Morris et al v. West Hayden Estates First Addition Homeowners Association, Inc.
MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER - IT IS ORDERED: 1. Defendants Motion to Dismiss (Dkt. 5 ) is GRANTED as to Plaintiffs Idaho Human Rights Act claim. The claim is dismissed without prejudice. 2. Defendants Motion to Dismiss (Dkt. 5 ) is DENIED as to Plaintiffs Fair Housing Act claims. Signed by Judge B. Lynn Winmill. (caused to be mailed to non Registered Participants at the addresses listed on the Notice of Electronic Filing (NEF) by (cjs)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE DISTRICT OF IDAHO
MR. JEREMY MORRIS and MRS.
Case No. 2:17-cv-00018-BLW
MEMORANDUM DECISION AND
WEST HAYDEN ESTATES FIRST
The Court has before it Defendant’s Motion to Dismiss (Dkt. 5). The motion is
fully briefed and before the Court, and the Court finds this matter appropriate for decision
without oral argument. For the reasons explained below, the Court will grant the Motion
in part and deny in part.
Plaintiffs Jeremy and Kristy Morris filed this housing discrimination lawsuit
against Defendant West Hayden Estates First Addition Homeowners’ Association, Inc.
(HOA) alleging that the HOA discriminated against them on the basis of their religion, in
violation of state and federal law. The Morrises are Christian, and they host an annual
Christmas fundraiser at their home. Complaint ¶ 10, Dkt. 1. In December, 2014, they
MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER - 1
entered into a contract for the purchase of a home in the West Hayden Estates subdivision
which they believed would be suitable for hosting this annual event. Id. ¶ 12.
Shortly after entering into the contract, but prior to their purchase, the Morrises
reached out to the West Hayden Estates First Addition Homeowners Association, Inc.
(HOA) to notify them about both their intent to buy a home within the subdivision, as
well as to hold a Christmas fundraiser at the new home. Id. ¶¶ 12, 13. On or about
January 15, 20151, the HOA sent a letter to inform the Morrises that they believed that
the fundraiser would violate certain provisions of the Covenants, Conditions, Restrictions
and Easements for West Hayden Estates First Addition (CCRs). Id. ¶ 17. The HOA also
said that they knew that some members of the community were not Christian, and that
they were concerned that the fundraiser might create an issue with those residents. Id. at
Ex. 2.The HOA then sent out a letter to the other residents of the community, to inform
them of the Morrises’ plans for a Christmas fundraiser, and held a meeting for the
members of the community to discuss those plans. Id. ¶¶ 20, 24. The Morrises sent out a
letter in response to the HOA’s letter. Id. ¶ 23.
The Morrises purchased their new home on March 20, 2015. Id. ¶ 25. A few
months later, on October 27, 2015, the HOA sent a letter to the Morrises informing them
that proceeding with the Christmas fundraiser would result in the HOA taking legal
While the certified letter itself is dated January 13, 2014, the United States Postal Service stamp
contains the date of January 15, 2015. See Compl. Ex. 2 at 2. The timeline of events also suggests that the
letter was sent in 2015, not 2014. For purposes of this motion, the Court will assume the letter was sent in
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action. Id. ¶ 26. The Morrises proceeded with their purchase, but the HOA did not
ultimately file a lawsuit. Id.
The Morrises allege that, from the first fundraiser on, the HOA waged a war of
harassment against them by encouraging members of the HOA to engage in harassing
behaviors, such as threatening the Morrises on the street, threatening them on Facebook,
and interfering with the Christmas fundraiser. Id. ¶¶ 29, 31, 34, 35. According to the
Morrises, this caused them a great deal of emotional distress. Id. ¶ 47, Prayer for Relief ¶
The Morrises claim that, even before they purchased their home, the HOA
admitted that they were discriminating against the Morrises because of their religion. Id.
¶ 18. The Morrises also claim that the HOA admitted that complaining about the
fundraiser was pretextual, and that the HOA intentionally discriminated against the
Morrises on the basis of their religion. Id. ¶¶ 18, 19, 21, 32, 33.
The Morrises filed this action on January 13, 2017, under the Idaho Human Rights
Act and the federal Fair Housing Act (FHA). Complaint, Dkt. 1. The HOA’s Motion to
Dismiss was filed shortly thereafter.
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2) requires only “a short and plain statement
of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief,” in order to “give the defendant
fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.” Bell Atlantic
Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). While a complaint attacked by a Rule
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12(b)(6) motion to dismiss “does not need detailed factual allegations,” it must set forth
“more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause
of action will not do.” Id. at 555. To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must
contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to “state a claim to relief that is
plausible on its face.” Id. at 570. A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads
factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is
liable for the misconduct alleged. Id. at 556. The plausibility standard is not akin to a
“probability requirement,” but it asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant
has acted unlawfully. Id. Where a complaint pleads facts that are “merely consistent
with” a defendant's liability, it “stops short of the line between possibility and plausibility
of ‘entitlement to relief.’” Id. at 557.
