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Sakhrani v. City of San Gabriel

United States District Court, C.D. California

March 21, 2017

DR. LAKHI SAKHRANI ET AL.
v.
CITY OF SAN GABRIEL ET AL.

          Present: The Honorable CHRISTINA A. SNYDER.

          CIVIL MINUTES - GENERAL

         PROCEEDINGS: PLAINTIFFS' MOTION FOR PARTIAL SUMMARY JUDGMENT AS TO REASONABLE ACCOMMODATION CLAIM (DKT. 95, FILED JANUARY 30, 2017)

         I. INTRODUCTION

         On March 16, 2016, plaintiffs Dr. Lakhi Sakhrani, Priya Sakhrani, and Quality Dialysis Center Las Tunas, LLC (collectively, "plaintiffs") filed the operative First Amended Complaint ("FAC") in this action against the City of San Gabriel ("the City") and several officials for the City, namely, Jason Pu, Juli Costanzo, John Harrington, and Kevin Sawkins (collectively, "defendants"). Dkt. 11. In the FAC, plaintiffs assert a number of claims against defendants for violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"), the Rehabilitation Act, the Fair Housing Act ("FHA"), the California Fair Employment and Housing Act ("FEHA"), the Unruh Civil Rights Act, and for a Writ of Mandate. See generally FAC.

         In brief, plaintiffs' claims arise out of their attempt to open a dialysis center on a commercially zoned property in the City of San Gabriel. Plaintiffs submitted plans to the city planning commission and city council of San Gabriel requesting conditional use permits ("CUPs") to allow the proposed dialysis center to exceed 10, 000 square feet and to allow the dialysis center to open with 20% fewer parking spaces than ordinarily required under the City's zoning laws. The City's Planning Commission ("the Planning Commission") approved plaintiffs' applications; however, after a group of concerned citizens filed an appeal of the Planning Commission's decision, the City Council for the City of San Gabriel ("the Council") reversed the Planning Commission's decision and denied plaintiffs' CUP applications.

         On May 16, 2016, the Court granted in part and denied in part defendants' motion to dismiss the FAC. Dkt. 19. Specifically, the Court dismissed plaintiffs' claims for violations of the FHA and the FEHA. Id. Plaintiffs did not file an amended complaint and have proceeded with their remaining claims pursuant to the ADA, Rehabilitation Act, and Unruh Act as well as the writ of mandate claim.

         On September 26, 2016, plaintiffs filed a motion for partial summary judgment as to their sixteenth claim seeking a writ of mandate. Dkt. 43. On December 20, 2016, the Court denied plaintiffs' motion without prejudice, concluding that summary judgment as to the writ of mandate claim was inappropriate before plaintiffs ADA and Rehabilitation Act claims had been resolved on the merits. Dkt. 83.

         On January 9, 2017, plaintiffs filed a motion to strike defendants' jury trial demand. Dkt. 85. On February 6, 2017, the Court granted plaintiffs motion because defendants do not appear to have a right to a jury trial. Dkt. 131. However, the Court further determined that, "it would be prudent to impanel an advisory jury ... to aid the Court in its findings on what, if any, damages ought to be awarded to plaintiffs." IcL at 7.

         On January 30, 2017, plaintiffs filed two motions for partial summary judgment -one seeking summary judgment with respect to the reasonable accommodation claim, dkt. 95, and one seeking summary judgment with respect to the disparate treatment claim, dkt. 104. In support of both motions, plaintiffs have filed a consolidated statement of uncontroverted facts. Dkt. 100. The Court is also in receipt of plaintiffs exhibits and declarations filed in support of both motions. Dkts. 95-1, 96, 97, Exhibits and Declaration of Nilay Vora ("Vora Decl."); Dkt. 98, Declaration of Cherry Wu ("Wu Decl."); Dkt. 99, Declaration of Lakhi Sakhrani ("Sakhrani Decl."); & Dkt. 101, Request for Judicial Notice ("RJN"). Plaintiffs sought leave to file several declarations by dialysis patients under seal, dkt. 93, which the Court granted, dkt. 105. Therefore, the Court is also in receipt of nine declarations from plaintiffs' dialysis patients. Dkts. 115- 120, 122-124.[1] On February 3, 2017, plaintiffs further supplemented the record by filing a notice of errata regarding missing portions of Exhibit 4 to Vora's declaration. Dkt. 127.

