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Maine Human Rights Commission v. D & L Apartments

Superior Court of Maine, Kennebec

September 27, 2019

MAINE HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION, Plaintiff,
v.
D & L APARTMENTS and DARRELL SPROUL, Defendants

          MAINE HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION - PLAINTIFF SUPERIOR COURT 51 STATE HOUSE STATION KENNEBEC, SS. AUGUSTA ME 04333 Docket No AUGSC-CV-2018-00049 Attorney for: MAINE HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION BARBARA ARCHER HIRSCH - RETAINED MAINE HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION

          D & L APARTMENTS - DEFENDANT Attorney for: D & L APARTMENTS PHILLIP E JOHNSON - RETAINED JOHNSON WEBBERT & YOUNG LLP

          DARRELL SPROUL - DEFENDANT Attorney for: DARRELL SPROUL PHILLIP E JOHNSON - RETAINED JOHNSON WEBBERT & YOUNG LLP

          ORDER ON MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

          William R. Stokes, Justice

         This matter is before the court on the motion for summary judgment filed by Defendants D & L Apartments and Darrell Sproul.

         BACKGROUND

         This case involves a one count complaint against D & L Apartments (D & L) and its owner, Darrell Sproul (Sproul), alleging housing discrimination on the basis of disability. Pl's Compl. ¶¶ 19-22.

         The controversy arose when Justin Engstrom called Mr. Sproul on June 10, 2016, to inquire about renting an apartment. Mr. Engstrom was a veteran with PTSD who had recently moved back to Maine after living in Colorado for the prior two years. (Pl's Statement of Material Facts (S.M.F.), ¶¶15-16, 20, 25.) Although he had yet to do so, Mr. Engstrom was planning on acquiring an assistance animal, namely a dog. To that end, he had contacted Dogs 4 Warriors, an Ohio non-profit that connects veterans with assistance animals, and was expecting to get an assistance dog as soon as he could find appropriate housing for the dog and himself, having been on their wait list since before moving back to Maine. S.M.F. ¶¶ 16-19, 23-24.

         When Mr. Engstrom called Mr. Sproul to inquire about housing, he asked Mr. Sproul about dogs, at which point Mr. Engstrom states that Mr. Sproul's demeanor changed - Mr. Sproul was adamant that there be absolutely no dogs, and would not let Mr. Engstrom get another word in. S.M.F. ¶¶ 29-35. Part of the controversy in this case, and the major point where the parties disagree, is what precisely was said during that brief phone call; although he never mentioned that he suffered from PTSD or anything specific, Mr. Engstrom believes he may have mentioned that he was "handicapped."' Engstrom Depo, 58:21 -59:1; 61:20-25.More importantly, the parties disagree on what precisely was said about assistance animals. Mr. Engstrom stated that he specified that he wished to have a "therapy dog," and also mentioned specifically "federally-protected, certified service or therapy dogs." S.M.F. ¶¶ 31, 33. D & L and Sproul, on the other hand, generally argue that Mr. Engstrom did not get into specifics, and challenges how much was said about assistance animals. Def's Reply to Pl's Opp. S.M.F. ¶¶ 30 - 35. The phone call ended with Mr. Sproul telling Mr. Engstrom not to bother filling out an application, since it would be denied. S.M.F. ¶ 36.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         "Summary judgment is appropriate where 'the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, referred to in the statements required by subdivision (h) show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact set forth in those statements and that any party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.'" Town of Windham v. Christopher A. Bond, No. CV-16-94, 2016 Me. Super. LEXIS 108, at *2 (July 13, 2016) (citing M.R. Civ. P. 56(c)).[1] "In examining the statements of material facts submitted pursuant to subdivision (h), [a] genuine issue of material fact exists when the evidence requires a fact-finder to choose between competing versions of the truth." Arrow Fastener Co. v. Wrabacon, Inc., 2007 ME 34, ¶ 15, 917 A.2d 123 (citing Farrington's Owner's Ass'n v. Conway Lake Resorts, Inc., 2005 ME 93, ¶ 9, 878 A.2d 504). Even if one party's version of the facts appears significantly more credible and persuasive, summary judgment is inappropriate "if a genuine factual dispute exists that is material to the outcome." Arrow Fastener, 2007 ME 34, ¶ 17, 917 A.2d 123; see also Emerson v. Sweet, 432 A.2d 784, 787 n.6 (Me. 1981) ("Thus, the failure of proof, not the relative weight assigned to evidence should control the Court's disposition of the motion."). Thus, as the Law Court has stated, although summary judgment "is no longer an extreme remedy, it is not a substitute for trial." Curtis v. Porter, 2001 ME 158, ¶ 7, 784 A.2d 18.

         DISCUSSION

         Prima ...


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