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Edwards v. Gene Salter Properties

United States District Court, E.D. Arkansas, Western Division

December 6, 2017




         Plaintiffs Robyn G. Edwards (“Edwards”) and Mikki Adams (“Adams”), proceeding pro se and in forma pauperis, bring this action under the Fair Housing Act (“FHA”) against Gene Salter Properties, Inc. (“Salter Properties”), Salter Construction, Inc. (“Salter Construction”) and Brittany Pringle (“Pringle”), claiming that Defendants discriminated against them by denying their applications to rent an apartment. Before the Court are cross-motions for summary judgment: Plaintiffs' motion for summary judgment [ECF No. 46] and Defendants' response in opposition [ECF Nos. 47, 48, 49] and Defendants' motion for summary judgment [ECF Nos. 50, 51, 52].[1] After careful consideration, and for reasons that follow, Plaintiffs' motion is denied, and Defendants' motion is granted.


         Summary judgment is appropriate when “the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). As a prerequisite to summary judgment, a moving party must demonstrate “an absence of evidence to support the non-moving party's case.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 325 (1986). Once the moving party has properly supported its motion for summary judgment, the non-moving party must “do more than simply show there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts.” Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986)

         The non-moving party may not rest on mere allegations or denials of his pleading but must come forward with ‘specific facts showing a genuine issue for trial. Id. at 587. “[A] genuine issue of material fact exists if: (1) there is a dispute of fact; (2) the disputed fact is material to the outcome of the case; and (3) the dispute is genuine, that is, a reasonable jury could return a verdict for either party.” RSBI Aerospace, Inc. v. Affiliated FM Ins. Co., 49 F.3d 399, 401 (8th Cir. 1995).


         The following facts are undisputed.[2] Salter Properties manages Brentwood Apartments (“Brentwood”) in Conway, Arkansas, and Pringle worked for the company as a property manager. Salter Properties' rental policy requires that rental applicants demonstrate the ability to pay rent. If an applicant receives income, he or she must list the amount and source of income and submit one of three forms of documentation: tax returns, check stubs, or a letter offering employment. If an applicant is unable to provide such documentation, he or she has the option of obtaining a co-signer or paying a six or twelve month lease term in advance.

         As property manager, Pringle collected rental applications and supporting documents, and she had no discretion to deviate from her employer's income verification policy without permission from an upper-level manager. When Pringle received an application, her task was to enter the information to a software program that would process the data and approve or deny the application. Pringle would then communicate the decision to the applicant.

         Adams and Edwards are mother and daughter. In July 2015, Edwards completed an online rental application for a Brentwood apartment that she and Adams planned to share. At the time, neither Edwards nor Adams had a job, but Edwards received social security disability and rental income, and Adams received social security retirement income. After Pringle received Plaintiffs' application, she instructed Edwards to send a copy of her most recent income tax returns to verify her income. Edwards replied that neither she nor her mother had any “IRS/Tax information to report.” Edwards wrote: “To verify our income, however, I sent our Social Security Administration documentation . . . in addition to a copy of the lease agreement between myself and the tenant who . . . pays $1, 000 a month.”[3] Pringle responded as follows:

I apologize[;] we aren't able to qualify you based on income information you have provided. There are three types of income verification that we are able to accept: pay stubs, a letter of intent/offer letter, or tax returns. You have the option to have a qualified guarantor (co-signer) or pay the full lease term up front. [I]f you are not interested in either option, we wouldn't be able to approve the application. Please, let me know if you have any questions.[4]

         Edwards then telephoned Pringle and offered to provide bank statements as proof of income, but Pringle repeated Salter Properties' income verification policy. In deposition, Edwards recalled her reaction: “I just said, okay, fine. There's nothing else I can do. And I called to get my $60 back from Pay Lease.”[5]

         On September 14, 2015, Edwards and Adams commenced this FHA discrimination action pro se, charging that Defendants rejected their rental applications because Edwards is an individual with a disability. The Court granted Defendants' motion to dismiss, finding that whether Plaintiffs proceed under a disparate treatment, disparate impact, or failure to accommodate theory, they failed to state a plausible discrimination claim. On appeal, the Eighth Circuit agreed that Plaintiffs failed to allege disparate treatment or disparate impact, but it concluded that Plaintiffs sufficiently alleged that defendants violated the FHA by failing to make a reasonable accommodation necessary to afford them the equal opportunity to rent an apartment.


         Plaintiffs' Motion for Summary Judgment

         The FHA makes it unlawful to “discriminate in the sale or rental, or to otherwise make unavailable or deny, a dwelling to any ... renter because of a handicap.” 42 U.S.C. § 3604(f)(1). Discriminatory conduct prohibited under the FHA includes the “refusal to make reasonable accommodations in rules, policies, practices, or services, when such accommodations may be necessary to afford [a handicapped] person equal opportunity to use and enjoy a dwelling[.]” 42 U.S.C. § 3604(f)(3)(B).

         To merit summary adjudication in their favor, Plaintiffs must show that there is no factual dispute as to any element of their claims, and they bear the initial burden to inform the Court of the basis for their motion. To succeed with an FHA failure to accommodate claim, a plaintiff must show among other things that she or her associate is handicapped within the meaning of the FHA and that the requested accommodation was reasonable and necessary. See King's Ranch of Jonesboro, Inc. v. City of Jonesboro, No. 3:10CV00096 JLH, 2011 WL 1544697 (E.D. Ark. April 25, 2011)(citing Wisconsin Cmty. Servs., Inc. v. City of Milwaukee, 465 F.3d 737, 748 (7th Cir. 2006)(citing 42 U.S.C. § 3604(f)(3)(B)). Here, Plaintiffs offer no more than the complaint allegations to support their motion, and they argue that it is “obvious” that “some of Defendants' housing ...

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