Orange County recovery residence photo courtesy RawRecovery.com
The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a district court judgment that would have allowed the City of Costa Mesa to discriminate against sober living home operators by requiring proof of disability.
“What it does is completely eliminates, once and for all, any argument that an operator cannot pursue an Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Fair Housing Act (FHA) or California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) action on behalf of their residents,” said Los Angeles attorney Garrett Prybylo who represented the plaintiffs.
Two sober living homes, SoCal Recovery, and Raw Recovery sued the City of Costa Mesa in the Central District of California federal court over city ordinances, which made it unlawful to operate sober living homes without a permit after they had already been in operation.
Sober living homes provide group housing to individuals who are withdrawing from alcohol or drug use and are trying to learn a new way to live without abusing substances.
“They shut them down specifically citing their sober living home group ordinance saying that we didn’t obtain a permit,” Prybylo said. “They wouldn’t give us a permit and so we weren’t in compliance with their municipal code. Every city’s municipal code says operating in violation of the municipal code is a nuisance per se. If you’re a nuisance per se, the city attorney can file an abatement action.”
In the unanimous decision, a panel of three federal appellate judges determined that it is unlawful to treat sober living homes differently from other residences. The judges included Gary S. Katzmann, Kim McLane Wardlaw and Mark J. Bennett.
“Costa Mesa created an entirely new provision in their zoning code that said, for these homes, you need a permit, and here’s the application process, and then it was a very, very lengthy application process,” Prybylo told OrangeCountyLawyers.com.
Under the city ordinances, sober living homes were to be located more than 650 feet away from other sober living homes or substance abuse treatment centers and required proof of each resident’s disability as part of the permitting process.
“When they asked for each and every person’s individualized medical records, we objected based on the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA),” Prybylo said. “They are there to just live quiet lives and get back on track and hopefully reintegrate back into society after some time in a sober environment.”
If the plaintiffs prevail at the district court level, Prybylo added that his clients will seek damages that include reimbursement for the money they spent over five years in litigating and defending in state court as well as the lost revenue from the closure of their residences.
“You probably won’t see this happen again for a long time where a city evicts normal working people from their homes because the house is a group residence they’ve targeted and said, ‘Now you need an ordinance even though you didn’t when you founded this place and we’re going to evict you forcibly under the law,'” he said.
Juliette Fairley covers legal topics for various publications including the Southern California Record, the Epoch Times and Pacer Monitor-News. Prior to discovering she had an ease and facility for law, Juliette lived in Orange County and Los Angeles where she pursued acting in television and film.