M.D. Florida Notes Split Re Whether "Final Decision" Rule Announced in Williamson County Applies to FHA or FHAA Claims

Per New Life Outreach Ministry Inc. v. Polk County, Slip Copy, 2007 WL 2330854 (M.D.Fla . Aug 14, 2007) (NO. 8:06-CV-1547-T-27MAP):

Under the ripeness doctrine, a plaintiff must satisfy the "final decision" hurdle; namely, the plaintiff must demonstrate that the decision maker "charged with implementing the regulations has reached a final decision regarding the application of the regulations to the property at issue." Williamson County Regional Planning Commission v. Hamilton Bank of Johnson City, 473 U.S. 172, 191, 105 S.Ct. 3108, 87 L.Ed.2d 126 (1985). In Williamson County, a Just Compensation Clause case, the Supreme Court held that although the planning commission's refusal to approve the plaintiff's preliminary plat prevented the plaintiff from developing the land, it was not a complete taking because it left open the possibility of development after obtaining a variance. Id. at 193-94. The Court reasoned that since the refusal of the preliminary plat was not conclusive as to whether the plaintiff would be denied all reasonable use of the property, it was not a final, reviewable decision. Id. at 194. The Eleventh Circuit applies Williamson County's reasoning in Just Compensation Clause cases. See Reahard v. Lee County, 30 F.3d 1412, 1415 (11th Cir.1994), cert. denied, 514 U.S. 1064, 115 S.Ct. 1693, 131 L.Ed.2d 557 (1995) (holding that in most cases, no "final decision" has been reached until an aggrieved landowner has applied for at least one variance to a contested zoning ordinance); see also Resolution Trust Corp. v. Town of Highland Beach, 18 F.3d 1536, 1547 (11th Cir.1994) (holding that in most instances a property owner must apply for a variance). But the circuit has not ruled if Williamson County's final decision rule strictly applies to FHA/FHAA claims. See Jackson v. Okaloosa County, Fla., 21 F.3d 1531, 1541 n. 16 (11th Cir.1994) (expressly not deciding the ripeness doctrine's application in FHA claims). And the remaining circuits that have addressed the issue are split.

The Seventh and Eighth Circuits strictly apply the "final decision" rule of Williamson County to reasonable accommodation claims brought by plaintiffs who do not seek a variance before filing a claim. See Oxford House-C v. City of St. Louis, 77 F.3d 249 (8th Cir.1995); U.S. v. Village of Palatine, Ill., 37 F.3d 1230, 1233 (7th Cir.1994). Yet, even the Seventh Circuit recognizes an exception to the ripeness doctrine applied in Just Compensation Clause cases-futility. See Palazzolo v. Rhode Island, 533 U.S. 606, 622, 121 S.Ct. 2448, 150 L.Ed.2d 592 (2001) (holding in a takings case that the "[r]ipeness doctrine does not require a landowner to submit applications for their own sake"); Village of Palatine, Ill., 37 F.3d at 1234. FN3 The Fourth and the Fifth Circuits distinguish FHA/FHAA claims from takings claims and hold that the "final decision" rule does not apply. See Bryant Woods Inn, Inc., v. Howard County, Md., 124 F.3d 597, 602 (4th Cir.1997); Groome Resources Ltd., L.L.C. v. Parish of Jefferson, 234 F.3d 192 (5th Cir.2000). These courts recognize injuries under the FHA/FHAA are sufficiently concrete for judicial resolution once the disabled resident is first denied a reasonable accommodation. Bryant Woods Inn, Inc., 124 F.3d at 602.


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