         On February 20, 2017, defendants filed a consolidated opposition to both motions for partial summary judgment. Dkt. 138. On March 6, 2017, plaintiffs filed a reply in support of each motion. Dkts. 146, 147.

         The memorandum of points and authorities in support of each motion is 25 pages in length. Pursuant to Local Rule 11-6, no memorandum may exceed 25 pages unless permitted by order of the Court. On March 9, 2017, the Court held a status conference with both parties during which the Court notified plaintiffs that, by filing two separate motions for partial summary judgment with respect to separate claims, they had improperly evaded the page length limitation enshrined in the local rules. The Court indicated its tentative intent to deny both motions without prejudice on that basis and permit plaintiffs to file a single, consolidated motion for summary judgment with respect to any or all of plaintiffs' claims. Thereafter, plaintiffs' counsel stated that plaintiffs preferred to maintain the existing hearing date of March 20, 2017, for these matters and would therefore withdraw the motion for partial summary judgment with respect to the disparate treatment claim, dkt. 104. Without objection from defendants, the Court permitted plaintiffs to withdraw the motion with respect to the disparate treatment claim and proceed solely on the instant motion for partial summary judgment with respect to their reasonable accommodation claim. Dkt. 148.

         In accordance with the foregoing, the Court proceeds to decide plaintiffs' motion for partial summary judgment with respect to their claim for failure to provide a reasonable accommodation. Having carefully considered the parties' arguments, the Court finds and concludes as follows.

         II. BACKGROUND

         Unless otherwise noted the following factual background is undisputed.

         Plaintiffs provide dialysis and medical treatment to individuals who suffer from total failure of their kidneys, known as End Stage Renal Disease ("ESRD"). Patients with ESRD must receive dialysis three to four times per week for three to four hours per session. If patients with ESRD do not receive this regular treatment they will die. Dialysis treatment centers often operate with extended hours beginning early in the morning and closing late at night because many patients are employed and must complete their treatment outside of normal work hours. Additionally, patients are typically brought to and from treatment in shuttles that serve dialysis patients rather than in their own vehicles. The relative scarcity of dialysis treatment centers and the increasing demand for dialysis treatment imposes severe burdens upon those who suffer from ESRD, who must adapt their schedules to accommodate transportation to and from treatment as well as ensure they are available for treatment during whatever slots are available at nearby facilities.

         An emergency requiring the partial or total shut down of a dialysis facility places dialysis patients at serious risk. Accordingly, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services has adopted a regulation requiring that dialysis providers have emergency preparedness plans, including arrangements with other dialysis facilities to ensure continuity of care in the event that one facility is forced to limit or cease operations.

         Plaintiff Dr. Lakhi Sakhrani ("Dr. Sakhrani") is presently the owner of Quality Dialysis Center, a dialysis center located on San Gabriel Boulevard in San Gabriel ("QDC San Gabriel"). The facility at QDC San Gabriel is 9, 900 square feet, contains 36 dialysis treatment stations, has 41 available parking spaces, and borders a residential neighborhood. Over 80 percent of QDC San Gabriel's patients are low-income and have their treatment paid for through Medi-Cal. QDC San Gabriel has virtually no ability to take on additional patients because it operates at 94% of its capacity.

         Dialysis treatment is necessary for a person with ESRD to survive and even small delays or gaps in treatment pose a mortal risk to dialysis patients. For those receiving dialysis treatment, the five-year survival rate is 35 percent and between 20 and 25 percent of ESRD patients die within the first year of beginning treatment. Despite the risks faced by ESRD patients, it is undisputed that there is a scarcity of dialysis treatment options in Southern California, which is exacerbated by an increase in the incidence of kidney failure. The parties agree that the present scarcity of treatment options in Southern California imposes severe burdens upon ESRD patients, who must venture farther in search of treatment and must accept treatment slots that interfere with their ability to work, spend time with family, or perform everyday tasks for themselves. Because QDC San Gabriel operates, for practical purposes, at full-capacity. Dr. Sakhrani and his staff have been forced to turn away patients and impose onerous burdens on their existing patients.

