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Belcher v. Grand Reserve Mgm, LLC

United States District Court, M.D. Alabama, Northern Division

February 6, 2019

KIMBERLY BELCHER, et al. PLAINTIFFS
v.
THE GRAND RESERVE MGM, LLC, et al. DEFENDANTS

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          KEITH STARRETT UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         For the reasons below, the Court denies Plaintiffs' Motion to Alter, Amend, or Vacate [143] the Court's prior opinion and judgment. The Court also grants in part and denies in part Defendant's Motion to Tax Costs to Plaintiff [147].

         A. Motion to Alter, Amend, or Vacate [143]

         Plaintiffs argue that the Court should alter, amend, or vacate its previous opinion pursuant to Rule 59. “Rule 59(e) allows courts to alter judgments only where there is ‘newly-discovered evidence or manifest errors of law or fact.'” EEOC v. St. Joseph's Hosp., Inc., 842 F.3d 1333, 1349 (11th Cir. 2016). Generally, Rule 59 “may not be used to raise new legal theories or arguments . . . .” Id. at 1337. Likewise, a “Rule 59(e) motion cannot be used to relitigate old matters, raise argument or present evidence that could have been raised prior to the entry of judgment.” Arthur v. King, 500 F.3d 1335, 1343 (11th Cir. 2007) (quoting Michael Linet, Inc. v. Village of Wellington, Fla., 408 F.3d 757, 763 (11th Cir. 2005)).

         1. Consideration of Brittany Allen's Motive

         First, Plaintiffs contend that the Court improperly considered Defendants' intentions in promulgating the disputed rules. Plaintiffs argue that Defendants' intentions are irrelevant in a facial discrimination analysis, and that the Court erred by considering Brittany Allen's intentions.

         The Court did not rule that the disputed rules were not discriminatory. The basis of the Court's ruling on Plaintiffs' familial status discrimination claims under the Fair Housing Act (“FHA”) and Alabama Fair Housing Law was that Defendant's actions were justified responses to legitimate safety concerns raised by residents of the apartment complex. To the extent Allen promulgated the disputed rules in response to legitimate safety concerns raised by residents of the apartment complex, her intent is indeed relevant. The Court's discussion of Ms. Allen's intent was not to mitigate the facially discriminatory nature of the rules. Rather, assuming that the rules were facially discriminatory on the basis of familial status, they were justified responses to legitimate safety concerns raised by residents of the apartment complex.

         2. Enforcement of the Rules

         Next, Plaintiffs argue that the Court erred by ruling that Defendants did not discriminate on the basis of familial status because the disputed rules were never enforced. But the Court did not rule on this basis. The Court assumed that the rules were facially discriminatory on the basis of familial status and held that they were justified responses to legitimate safety concerns raised by residents of the apartment complex. Regardless, the record contained evidence to support a finding that the rules were never enforced.

         3. Evidence of Retaliation

         Plaintiffs argue that the Court erred in finding that there was no credible evidence that Defendants subjected them to adverse action because of protected activity. First, Plaintiffs argue that Defendants' notice of the disputed rules constituted a threat or intimidation within the meaning of the FHA because it provided that the apartment complex would issue fines upon a second violation of the rules.

         The Eleventh Circuit has held that actually assessing fines did not constitute coercion, intimidation, or threats in violation of the FHA. See Wood v. Briarwinds Condominium Ass'n Bd. of Directors, 369 Fed.Appx. 1, 3 (11th Cir. 2010). Therefore, it stands to reason that warning of potential fines upon violation of posted rules does not constitute retaliation under the FHA.

         Regardless, “[t]o establish a prima facie case of retaliation, a plaintiff must show that (1) he engaged in a protected activity; (2) the defendant subjected him to an adverse action; and (3) a causal link exists between the protected activity and the adverse action.” Phillipeaux v. Apt. Inv. & Mgmt. Co., 598 Fed.Appx. 640, 644 (11th Cir. 2015). Therefore, even if the notice constituted a threat or intimidation under the FHA, Plaintiffs were required to present evidence that Defendants posted it because of their protected activity. In the Court's opinion, Plaintiffs did not present credible evidence demonstrating a causal link between the rule notice and any protected activity. In fact, Plaintiffs did not articulate in briefing what “protected activity” the rules were posted in retaliation against.

         Next, Plaintiffs argue that Plaintiff Dedric Belcher provided credible testimony regarding retaliatory conduct by Defendants and/or their agents. First, the Court explained at length in its previous opinion that it does not find Plaintiffs' testimony to be credible, for a variety of reasons. Regardless, Dedric Belcher's testimony highlighted by Plaintiffs in briefing does not demonstrate that a causative relationship exists between the alleged adverse action and Plaintiffs' protected activity. In other words, Mr. Belcher's testimony does not demonstrate a retaliatory motive.

         4. Legitimate Safety Concerns

         Next, Plaintiffs contend that the Court erred by failing to make an individualized inquiry of the legitimacy or reasonableness of the rules as responses to safety concerns, and by failing to inquire as to whether the disputed rules were the least restrictive means of accomplishing the articulated safety ...


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