United States District Court, D. Massachusetts
JEFFREY D. SUMMERS and JEFFREY'S HOUSE, INC., Plaintiffs,
CITY OF FITCHBURG et al., Defendants.
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
J. Casper United States District Judge
Jeffrey D. Summers (“Summers”) and Jeffrey's
House, Inc. (“Jeffrey's House”)
(collectively, “Plaintiffs”) have filed this
lawsuit against Defendants City of Fitchburg
(“Fitchburg”) and Mark A. Goldstein
(“Goldstein”), Jeffrey P. Stephens
(“Stephens”), John J. Moran Sr.
(“Moran”), Robert Lanciani
(“Lanciani”), Phil Jordan (“Jordan”),
Sally Tata (“Tata”) and Kevin Roy
(“Roy”), individually and in their official
capacities as various Fitchburg officials (“Municipal
Defendants”) (collectively, with Fitchburg,
“Defendants”). Plaintiffs; three remaining are:
civil conspiracy to interfere with civil rights; violation of
the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), 42
U.S.C. § 12101et seq. (Count IV); and violation
of the Fair Housing Amendments Act (“FHAA”), an
amendment to the Fair Housing Act (the “FHA”), 42
U.S.C. § 3601 et seq. (Count V). D. 44.
Defendants have moved for summary judgment. D. 52. For the
reasons stated below, the Court ALLOWS the motion.
Standard of Review
Court grants summary judgment where there is no genuine
dispute as to any material fact and the undisputed facts
demonstrate that the moving party is entitled to judgment as
a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). “A fact is
material if it carries with it the potential to affect the
outcome of the suit under the applicable law.”
Santiago-Ramos v. Centennial P.R. Wireless Corp.,
217 F.3d 46, 52 (1st Cir. 2000) (quoting Sánchez
v. Alvarado, 101 F.3d 223, 227 (1st Cir. 1996)). The
movant bears the burden of demonstrating the absence of a
genuine issue of material fact. Carmona v. Toledo,
215 F.3d 124, 132 (1st Cir. 2000); see Celotex Corp. v.
Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). If the movant meets
its burden, the non-moving party may not rest on the
allegations or denials in her pleadings, Anderson v.
Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 256 (1986), but
“must, with respect to each issue on which she would
bear the burden of proof at trial, demonstrate that a trier
of fact could reasonably resolve that issue in her
favor.” Borges ex rel. S.M.B.W. v. Serrano-
Isern, 605 F.3d 1, 5 (1st Cir. 2010)
(“Borges”). “As a general rule,
that requires the production of evidence that is
‘significant[ly] probative.'” Id.
(quoting Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249) (alteration in
original). The Court “view[s] the record in the light
most favorable to the nonmovant, drawing reasonable
inferences in his favor.” Noonan v. Staples,
Inc., 556 F.3d 20, 25 (1st Cir. 2009).
local rules for the District of Massachusetts require parties
opposing summary judgment to provide “a concise
statement of the material facts of record as to which it is
contended that there exists a genuine issue to be tried, with
page references to affidavits, depositions and other
documentation.” D. Mass. L.R. 56.1. If the opposing
party does not dispute the material facts of record as stated
by the movant in accordance with Local Rule 56.1, they may be
deemed admitted. Id. Plaintiffs have not disputed
the material facts offered by Defendants and have not
identified any specific admissible evidence supporting such
disputes. See D. 54; D. 64 at 2-3. Accordingly, the
Court deems the material facts offered by Defendants to be
admitted. See Stonkus v. City of Brockton Sch.
Dep't, 322 F.3d 97, 102 (1st Cir. 2003). Summers is
the President of Jeffrey's House, a non-profit entity
that operates four sober houses at 499 Water Street, 10
Burnett Street, 33 Garnett Street and 205/207 High Street in
Fitchburg, Massachusetts. D. 54, ¶¶ 1-2. The sober
houses offer living quarters to a group of people recovering
from drug and/or alcohol addiction to provide peer support
and maintain their sobriety. D. 54, ¶ 3.
