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Chapel v. City of Springfield

United States District Court, W.D. Missouri, Southern Division

October 2, 2014

RECOVERY CHAPEL, et al., Plaintiffs,


GREG KAYS, Chief District Judge.

In this zoning dispute, Plaintiffs Recovery Chapel ("Recovery Chapel") and Farris Robertson ("Robertson") have sued Defendants City of Springfield, Missouri ("the City") and Springfield Board of Adjustment ("BOA") for denying Plaintiffs' property a certificate of occupancy. Plaintiffs believe that Defendants' actions constitute discrimination against them on the basis of disability, which is prohibited under federal law.

Now before the Court are two motions. Plaintiffs move for a preliminary injunction to stop Defendants from preventing Plaintiffs' residents from occupying Plaintiffs' property (Doc. 5). Defendants move to dismiss the Amended Complaint for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction and for failure to state a claim (Doc. 12). For the reasons below, both motions are DENIED.


The City's zoning ordinances establish two types of residential use classifications that are relevant here. "Community corrections facilities" are facilities licensed to house, supervise, counsel, and rehabilitate criminal offenders on probation or parole. Springfield, Mo., Zoning Ordinance § 2-1100, available at "Residential group homes" are dwellings comprising persons with mental or physical handicaps. Id. A maximum of eight persons with disabilities and a maximum of two caretakers or guardians may live in a residential group home. Id. Residential group homes, but not community corrections facilities, are permitted in Single Family Residential districts. Id. § 4-1000.

The BOA is an administrative body that hears appeals of City zoning enforcement decisions and determinations. Id. § 3-2103(A). The BOA also hears requests for special exceptions. Id. § 3-2103(D).

Robertson is the executive director of Recovery Chapel, a nonprofit corporation based in Missouri. Recovery Chapel operates residential facilities that provide long-term recovery support services for men who have a history of substance abuse disorders. Its operations promote abstinence, pro-social life skills, and employment preparation. Recovery Chapel has never endeavored to provide any sort of probation, parole, or correctional transition services, nor is it licensed to do so.

In 2013, Robertson bought real property ("the Property") in a Single Family Residential district in Springfield for Recovery Chapel to operate a residential group home. Plaintiffs invested money and effort into making the Property suitable for use as a residential group home, and residents began moving into the Property not long after Robertson bought it. Although the Amended Complaint is not clear on the exact number, it appears that fourteen people moved into the Property at this time.

The parties' dispute began in November 2013 when a citizen complained about the number of people living at the Property. Robertson met with a City land use inspector to explain how the Property was being used. Two months later, the City sent Robertson a letter indicating that the Property's use violated the City's "Dangerous, Blighted, and Nuisance Building Code". The stated reasons were because sex offenders and more than three unrelated persons lived on the Property, and because people were residing on the Property without a certificate of occupancy. See Springfield, Mo., Zoning Ordinance § 3-1303(A). Plaintiffs again met with City representatives to discuss how Plaintiffs could use the Property as intended. The City Attorney opined that fourteen residents would indeed be permitted on the Property. After that meeting, Robertson applied for a certificate of occupancy to use the Property as a residential group home. As part of its application review process the City requested, and Robertson provided, additional information.

The City's director of building and development services denied Robertson's application in March 2014. The director wrote, "[T]he City's historical interpretation has been that more than one person on probation and/or parole removes a residence from a group home' classification to a community corrections facility' classification." (Doc. 4, at 7). Because community corrections facilities are not permitted uses in Single Family Residential districts, this determination required the City to deny the permit application. Robertson responded four days later, requesting that the City "provide a reasonable accommodation at the subject address for every recovering alcoholic or addict living there, or who will live there" from City zoning requirements ( Id. ). The City denied this request.

Robertson then appealed the City's denial of a certificate of occupancy to the BOA. Robertson wrote the BOA that it should reverse the City's denial because the Property does not meet the definition of a community corrections facility. He also stated that allowing up to fourteen individuals with disabilities and staff members would be a reasonable accommodation under the Fair Housing Act. The BOA heard Robertson's appeal, during which time City representatives admitted that "the proposed use does not completely meet the definition of a Community Correctional Facility" ( Id., at 8). In June 2014, the BOA allowed the City's original decision and determination to stand.

By that time, the number of Property residents had decreased from fourteen to ten; the Amended Complaint does not allege when this occurred. The ten current inhabitants comprise eight individuals with substance abuse disabilities and two Recovery Chapel staff members.

Plaintiffs then sued Defendants in this Court for violations of the Fair Housing Act ("FHA"), 42 U.S.C. §§ 3601-3631, the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"), id. §§ 12101-12213, and illegal zoning ...

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