The Supreme Court identified two “working principles” that underlie Twombly in
Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). First, the court need not accept as true, legal
conclusions that are couched as factual allegations. Id. Rule 8 does not “unlock the
doors of discovery for a plaintiff armed with nothing more than conclusions.” Id. at 678–
79. Second, to survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must state a plausible claim for
relief. Id. at 679. “Determining whether a complaint states a plausible claim for relief
will . . . be a context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial
experience and common sense.” Id.
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Idaho Human Rights Act Claim
The Idaho Human Rights Act (IHRA), Idaho Code § 67-5908(2) states, “A
complaint must be filed with the [Idaho Commission on Human Rights] as a condition
precedent to litigation.” That is, prior to filing a civil action to privately enforce the Idaho
Human Rights Act, a person must pursue an administrative remedy by filing a complaint
with the Idaho Commission on Human Rights. The Morrises have not filed this
administrative complaint. Because they failed to exhaust their administrative remedies, as
required under the IHRA, the Court must dismiss the Morrises’ state law claim.
Fair Housing Act Claims
The Morrises have brought three claims under the Fair Housing Act, 42 U.S.C. §§
3601–3631. The first claim is brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 3604, which prohibits
discrimination in the sale or rental of housing on the basis of “race, color, religion, sex,
familial status, or national origin.” 42 U.S.C. § 3604(b). The second claim relies upon
provisions in the same section prohibiting any publication which indicates a housing
preference against members of any protected class. 42 U.S.C. § 3604(c).2 The third claim
is brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 3617, which prohibits coercion, intimidation, threats,
or interference with any person in the exercise or enjoyment of rights granted by the
The Morrises’ allege discriminatory conduct which occurred after they purchased their home. While
initially a matter of debate, the Ninth Circuit has held that the FHA reaches such post-acquisition discrimination. See
The Comm. Concerning Cmty. Improvement v. City of Modesto, 583 F.3d 690, 713 (9th Cir. 2009).
MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER - 5
FHA, including § 3604. For the reasons stated below, the Court will deny the motion as
to all three claims.
Claim under § 3604(b)
A plaintiff can establish an FHA discrimination claim under a theory of disparate
treatment or disparate impact. Gamble v. City of Escondido, 104 F.3d 300, 304 (9th Cir.
1997). Here, the Morrises rely on a disparate treatment theory. To establish their prima
facie claim, therefore, the Morrises must show that an “invidious discriminatory purpose
was a motivating factor” behind the HOA’s actions. Ave. 6E Investments, LLC v. City of
Yuma, Ariz., 818 F.3d 493, 504 (9th Cir.), cert. denied, 137 S. Ct. 295 (2016) (citations
omitted). “A plaintiff does not have to prove that the discriminatory purpose was the sole
purpose of the challenged action, but only that it was a ‘motivating factor.” Arce v.
Douglas, 793 F.3d 968, 977 (9th Cir. 2015) (citations omitted).
The Morrises allege that the HOA intentionally discriminated against them in the
acquisition and enjoyment of their home because of their religion. Specifically, they
allege that the HOA (1) attempted to dissuade their family from purchasing a home in the
neighborhood, and (2) fostered a hostile atmosphere to discourage the Morris family from
continuing to live in the neighborhood. Compl. ¶ 39. They also provide some evidence
that their religion was a motivating factor in the HOA’s actions. For example, the
Morrises claim that, on multiple occasions, HOA board members admitted that their
actions were based on the Morrises’ religion. Compl. ¶¶ 18, 19, 21, 32, Dkt. 1. They also
submitted a copy of a letter sent to them from the HOA, in which the association stated:
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“some of our residents are non-Christians or of another faith and I don’t even want to
think of the problems that could bring up.” Compl., Ex. 2. Such evidence, if believed, is
sufficient to plausibly state that the HOA’s actions were motivated by the Morrises’
religion. The Morrises have also claimed that they have been damaged in ways that can
be remedied under § 3613(c). Id. at Prayer for Relief ¶ 2 (noting emotional distress and
economic damages). Because the Morrises have outlined a plausible claim under § 3604
of the Fair Housing Act, the Defendant’s Motion to Dismiss is denied.
Claim under § 3604(c)
The Morrises also bring a claim under 42 U.S.C. 3604(c), asserting that the HOA
printed a certified letter indicating a preference against Christians. Section 3604(c) makes
it unlawful to “make, print, or publish . . . any notice, statement, or advertisement, with
respect to the sale or rental of a dwelling that indicates any preference, limitation, or
discrimination based on . . . religion.” Only publications that relate to the sale or rental of
a dwelling are actionable under this section. See Hayden Lake Rec. Water and Sewer
Dist. v. Haydenview Cottage, LLC, 835 F. Supp. 2d 965 (D. Idaho 2011). This means that
the only publication that is potentially actionable under § 3604(c) is the certified letter the
HOA sent to the Morrises on January 15, 2015, prior to their purchase. See Compl. Ex. 3.