February 2, 2013, the Worcester Telegram and Gazette
Published an article about the 499 Water Street property
after local health inspectors were not permitted to inspect
the property. D. 54, ¶ 10. On April 17, 2013, Stephens,
a Fitchburg health inspector, inspected the 499 Water Street
house. D. 54, ¶ 12. After discovering numerous
violations of Massachusetts sanitary code, Stephens sent
Plaintiffs a letter describing the violations and that they
must take action to correct them within thirty days of the
notice. D. 54, ¶¶ 12-13. On May 13, 2013, Stephens
and Moran, a Fitchburg building inspector, inspected 499
Water Street again and confirmed that most of the violations
had been fixed, but some repair of handrails still needed to
be completed. D. 54, ¶ 14. On August 21, 2013, Summers
met with Stephens, Moran and Lanciani, the former Fitchburg
Building Commissioner. D. 54, ¶ 15. Stephens, Moran and
Lanciani told Summers that the sober houses were violating
local zoning ordinances and asked him to cease operating
them, which Summers refused to do. D. 54, ¶ 16. On
September 11, 2013, Fitchburg officials inspected 499 Water
Street again, confirming that all the issues identified in
the April 2013 inspection had been corrected. D. 54, ¶
December 5, 2013, Fitchburg sent Summers a letter notifying
him that the 10 Burnett Street house was being operated as a
rooming or boarding house and was thus in violation of local
zoning ordinances. D. 54, ¶ 18. On January 22, 2015,
Fitchburg sent Summers another letter notifying him that the
33 Garnett Street house was also violating local zoning
ordinances. D. 54, ¶ 19. After Summers took no action to
correct these violations, Goldstein, the Assistant City
Solicitor, filed an enforcement action in Worcester Housing
Court. D. 54, ¶ 20. At a hearing addressing all
outstanding violations in the sober houses, Summers asked
that Fitchburg provide reasonable accommodation from the
zoning laws on the basis of the residents' disabilities
due to alcohol or drug dependency. D. 54, ¶¶ 21-22.
Summers agreed to send a letter to Fitchburg, which he did on
May 5, 2014, memorializing his request at the hearing and
giving other information about the sober houses, including
the number of occupants. D. 54, ¶¶ 23-24. On May
30, 2014, Lanciani sent a letter to Summers granting the
reasonable accommodation request. D. 54, ¶ 25. Goldstein
then voluntarily dismissed the pending action in Worcester
Housing Court. Id.
10, 2014, Tata, a member of the Fitchburg Fire Prevention
Bureau, sent Summers a letter informing him that three of the
sober houses, classified as lodging homes, were required to
install fire suppression or sprinkler systems under Mass.
Gen. L. c. 148, § 26H (the “Sprinkler Law”),
which requires lodging or boarding homes housing six or more
individuals not within the second degree of kindred to the
person conducting it to install a fire suppression system, D.
54, ¶ 26. The letter provided a six-month period to
install the fire suppression system, consistent with the
Sprinkler Law, but Plaintiffs did not install the system or
appeal the determination. D. 54, ¶¶ 28-29. On
February 20, 2015, Tata sent a second letter to Plaintiffs
notifying them that they had been fined $1, 000 due to the
failure to comply by installing a fire suppression system. D.
54, ¶ 30. Plaintiffs still did not install a fire
suppression system, nor did they pay the fine, after which
Goldstein began a new enforcement action in Worcester Housing
Court on April 9, 2015. D. 54, ¶ 31. The housing court
determined that Plaintiffs were obligated to comply with the
Sprinkler Law by installing a fire suppression system in each
of the sober houses. D. 54, ¶ 32.
17, 2015, at a subsequent hearing, Summers proposed lowering
the occupancy of each of the sober houses to five or fewer
people to become exempted from the requirements of the
Sprinkler Law until the dispute could be fully adjudicated.
D. 54, ¶ 33. On July 28, 2015, Goldstein sent Summers a
letter asking that he memorialize this representation of his
intent to lower the occupancy levels, and that he also agree
to allow the Fire Department to conduct “sporadic
inspections” to verify occupancy. D. 54, ¶ 34.
Viewing the proposed inspections as a violation of the sober
houses' occupants' rights as disabled individuals,
Summers decided not lower the occupancy levels of the sober
houses, and maintained his refusal to install fire
suppression systems. D. 54, ¶¶ 35-37, 39. Summers
represented to Goldstein in a phone call that he believed the
inspections would be disruptive for the occupants and would
potentially cause them anxiety due to their disabilities. D.
54, ¶ 37. Summers also viewed the cost of installing
fire suppression systems, which he estimated to be between
$35, 000 and $40, 000 per house, as prohibitive. D. 54,
¶ 38. Summers did not consider any alternative mechanism
by which Fitchburg could be permitted to verify the proposed
lowered occupancy levels. D. 54, ¶ 40.
instituted this action on September 14, 2015. D. 1.
Plaintiffs filed an amended complaint (the “FAC”)
on February 18, 2016. D. 18. On September 15, 2016, the Court
allowed in part and denied in part Defendants' motion to
dismiss the FAC, dismissing Plaintiffs' claims for
attorney's fees and costs (Count I), abuse of process
(Count II), private nuisance (FAC Count III), intentional
infliction of emotional distress (Count VI), and interference
with advantageous business relations (Count VII), leaving
Counts IV and V as the only remaining claims. D. 31. On
December 16, 2016, Plaintiffs filed a second amended
complaint (“SAC”), which reasserted Counts I, II,
IV, V, VI, and VII,  as well as a new claim for civil
conspiracy to interfere with civil rights (SAC Count III). D.
44. The parties proceeded with discovery. The Court heard the
parties on the pending motion and took this matter under
advisement. D. 66.