         Plaintiffs have submitted several declarations from current patients at QDC San Gabriel. Generally, the patient-declarations describe the practical importance of additional dialysis treatment spaces and flexible scheduling arrangements wherever possible. For example, L.B. describes how she must ride several buses for approximately four hours Monday, Wednesday, and Friday just to get from her home to her dialysis treatment and then to work afterwards. Dkt. 109, L.B. Declaration (Redacted) ("L.B. Deck) ¶¶ 5-6. If she did not have a dialysis treatment slot at 4:00 a.m. at QDC San Gabriel, she claims that she would not be able to work her full-time job from 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. and she would, therefore, lose her health insurance coverage. Id. ¶ 7. For another patient, C.T.L., the existing treatment timeslot available at QDC San Gabriel prevents her from working as much as she otherwise might. Dkt. 106, C.T.L. Declaration (Redacted) ("C.T.L. Deck") ¶ 5. C.T.L. has Hepatitis B, which requires that she receive dialysis in an isolated treatment station, Id. ¶ 4. Because of her Hepatitis B, C.T.L. must contend with even scarcer treatment options and adapt her life around the sole available timeslot during which she can receive treatment at QDC San Gabriel. Id. ¶ 4. Several patients describe the practical effects that a scarcity of treatment options has had upon them and their families, upon whom they rely for support. See e.g. Dkt. 110, E.S. Declaration (Redacted) (wife quit her job and drives patient to/from treatment); Dkt. 112, K.W. Declaration (Redacted) (moved in with son, who switched to working part-time in order to drive K.W. to treatment).[2]

         Because of the scarcity of treatment spaces in Southern California and the newly adopted emergency preparedness regulation, plaintiffs have been searching for a location to open a second dialysis facility. Cherry Wu, the facility administrator for QDC San Gabriel, claims that plaintiffs looked for two and a half years to find a property that would suit their needs and that:

there are virtually no available properties with enough space to accommodate a dialysis center that complies with all applicable statutes and regulations as well as parking. I have continued to look for available properties for a new dialysis center, but have not been able to find one.

         Wu Decl. ¶ 13. In September 2014, Dr. Sakhrani entered into a long-term lease for a parcel of property located at 237 E. Las Tunas Drive in San Gabriel ("the Property") for the purpose of building a new dialysis center ("QDC Las Tunas"). Dr. Sakhrani planned for QDC Las Tunas to have a similar number of treatment stations as QDC San Gabriel (37 to QDC San Gabriel's 36) and for QDC Las Tunas to operate in parallel with QDC San Gabriel - with the same number of employees, number of patients, hours, and patient transportation arrangements - and for each to operate as an emergency back-up for the other.

         The parties agree that QDC Las Tunas must have a comparable number of treatment stations as QDC San Gabriel if either facility is to act as an emergency back-up for the other's patients. The parties also agree that federal regulations enacted in 2013 require QDC Las Tunas to have a larger building than QDC San Gabriel if QDC Las Tunas is going to operate with a comparable number of treatment spaces.

         Although medical facilities are permitted on the Property, the City's land use regulations require a conditional use permit for any medical facility on the property that exceeds 10, 000 square feet. Additionally, a facility like the proposed QDC Las Tunas would ordinarily be required to have 35 total parking spaces. Accordingly, Dr. Sakhrani eventually learned that in order to build QDC Las Tunas with 37 dialysis treatment stations, he would need to obtain two CUPs from the City of San Gabriel: (1) to build a medical facility larger than 10, 000 square feet: and (2) for a twenty percent reduction in the number of required parking spaces because of the size of the Property. Although the parties agree that plaintiffs could build a dialysis center on the Property without requiring CUP approval if the proposed building were ...


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