The HOA argues that the certified letter was not sent “with respect to the sale or
rental of a dwelling” because the HOA was not involved in the actual sales transaction of
Plaintiffs’ home. However, the statute is not limited, on its face, to publications by a
landlord or seller. Moreover, a number of courts have entertained § 3604(c) claims based
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upon publications from homeowner associations such as the Defendant here. See, e.g.,
Lath v. Oak Brook Condo. Owners’ Ass’n, No. 16-CV-463-LM, 2017 WL 1051001, at *1
(D.N.H. Mar. 20, 2017) (condominium association newsletter alleged to indicate a
preference against certain handicaps); Llanos v. Estate of Cohelo, 24 F. Supp. 2d 1052,
1060 (E.D. Cal. 1998) (apartment complex rules alleged to discriminate against children);
see also Ragin v. New York Times Co., 923 F.2d 995 (2d Cir. 1991) (applying § 3604(c)
to newspaper publisher that printed allegedly discriminatory housing advertisements).
Here, the Court finds that the letter was sufficiently related “to the sale or rental of a
dwelling” insofar as it related to the Morrises’ intent to purchase a home in the West
Hayden Estates neighborhood.
The question, then, is whether the HOA’s letter communicates an impermissible
preference or discrimination. “[E]very circuit that has considered a claim under section
3604(c) has held that an objective ‘ordinary reader’ standard should be applied in
determining what is ‘indicated’ by [a notice, statement, or advertisement].” Jancik v.
Dep't of Hous. & Urban Dev., 44 F.3d 553, 556 (7th Cir. 1995) (collecting cases). The
Court has doubts as to whether an ordinary reader would interpret the HOA’s letter,
without more, as communicating a preference for non-Christians homeowners in the
West Hayden Estates neighborhood. However, at least one Circuit has suggested that
“[e]vidence that the author or speaker intended his or her words to indicate a prohibited
preference” may be used to buttress a claim under § 3604(c), where the surrounding
context suggests that the publication was intended to convey the unlawful preference. See
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Jancik, 44 F.3d at 556 (7th Cir. 1995). As stated above, the Morrises have alleged
additional evidence suggesting that the letter was subjectively intended to discourage the
Morrises from buying a home in the neighborhood, on the basis of their religion. In light
of the obligation to construe the complaint liberally, the Court concludes that the
Morrises have stated a plausible claim under § 3064(c) based on the HOA’s January 15,
C. Claim Under § 3617
The Morrises claim that the HOA has violated their rights under 42 U.S.C. § 3617,
It shall be unlawful to coerce, intimidate, threaten, or interfere with any person in
the exercise or enjoyment of, or on account of his having exercised or enjoyed, or
on account of his having aided or encouraged any other person in the exercise or
enjoyment of, any right granted or protected by section 3603, 3604, 3605, or 3606
of this title.
42 U.S.C. § 3617. As used in § 3617, the term “interference” has been “broadly applied
to reach all practices which have the effect of interfering with the exercise of rights under
the federal fair housing laws,” including protections against housing discrimination. Id.
(citing United States v. City of Hayward, 36 F.3d 832, 835 (9th Cir. 1994). To establish a
prima facie case under this provision, “a plaintiff must show that (1) he engaged in a
protected activity; (2) the defendant subjected him to an adverse action; and (3) a causal
link exists between the protected activity and the adverse action.” Walker v. City of
Lakewood, 272 F.3d 1114, 1128 (9th Cir. 2001).
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Here, Morrises allege the HOA interfered with the purchase of their home because
of their religion, by attempting to dissuade the sellers from transacting with the Morrises,
Compl. ¶ 21, and sending a threatening letter, Compl., Ex 2. The Morrises also claim that
the HOA has been harassing them since they first held their Christmas fundraiser. Id. ¶¶
29, 31, 34, 35. Therefore, the Morrises have plausibly alleged that (1) they were engaged
in the protected activity of purchasing and enjoying a home free from religious
discrimination, (2) the HOA threatened, intimidated, and interfered with their enjoyment
of those rights, and (3) those actions caused them damage. Because the Morrises have
stated a plausible claim under § 3617, the Defendant’s Motion to Dismiss that claim is
For the foregoing reasons, the Court will grant the HOA’s Motion to Dismiss as to
the Idaho Human Rights Act (IHRA), as the Morrises have failed to exhaust their
administrative remedies as required under the IHRA. However, the Court will deny the
Motion to Dismiss as to the Morrises’ claims of discrimination under the Fair Housing
IT IS ORDERED:
Defendant’s Motion to Dismiss (Dkt. 5) is GRANTED as to Plaintiff’s
Idaho Human Rights Act claim. The claim is dismissed without prejudice.
MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER - 10
Defendant’s Motion to Dismiss (Dkt. 5) is DENIED as to Plaintiff’s Fair
Housing Act claims.
DATED: August 24, 2017
B. Lynn Winmill
United States District Court
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