HUD Administrative Law Judge O'Bryant finds disability discrimination in Idaho and California

In late November 1996, US Department of Housing and Urban Development Administrative Law Judge Constance O'Bryant ordered an apartment complex in Fort Bragg, California to pay $5,569 to a disabled man. Complex managers tried to evict the man because he refused to give away his therapeutic cat. Judge O'Bryant also ordered the complex owners to pay a $5,000 civil penalty to HUD.

Durand Evan is a 49-year-old man who suffers from a musculoskeletal condition called fibromyalgia. According to his physician, the condition causes chronic muscle pain, joint aches, fatigue, depression, headaches, and insomnia. All of these symptoms become worse when Evan is under stress, his doctor said. At times, his condition became so bad that Evan had difficulties walking and bathing. One of his only sources of relief was his cat. He had owned the cat since it was a kitten and claimed it was like a child to him.

In February 1993, Evan received a warning notice from the complex managers telling him to get rid of his cat or face eviction proceedings. Evan went to one of the apartment managers, Karen Mead, and told her that it was his understanding that he could keep his cat because he was disabled. Mead told Evan to get verification that his cat was a service animal and referred him to Nancy Dutra, another manager at the complex.

Evan went to see his mental health counselor, Loraine Duff, and explained the situation to her. Duff wrote a letter explaining the need for Evan to keep his cat and mailed it to Dutra. During the hearing before Judge O'Bryant, Dutra acknowledged that she received the letter from Duff but disregarded it. On April 9, 1993, Dutra informed Evan that he had five days to remove his cat from the apartment or he would be evicted.

Evan contacted the Humane Society and had someone help him draft a letter to the respondents. He asked them if he could keep his cat and informed them that they were causing him both physical and mental distress by threatening to evict him. On May 9, 1993, Dutra read the letter and responded on behalf of the owners and managers of the complex. She stated that Evan knew the rules and that she was now going to evict him whether or not he got rid of his cat. When Evan got the letter, he had an anxiety attack and was hospitalized.

On May 24, 1993, Evan had his doctor write a note to the managers of the complex, asking them to allow him to keep his cat. This time, Mead read the note and responded that Evan was being evicted whether he kept the cat or not. On June 9, 1993, the complex began eviction proceedings. On July 9, 1993, Evan filed a complaint with HUD.

Judge O'Bryant ruled that in Evan's dealings with the managers of the complex, he had established that his cat was a service animal and that the managers should have known to let him keep the cat because he was disabled. Because of the managers' mishandling of Evan's requests, they had caused him to have a significant emotional and physical breakdown. Because of the managers' "egregious" behavior, Judge O'Bryant ordered the complainants to pay a civil penalty of $5,000.

Filed with HUD: July 9, 1993

Charge Issued: April 24, 1995

ALJ Hearing: April 30, 1996

Order: November 12 , 1996

Later in November 1996, Judge O'Bryant approved a settlement between two disabled Idaho men and the landlords that refused to rent an apartment to them. The landlords agreed to pay $5,600 to each man and a $1,000 civil penalty to HUD for a total of $12,200.

In February 1995, Brad Judkins' parents, Thomas and Barbara Judkins, and Michael Teeple's parents, James and Mary Teeple, met with the landlords of an apartment in Pocatello, Idaho to see about renting the apartment for their sons. Both Brad and Michael are developmentally and physically disabled. Both the Judkins and the Teeples claimed that the landlords refused to rent the apartment to Brad and Michael because they are disabled.

After the Judkins and Teeples filed a complaint with HUD, an investigation was launched. After finding probable cause to believe discrimination had occurred, HUD issued a Charge of Discrimination on August 22, 1996. The respondent landlords in this case, Stephen Clark, Bernice Clark, Amy Jolley, and Justin Jolley, denied the allegations levelled against them but agreed to settle without a full hearing before Judge O'Bryant. In addition to the monetary settlement, the respondents agreed to attend fair housing training sponsored by HUD.

Filed with HUD: February 20, 1995

Charge Issued: August 22, 1996

ALJ Hearing: October 31, 1996

Order: November 24, 1996