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Bushnell v. Natali

United States District Court, W.D. Louisiana, Lake Charles Division

May 22, 2019




         Before the court are a Motion to Dismiss and Motion for Summary Judgment [doc. 27] filed by defendants Arnold Natali, Holly Trosclair, and Faye Miller; and a Motion for Summary Judgment [doc. 41] filed by plaintiffs Gerald Bushnell and Dolores Bushnell. Both matters are opposed and have been referred to the undersigned for review, report, and recommendation in accordance with the provisions of 28 U.S.C. § 636.



         The above motions relate to a suit filed in this court by plaintiffs, a mother and son, under the Fair Housing Amendments Act (“FHAA”), 42 U.S.C. § 3601 et seq.[1] Plaintiffs allege that defendants violated the FHAA by refusing to allow them to jointly enter into a lease for their apartment in Jennings, Louisiana, either because of Gerald Bushnell's mental illness or as a reasonable accommodation for Dolores Bushnell's cancer. Doc. 1, p. 1.

         Specifically, plaintiffs assert: Gerald Bushnell, who is diagnosed with schizophrenia and under treatment for that condition with a physician, has resided at the apartment with his mother, Dolores, [2] since April 1994. Id. at 3. At that time Dolores signed a six-month lease, which listed Gerald Bushnell as an occupant. Id. The lease was only valid until October 1994 and reconducted upon its expiration, when the Bushnells remained in the apartment. Id. In November 2016 Dolores requested that Gerald be added to the lease as co-lessee because she had been diagnosed with cancer. Id. at 4. She was ultimately informed that her request would be denied because of a fear that Gerald would not take his medication after Dolores died, despite the fact that he had been medication-compliant for over 20 years and has not breached a single term of the lease in the years he has occupied the apartment. Id. at 4-5.

         The Bushnells filed suit in this court on September 11, 2017, alleging that defendants violated federal law by refusing to allow Gerald to be on the lease as a reasonable accommodation for Dolores's cancer or by refusing to lease to him in his own right because of his schizophrenia.[3]Accordingly, they seek (1) a declaration that defendants' actions amounted to a violation of the FHAA and (2) a permanent injunction “to prevent any further discrimination by Defendants.” Id. at 9. Id. at 9.

         Defendants then moved to dismiss the suit or, alternatively, for summary judgment. Doc. 27. They asserted that Dolores's request to add Gerald as a co-lessee was not a reasonable accommodation, and that plaintiffs therefore could not establish an FHA violation. Doc. 27, att. 2. The court decided to treat the motion as one for summary judgment and allow additional time for the parties to conduct discovery and supplement their briefs. Doc. 38. Plaintiffs then filed their own motion for summary judgment, alleging that record evidence supports both of their claimed FHAA violations. Doc. 41. Both motions are opposed and are now ripe for review.


         Summary Judgment Standard

         A court should grant a motion for summary judgment when the movant shows “that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56. The party moving for summary judgment is initially responsible for identifying portions of pleadings and discovery that show the lack of a genuine issue of material fact. Tubacex, Inc. v. M/V Risan, 45 F.3d 951, 954 (5th Cir. 1995). The court must deny the motion for summary judgment if the movant fails to meet this burden. Id.

         If the movant makes this showing, however, the burden then shifts to the non-moving party to “set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 106 S.Ct. 2505, 2511 (1986) (quotations omitted). This requires more than mere allegations or denials of the adverse party's pleadings. Instead, the nonmovant must submit “significant probative evidence” in support of his claim. State Farm Life Ins. Co. v. Gutterman, 896 F.2d 116, 118 (5th Cir. 1990). “If the evidence is merely colorable, or is not significantly probative, summary judgment may be granted.” Anderson, 106 S.Ct. at 2511 (citations omitted).

         A court may not make credibility determinations or weigh the evidence in ruling on a motion for summary judgment. Reeves v. Sanderson Plumbing Prods., Inc., 120 S.Ct. 2097, 2110 (2000). The court is also required to view all evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party and draw all reasonable inferences in that party's favor. Clift v. Clift, 210 F.3d 268, 270 (5th Cir. 2000). Under this standard, a genuine issue of material fact exists if a ...

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