusive right to park in a single guest parking space at HPP, [25] and further agreed that “Defendants have provided [Garrick] a reasonable parking accommodation, ” i.e., “reasonable access to” and “equal use and enjoyment of his dwelling at HPP.”[26]As a result, Defendants moved for summary judgment. Dkt. No. 68.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Summary judgment under Rule 56 is appropriate only when the Court, viewing the record as a whole and in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, determines that there exists no genuine issue of material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-24 (1986); Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248-50 (1986). A genuine issue of material fact exists when “there is sufficient evidence favoring the nonmoving party for a jury to return a verdict for that party.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249; see Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 380 (2007). “[A] complete failure of proof concerning an essential element” of a claim “necessarily renders all other facts immaterial.” Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323.

         “A moving party without the ultimate burden of persuasion at trial”-such as Defendants in this case-“has both the initial burden of production and the ultimate burden of persuasion on a motion for summary judgment.” Nissan Fire & Marine Ins. Co. v. Fritz Cos., 210 F.3d 1099, 1102 (9th Cir. 2000). To meet its initial burden, the moving party must either: (1) “submit affirmative evidence that negates an essential element of the nonmoving party's claim”; or (2) “demonstrate to the court that the nonmoving party's evidence is insufficient to establish an essential element” of its claim at trial. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 331; Jones v. Williams, 791 F.3d 1023, 1030-31 (9th Cir. 2015); cf. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c).

         Once the movant has done so, the opposing party cannot rely on the mere hope that the trier of fact will disbelieve the movant's evidence, but instead “must present affirmative evidence” to avoid summary judgment. See, e.g., Anderson, 477 U.S. at 256-57; Teamsters Local Union No. 117 v. Wash. Dep't of Corr., 789 F.3d 979, 994 (9th Cir. 2015); Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1). This requires “more than simply show[ing] that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts.” Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986). By the same token, “evidence [that] is merely colorable, or is not significantly probative” is not enough, Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249-50, and “a scintilla of evidence in support of the plaintiff's position will be insufficient.” Id. at 252. To the extent probative, supporting evidence does exist, it must be “set forth in the opposing papers with adequate references so that it could conveniently be found.” Carmen v. S.F. Unified Sch. Dist., 237 F.3d 1026, 1031 (9th Cir. 2001); S. Cal. Gas Co. v. City of Santa Ana, 336 F.3d 885, 889 (9th Cir. 2003) (“General references without page or line numbers are not sufficiently specific.”); Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(3) (a “court need consider only the cited materials”).

         DISCUSSION

         The Laus assert only one claim in their Complaint-that Defendants violated Section 3604(f)(3)(B) of the FHAA by refusing to provide a parking accommodation in HPP guest parking. Dkt. No. 1, ¶¶ 1, 22-25; Dkt. No. 75 at 2. To establish a claim under the FHAA based on a failure-to-accommodate theory, a plaintiff must show that: “(1) he suffers from a handicap as defined by the FHAA; (2) defendants knew or reasonably should have known of the plaintiff's handicap; (3) accommodation of the handicap ‘may be necessary' to afford plaintiff an equal opportunity to use and enjoy the dwelling; and (4) defendants refused to make such accommodation.” Giebeler v. M & B Assocs., 343 F.3d 1143, 1147 (9th Cir. 2003) (quoting United States v. Cal. Mobile Home Park Mgmt. Co., 107 F.3d 1374, 1380 (9th Cir. 1997)); 42 U.S.C. § 3604(f)(3)(B); see also Budnick v. Town of Carefree, 518 F.3d 1109, 1119 (9th Cir. 2008). The parties do not seriously dispute that the facts of this case satisfy these elements. Defendants instead assert two arguments in support of dismissal: (i) the Laus claim for prospective injunctive relief is moot; and (ii) the Laus have failed to establish that they sustained any compensatory damages. Dkt. No. 68-1 at 2-3, 16-24; Dkt. No. 85 at 8-9.[27] The Court will address each argument seriatim.

         I. Claim for Prospective Injunctive Relief

         The Laus seek “an injunction, ordering [Defendants] to allow the [Laus] to park their van in the HPP guest parking . . . for as long as the [Laus]” need such an accommodation. Dkt. No. 1, ¶ 30. That claim for relief is now moot by virtue of the ...


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