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Castillo Condominium Association v. United States Department of Housing and Urban Development

United States Court of Appeals, First Circuit

May 2, 2016

CASTILLO CONDOMINIUM ASSOCIATION, Petitioner,
v.
UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF HOUSING AND URBAN DEVELOPMENT, OFFICE OF THE SECRETARY, ON BEHALF OF CARLO GIMÉNEZ BIANCO, Respondent. UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF HOUSING AND URBAN DEVELOPMENT, OFFICE OF THE SECRETARY, ON BEHALF OF CARLO GIMÉNEZ BIANCO, Petitioner,
v.
CASTILLO CONDOMINIUM ASSOCIATION, Respondent.

PETITION FOR REVIEW OF A FINAL ORDER OF THE SECRETARY OF THE UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF HOUSING AND URBAN DEVELOPMENT

CROSS-PETITION FOR ENFORCEMENT OF A FINAL ORDER OF THE SECRETARY OF THE UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF HOUSING AND URBAN DEVELOPMENT

Sigfredo A. Irizarry-Semidei for Castillo Condominium Association.

Christopher Chen-Hsin Wang, Attorney, United States Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division, with whom Vanita Gupta, Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General, and Sharon M. McGowan, Attorney, were on brief, for Secretary of the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Before Howard, Chief Judge, Torruella and Selya, Circuit Judges.

SELYA, CIRCUIT JUDGE.

This case involves a man, his dog, and a condominium association's "no pets" rule. Like so many cases, it turns chiefly on the standard of review. After delineating that standard (a matter of first impression in this circuit), inspecting the record through that lens, and applying the applicable law, we deny the condominium association's petition for judicial review of a final order of the Secretary of the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). We simultaneously grant the Secretary's cross-petition for enforcement of his order.

I. THE STATUTORY SCHEME

This case rests on a statutory foundation: the Fair Housing Act (the Act), 42 U.S.C. §§ 3601-3619. As relevant here, the Act proscribes discrimination in housing and housing-related matters based on a person's disability.[1] See id. § 3604(f). Under the Act, a cognizable disability is "(1) a physical or mental impairment which substantially limits one or more of [a] person's major life activities, (2) a record of having such an impairment, or (3) being regarded as having such an impairment." Id. § 3602(h).

Pertinently, the Act outlaws discrimination in connection with the terms, conditions, or privileges of housing. See id. § 3604(f)(2). Discrimination includes, among other things, the "refusal to make reasonable accommodations in rules, policies, practices, or services, when such accommodations may be necessary to afford such person equal opportunity to use and enjoy a dwelling." Id. § 3604(f)(3)(B).

II. PRIOR PROCEEDINGS

In 2010, the Castillo Condominium Association (the Association) learned that Carlo Giménez Bianco (Giménez), a condominium resident, was keeping a dog on the premises and warned him by letter that it would fine him unless he removed the dog from his unit. In response, Giménez, an individual who suffers from anxiety and depression, promptly advised the board of directors, in writing, that he planned to keep his emotional support dog in his condominium unit and that he was entitled to do so under federal law. Although Giménez accompanied this letter with a note from his treating psychiatrist, the Association did not relax its "no pets" bylaw. As a result of the conflict (as the Secretary found), Giménez was eventually forced to vacate and sell the unit that had been his home for some 15 years.

Giménez lodged a complaint of disability discrimination with HUD. Following an investigation and an agency determination of reasonable cause, HUD filed a charge of discrimination against the Association.[2] See id. § 3610(a)(1)(B)(iv), (g)(1)-(2). The charge alleged that the Association had unlawfully discriminated against Giménez, a disabled person, by denying him a reasonable accommodation and thus making housing unavailable to him. See id. § 3604(f)(1), (f)(2), and (f)(3)(B).

A four-day evidentiary hearing ensued before an administrative law judge (ALJ). Giménez, his treating psychiatrist (Dr. Pedro Fernández), and his primary-care physician (Dr. Roberto Unda Gómez) all testified that Giménez suffered from a disability - an anxiety disorder and chronic depression - and that his symptoms were ameliorated by the presence of an emotional support dog. The Association presented both lay and expert evidence in opposition. On July 17, 2014, the ALJ issued a recommended decision concluding that the Association had not violated the Act because Giménez had failed to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that he had a mental impairment warranting a reasonable accommodation in the form of a companion animal.

Under the regulatory regime, the ALJ's recommended decision could be appealed to the Secretary. See id. § 3612(h). That happened here. On further review, the Secretary set aside the ALJ's recommended decision. The Secretary explained that the ALJ had erred both in discounting Giménez's testimony about his lengthy history of anxiety and depression and in declining to credit the testimony of Dr. Fernández and Dr. Unda. In the end, the Secretary found that Giménez suffered from a cognizable disability, that the Association knew or should have known that Giménez had such a disability, that Giménez had informed the Association of his need for a reasonable accommodation in the ...


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