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Fair Housing of the Dakotas, Inc., Larry v. Goldmark Property Management

September 20, 2011

FAIR HOUSING OF THE DAKOTAS, INC., LARRY NORSTEDT, BETTY MARTIN, CLARICA MARTIN, LACEY ANDERSON, KRISTINA HILDE, EACH
INDIVIDUALLY AND ON BEHALF OF A CLASS OF SIMILARLY SITUATED PERSONS, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
GOLDMARK PROPERTY MANAGEMENT, INC., DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Ralph R. Erickson, Chief Judge United States District Court

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER DENYING PLAINTIFFS' MOTION FOR CLASS CERTIFICATION

Before the Court is Plaintiffs' Motion for Class Certification (Doc. #182). Defendant opposes the motion (Doc. #201). The Court, having considered the briefs and arguments by the parties, now issues this memorandum opinion and order.

SUMMARY OF DECISION

Class certification is improper, as Plaintiffs have proposed classes containing individuals that may not have suffered an injury in fact and, therefore, lack standing. Furthermore, Plaintiffs have not established that their claims are identical to members of the putative class. There are simply too many individual issues preventing this litigation from being certified as a class action as proposed by Plaintiffs, and the evidence is insufficient for this Court to define a class that meets the requirements of Rule 23(a). Because Plaintiffs have failed to meet all of the requirements of Fed.R.Civ.P. 23(a), their motion to certify two classes and a subclass is denied.

BACKGROUND

As a matter of clarity, the Court's previous summary judgment order found that the Fair Housing Act encompasses all types of assistance animals regardless of training; therefore, Goldmark's policy of charging fees for non-specially trained animals implicates the Fair Housing Act. The Court has not made any findings with regard to whether other "ancillary" issues raised in this litigation implicate the Fair Housing Act, including (1) whether Goldmark's requirement that tenants with assistance animals obtain a renter's liability insurance policy, or (2) whether Goldmark seeks unnecessary information when evaluating a requested accommodation for assistance animals.

The Court noted in its Summary Judgment Order that "Plaintiffs contest a number of issues in this litigation, including, for example, the rationale underlying the amount of fees imposed for non-specially trained assistance animals, Goldmark's inconsistent application of its renters insurance requirement for persons with assistance animals, and whether unnecessary information is required to evaluate the appropriateness of an applicant's request for an assistance animal." Given the state of the record existing at that time, the Court concluded that "[t]o the extent that Plaintiffs intend to persist in asserting these claims in light of the Court's ruling [regarding the fees charged by Goldmark], those are issues that will need to be resolved by the trier of fact or as a matter of law at trial." It appears Plaintiffs have interpreted the Court's prior order as determining these "ancillary" issues implicate the Fair Housing Act as a matter of law. Such a determination has not been made.

With regard to the current motion, Plaintiffs now seek to certify two "classes" and a "subclass" of plaintiffs. Plaintiffs have proposed the following two classes:

1. All current tenants of residential properties operated by Goldmark who, at any time since September 2, 2008, have occupied a dwelling with an assistance animal pursuant to a reasonable accommodation granted to them by Goldmark; and

2. All persons, who at any time since September 2, 2008, occupied a dwelling operated by Goldmark with an assistance animal pursuant to a reasonable accommodation granted to them by Goldmark, or who obtained or attempted to obtain a reasonable accommodation for an assistance animal at a residential property operated by Goldmark, and who

A. Submitted a reasonable accommodation request on Goldmark's form on or after September 2, 2008; or

B. Were charged an assistance animal processing fee; or

C. Were charged a non-refundable assistance animal fee; or

D. Were charged monthly assistance animal rent; or

E. Obtained renters' liability insurance to satisfy Goldmark's condition for exercising their granted reasonable accommodation.

For ease of reference, the Court will refer to the first proposed class as the "Current Tenant Class" and the second proposed class as the "All Tenant Class." With regard to the "All Tenant ...


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