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Sherwood Associates LP v. Jackson

Supreme Court of Maine

January 29, 2019


          Submitted: December 12, 2018

          Jed Davis, Esq., Jim Mitchell and Jed Davis, PA, Augusta, for appellant Olanian Jackson

          Aaron K. Baltes, Esq., Norman, Hanson & Detroy, LLC, Portland, for appellee Sherwood Associates LP


          PER CURIAM

         [¶1]Olanian Jackson appeals from a judgment of the Superior Court (Somerset County, Mullen, J.) affirming a judgment entered in a District Court action for forcible entry and detainer (Skowhegan, Benson, J.) in favor of his landlord, Sherwood Associates LP.[1] See 14 M.R.S. § 6008 (2017); M.R. Civ. P. 80D(f). Jackson contends that because he has a certificate to use marijuana for medical purposes, Sherwood and the District Court were required to reasonably accommodate his condition and excuse multiple violations of his lease, some related to his possession and use of marijuana and some independent of his possession and use of marijuana. We affirm the Superior Court judgment.

         I. CASE HISTORY

         [¶2] We draw the following facts from the procedural history, the facts as found by the District Court, and the evidence viewed favorably to the judgment. See United States Bank, N.A. v. Thomes, 2013 ME 60, U 2, 69 A.3d 411. Since 1997, Jackson has lived in an apartment in Fairfield Family Apartments in Fairfield. Fairfield Family Apartments is a federally funded affordable housing project subject to regulation by the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development. The project is owned by Sherwood Associates LP.[2]

         [¶3] Jackson signed a lease renewal in 2014 that, by its terms, continued for successive terms of one year unless terminated. On December 15, 2016, Sherwood issued Jackson a ten-day notice to quit stating that Jackson's use and possession of marijuana violated the terms of the lease that prohibited unlawful activity in the apartment because "medical marijuana is illegal under federal law even if it is permitted under state law."

         [¶4] Jackson submitted a request to Sherwood for a reasonable accommodation to use marijuana for medical purposes pursuant to the Maine Human Rights Act, 5 M.R.S. § 4582-A(2) (2017). In response to Jackson's request for accommodation, Sherwood halted the eviction process so that it could gather information and review the request. Sherwood ultimately denied the request in April 2017, explaining:

[U]nder federal law marijuana is a controlled substance and possession or manufacture of marijuana is a violation of federal law. Fairfield Family Housing is an affordable housing complex that receives federal funds and is subject to oversight and frequent audits by the federal government. In the Landlord's view, a request for accommodation that results in a violation of federal law is per se unreasonable, and exposes the Landlord to potential liability and/or noncompliance with federal regulations.

         [¶5] When it denied Jackson's request, Sherwood issued a thirty-day notice that it was terminating his lease. The notice stated that Jackson had violated the terms of the lease when he (1) used the apartment for unlawful purposes or engaged in unlawful activities in the unit by growing and possessing marijuana; (2) refused access to the bedroom in the apartment used as a marijuana grow room; (3) installed a lock on the bedroom without permission; (4) threatened physical harm to property staff seeking to inspect the bedroom; (5) smoked marijuana in his apartment in violation of a no smoking policy; and (6) grew and possessed marijuana in violation of a zero tolerance drug policy.

         [¶6] On June 12, 2017, Sherwood filed an FED complaint in the District Court. A hearing was held on June 16, 2017. Sherwood called two employee witnesses and Jackson to testify. Jackson, who was represented by a legal services attorney, also testified on his own behalf and called a tenant from a neighboring apartment to testify. After hearing closing arguments from each side, the court [Benson, J.) announced its decision, which included the following findings:

There is a written lease which has been admitted into evidence, and I have reviewed the appropriate provisions of that lease, and I find that there has been credible evidence of more than one violation of the lease. One of the things the [c]ourt in this case has to do is to gauge the credibility of witnesses, and the [c]ourt finds that [Sherwood's witnesses] are simply more credible than Mr. Jackson and [his witness]. I find that Mr. Jackson has, in fact, refused access to the unit in violation of the lease. I find that he placed a lock on part of the unit without written permission, in violation of the lease, and I also find, based on the testimony of [a Sherwood witness], as well as the note on the door, that he has intimidated staff in violation of ...

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