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Gutierrez v. Gonzalez

United States District Court, C.D. California

April 26, 2017

JESUS GUTIERREZ
v.
TERESA GONZALEZ ET AL.

          Present: The Honorable CHRISTINA A. SNYDER JUDGE.

          CIVIL MINUTES - GENERAL

         Proceedings: (IN CHAMBERS) - DEFENDANT SCOTT A. BURKLE'S MOTION TO DISMISS (Dkt. 18, filed March 29, 2017)

         The Court finds this motion appropriate for decision without oral argument. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 78; C.D. Cal. L.R. 7-15. Accordingly, the hearing date of May 1, 2017 is vacated, and the matter is hereby taken under submission.

         I. INTRODUCTION

         On March 9, 2017, plaintiff Jesus Gutierrez filed this action against defendants Teresa Gonzalez and Scott A. Burkle. Dkt. 1 (“Compl.”). Plaintiff asserts six claims: (1) violation of the Fair Housing Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 3601 et seq.; (2) violation of the California Fair Employment and Housing Act, Cal. Govt. Code §§ 12955 et seq.; (3) violation of the California Disabled Persons Act, Cal. Civil Code §§ 54 et seq.; (4) violation of the Unruh Civil Rights Act, Cal. Civil Code §§ 51 et seq.; retaliation in violation of California Civil Code § 1942.5(c); and (6) negligence. Id. This case arises from defendants' alleged refusal to permit plaintiff to have an emotional support animal in his apartment.

         On March 16, 2017, the Court denied plaintiff's an ex parte application for a temporary restraining order that would have enjoined Gonzalez from commencing eviction proceedings against him in state court. Dkt. 16.

         On March 29, 2017, Burkle filed the instant motion to dismiss plaintiff's claims. Dkt. 18 (“Motion”). Plaintiff filed his opposition on April 10, 2017. Dkt. 24 (“Opp'n). Burkle has not filed a reply.

         Having carefully considered the parties' arguments, the Court finds and concludes as follows.

         II. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff alleges the following facts.

         Plaintiff suffers from debilitating rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis, the severity of which causes plaintiff to experience feelings of stress, anxiety, inadequacy, and hopelessness. Compl. ¶¶ 8-10. Approximately two years ago, plaintiff obtained an emotional support animal-a dog named Karma-that had a beneficial impact on his health. Id. ¶ 10.

         On October 1, 2016, plaintiff-along with his girlfriend and their ten-year old daughter-moved into a residence at 4742 Live Oak Street, Cudahy, California (the “subject property”). Id. ¶¶ 5, 12. Gonzalez owns, operates and manages the subject property, while Burkle serves as an ad hoc manager for the property. Id. ¶¶ 6-7. When plaintiff moved into the subject property, he left Karma with friends because defendants prohibit tenants from having pets. Id. ¶ 13. However, when plaintiff experienced a flare up of his rheumatoid arthritis symptoms in November 2016, plaintiff contacted the Housing Rights Center (“HRC”) for assistance with requesting a reasonable accommodation to allow him to have an emotional support animal at the subject property. Id. ¶¶ 13-14.

         On January 4, 2017, HRC sent a letter to Gonzalez requesting that plaintiff be permitted to have his companion animal in the subject property as a reasonable accommodation for his physical disabilities. Id. ¶ 14. The letter was accompanied by a December 20, 2016 note from Dr. Terence T.Z. Tan, recommending that plaintiff be permitted to have a companion pet. Id.

         On January 17, 2017, HRC received a letter from Burkle denying plaintiff's request for a companion animal as an accommodation for his disability. Id. ¶ 15. Burkle stated that plaintiff's request was unreasonable because the insurance policy covering the subject property required the owner to have a “no pets” rule. Id. According to Burkle, granting plaintiff's request would place Gonzalez at risk of losing her property insurance and, therefore, at risk of defaulting on her mortgage, which requires insurance coverage as a condition of the mortgage. Id. Burkle attached to his note a letter from the property insurer, Don Dixon & Associates Insurance, Inc. (“Don Dixon”), which stated that the renewal terms for the insurance policy and the premiums were based on the no pets rule, among other features of the property. Id. ¶ 16.

         On or about January 17, 2017, HRC contacted Don Dixon to ask for an explanation of its insurance renewal letter. Id. ¶ 17. The Don Dixon agent told HRC that the terms of the insurance policy, including the no pets rule, were not restrictions imposed by the insurance provider, but were based on answers that Gonzalez provided in response to questions from the insurer. Id.

         On January 18, 2017, HRC asked Burkle for authorization to speak with the property insurance provider about the specific policy covering the subject property to confirm that plaintiff's request would place Gonzalez's property insurance and mortgage at risk. Id. ¶ 18. HRC told Burkle that plaintiff sought such information to engage in the interactive process with the goal of reaching a mutually beneficial arrangement. Id. Burkle allegedly refused to engage in the interactive process. Id.

         On or about January 25, 2017, HRC sent defendants a second written request for a reasonable accommodation on behalf of plaintiff, and made several follow-up telephone calls, but received no response. Id. ¶ 19 On February 15, 2017, plaintiff was served with a 30-notice to vacate, allegedly in retaliation for requesting a reasonable accommodation. Id. ¶ 20. This has exacerbated plaintiff's stress and anxiety and placed plaintiff's housing at risk. Id. ¶ 23.

         Plaintiff continues to reside at the subject property without his medically-prescribed emotional ...


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