Costa Mesa’s Ordinance Regulating Sober Living Homes Upheld

Recently, a Federal Judge found that the City of Costa Mesa’s ordinance that regulated sober living homes did not discriminate against recovering alcohol and drug abusers. The case Solid LandPartings Behavioral Health, Inc. v. City of Costa Mesa has important implications for sober living home operators looking to oppose City ordinances that regulate sober living homes.

In October 2014, the City of Costa Mesa enacted Ordinance No. 14-13. The Ordinance essentially prohibits the operation of large boarding houses in properties within the R1 zoning designation. The Ordinance has subsections addressing group homes, residential care facilities, and sober living homes.

Sober living homes had proliferated in Costa Mesa and hence the Ordinance was passed to try and regulate sober living homes. The Ordinance requires a sober living home to apply for a special permit within 90 days after the Ordinance was enacted and allows for a year for the sober living homes to comply with the provisions of the Ordinance. ‘

Procedural History

The multiple Plaintiffs in this case are owners and operators of several residential drug and alcohol rehabilitation homes in Costa Mesa. Plaintiff Doe is an owner, operator and/or employee of Solid Landings who is required to provide private, personal information pursuant to the Ordinance and the permit application. In response, Plaintiff Doe filed a Complaint for declaratory relief in Federal Court on November 18, 2014, asserting that the Ordinance is preempted by federal law and violated the Fair Housing Amendments Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution.

The Complaint was dismissed in early 2015 and thereafter the Plaintiffs argued that the Ordinance requirements that required disclosure of personal information were discriminatory, the Ordinance’s requirement that a sober living home be separated by 650 feet is humiliating and discriminatory, and that the concerns about the neighborhoods are not backed up by concrete data.

Legal Standard

The legal standard that is to be applied in this case is as follows: A plaintiff must state “enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). A claim has “facial plausibility” if the plaintiff pleads facts that “allow the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 668 (2009).

In regards to the Federal Fair Housing Amendments Act and Americans with Disabilities Act claims, the Court stated that recovering alcohol and drug abusers admitted into sober living homes are disabled. In order for a plaintiff to state a claim for a violation of the FHAA or ADA, a plaintiff must show (1) disparate treatment, (2) disparate impact, or (3) failure to provide reasonable accommodation.

Disparate Treatment

In regards to the disparate treatment, what is needed to be proven is as follows: (1) “the restriction benefits the protected class or (2) that it responds to legitimate safety concerns raised by the individuals affected, rather than being based on stereotypes.”Cmty. House, Inc. v. City of Boise 490 F.3d 1041, 1050 (9th Cir. 2006). Although the Ordinance treats sober living homes different from other living arrangements, the Court found that the Ordinance actually provides alternative housing for disabled persons that would not be allowed for non-disabled persons. Thus, the Court found that the “disparate treatment” was actually beneficial to recovering alcohol and drug abusers.

Disparate Impact

In regards to the disparate impact, Plaintiffs acknowledge that they do not state a disparate impact claim.

Reasonable Accommodations

With regards to the failure to provide reasonable accommodation, the Court failed to see how the 650-foot separation rule is facially unreasonable, and Plaintiffs’ allegation that the City does not intend to grant relief from the rule does not affect the Court’s facial analysis because Plaintiffs had not yet made a request for a reasonable accommodation prior to filing the lawsuit.

This is an important issue for any plaintiff to understand because a Court cannot make a determination on an issue until it is “ripe.” Plaintiffs had not yet sought a reasonable accommodation under the Ordinance, so it is unknown how the City of Costa Mesa would respond to such a request.

Equal Protection Rights

“To state a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for a violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, a plaintiff must show that the defendants acted with an intent or purpose to discriminate against the plaintiff based upon membership in a protected class.” Lee v. City of Los Angeles, 250 F.3d 668, 686 (9th Cir. 2001). Since the fact that individuals with disabilities are not a suspect class under Section 1983, the Ordinance is then subject to review “limited to determining whether the law is rationally related to legitimate legislative goals.

Concluding Remarks

In sum, the Court found that Plaintiffs had not yet made a valid cause of action for discrimination under the FHA or ADA. Please contact Attorney Anthony Marinaccio at 818-839-5220 if you have any questions regarding sober living home regulation.