United States District Court, D. Massachusetts
ORDER ON MOTION FOR PRELIMINARY INJUNCTION
Sorokin United States District Judge
August 16, 2018, plaintiffs Danielle Donohue and
Lincolnshouse, LLC ("Lincolnshouse") moved for a
preliminary injunction against defendants City of Methuen
("the City") and John. P. Gibney. Doc. No. 14. The
defendants opposed, Doc. No. 21, to which the plaintiffs
replied, Doc. No. 23.
October 2017, Donahue purchased the property at 10 Quincy
Street in Methuen. Doc. No. 5 ¶ 7. In December 2017,
Lincolnshouse began operating a sober house at the property.
Id. ¶ 8. Shortly thereafter, the City began
receiving complaints from the property's neighbors about
its use as a sober house. Id. ¶ 10. After
inspecting the property, on February 21, 2018, city officials
sent Donohue a letter ordering her to cease and desist the
operation of the sober house. Doc. No. 5-1. The letter
alleged that the sober house was in violation of the local
zoning ordinance, the state Building Code, and the state
Sanitary Code because it lacked fire and smoke protection
features and means of egress sufficient for the number of
people occupying the property. Id.
responded to the letter on February 22, stating its position
that Massachusetts law requires that the sober house, because
it is a "group of disabled individuals living
together," must "be treated the same as a
single-family for purposes of code, zoning, and fire safety
laws." Doc. No. 5-2 at 1. On March 23, the City sent
Donohue another letter informing her that it would evaluate
her claims only if she applied for a building permit and that
fines of $300 per day would otherwise begin to accrue on
March 26. Doc. No. 5-3.
timely appealed the second letter to the Building Code
Appeals Board ("the BCAB"), a state agency that
hears appeals from Building Code enforcement decisions, which
held a hearing on May 3, 2018. Doc. No. 16 ¶ 14; see
Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 143, § 100. On July 18, the BCAB
issued a decision upholding the City's
letter. Doc. No. 16-5. The plaintiffs appealed
that decision into state court on August 20, 2018. Doc. No.
23 at 5.
April 13, 2018, the plaintiffs brought this suit. Doc. No. 1.
Their Amended Complaint, which states several state law
claims and a claim under the federal Fair Housing Act, 42
U.S.C. § 3601 et seq., seeks damages and an
injunction against the defendants. Doc. No. 5 at 7-10. The
plaintiffs also moved for a preliminary injunction to prevent
the defendants from "taking any action against
[plaintiffs'] property . . . that is inconsistent with
code, safety or zoning requirements that would be imposed
upon a single-family occupancy with the same number of
occupants." Doc. No. 14 at 1-2. The parties attended a
mediation conducted by a United States Magistrate Judge from
this Court in September but did not reach a settlement. Doc.
No. 31. The Court held a hearing on the motion for
preliminary injunction on November 19.
determining whether to grant a preliminary injunction, the
district court must consider: (i) the movant's likelihood
of success on the merits of its claims; (ii) whether and to
what extent the movant will suffer irreparable harm if the
injunction is withheld; (iii) the balance of hardships as
between the parties; and (iv) the effect, if any, that an
injunction (or the withholding of one) may have on the public
interest." Corp. Techs., Inc. v. Harnett, 731
F.3d 6, 9 (1st Cir. 2013). "The party seeking the
preliminary injunction bears the burden of establishing that
these four factors weigh in its favor." Esso
Standard Oil Co. (P.R.) v. Monroig-Zayas, 445 F.3d 13,
18 (1st Cir. 2006).
plaintiffs contend that the defendants' application of
the state Building Code to their property constitutes
unlawful discrimination because the City has imposed
requirements on their use of the property that it would not
impose on a single-family home. Doc. No. 15 at 8. The
plaintiffs argue that such requirements violate the
Massachusetts Zoning Act, Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 40A, § 3
("the Zoning Act"), which provides in relevant part
[n]otwithstanding any general or special law to the contrary,
local land use and health and safety laws, regulations,
practices, ordinances, by-laws and decisions of a city or
town shall not discriminate against a disabled person.
Imposition of health and safety laws or land-use requirements
on congregate living arrangements among non-related persons
with disabilities that are not imposed on families and groups
of similar size or other unrelated persons shall constitute
discrimination. The provisions of this paragraph shall apply
to every city or town, including, but not limited to the city
of Boston and the city of Cambridge.
plaintiffs argue that this provision preempts the state
Building Code insofar as its application to the sober house
as a "congregate living arrangement among non-related
persons with disabilities" differs from its application
to "families and groups of similar size." Doc. No.
15 at 8. Defendants disagree and argue that this provision of
the Zoning Act "has no such universal preclusive
effect." Doc. No. 22 at 10.
defendants further argue that this Court may not review the
plaintiffs' claims because it must give preclusive effect
to the earlier BCAB decision. Id. at 7. Federal
courts consider the preclusive effect of state court judgment
using the preclusion principles of that state. Goldstein
v. Galvin,719 F.3d 16, 22-23 (1st Cir. 2013).
"Under Massachusetts law, 'claim preclusion makes a
valid, final judgment conclusive on the parties and their
privies, and prevents relitigation of all matters that were
or could have been adjudicated in the action.'"
Id. at 22-23 (quoting Kobrin v. Bd. of Resist,
in Med., 832 N.E.2d 628, 634 (Mass. 2005)). "It is
based on the idea that the party to be precluded has had the
incentive and opportunity to litigate the matter fully in the
first lawsuit." O'Neill v. City Manager of
Cambridge, 700 N.E.2d 530, 532 (Mass. 1998). Issue
preclusion, on the other hand, "prevents relitigation of
an issue determined in an earlier action where the same issue