Larkin v. State of Michigan: Federal Judge Rules Fair Housing Act Preempts State and Local Laws

A federal the district court addressed alleged Fair Housing Act (FHA) and constitutional violations regarding the permit process for operation of an adult home. The court found that the state statutes imposing notice and spacing requirements had no rational basis, were preempted by the FHA, and violated the Equal Protection clause of the U.S. Constitution.

Larkin sought to operate an adult foster care facility in the City of Westland (City). She requested a license from the Department of Social Services (DSS). The licensing process is governed by the Adult Foster Care Facility Licensing Act (AFCFLA), which generally prohibits the location of a new facility within 1,500 feet of a similar existing facility. The act also requires the DSS to give notice of a proposed facility to the municipality, which must determine if the
spacing requirement is met and give notice to all residents whose property lines are within 1,500 feet of the proposed facility.

The DSS gave notice to the City which denied the request because there was an existing facility within 1,500 feet. Larkin sued the City, the State, and DSS to prevent enforcement of the statutes. She alleged that the notice and spacing requirements violated, and were preempted by, the FHA. She also alleged that the City violated the FHA by failing to make a reasonable accommodation by waiving the 1,500-foot requirement. Larkin moved for summary-judgment and defendant filed a motion for dismissal.

The district court noted that the FHA prohibits: (1) discrimination in the sale or rental of a dwelling; or (2) discrimination against any person in the terms, conditions, or privileges of sale or rental of a dwelling -- because of a handicap of the buyer or renter, or a person residing or intending to reside in that dwelling. The FHA defines discrimination as including a "refusal to make accommodations in rules, policies, practices, or services, when such accommodation may be necessary to afford equal opportunity to use and enjoy a dwelling."

The court found that there was no rational basis for the spacing or notification requirements and that the statutory scheme violated the FHA as there was a discriminatory effect on handicapped persons.

The district court noted that state law may be preempted by federal law in one of three ways. First, Congress may expressly preempt state law. Second, Congress may indicate an intent to occupy an entire field of regulation. Third, Congress can preempt state law to the extent that it actually conflicts with federal law. The court noted that the third method applied to this case. Larkin argued that the state's 1,500-foot rule conflicted with the FHA's federal mandate to "remove barriers that limit the housing choices of handicapped persons." She also argued that because the state statutes limit the ability of handicapped people to live in the residence of their
choice, they conflict with the purpose of the FHA. The court found that by regulating residential facilities, the state statutes inherently regulate and consequently, discriminate against handicapped individuals. The court held that the statutes conflicted with and were preempted by the FHA.

Regarding the City's failure to accommodate Larkin by reducing the 1,500-foot requirement, the district court found that this requirement could be reduced only if permitted by local zoning ordinances. The City's zoning scheme did not permit such a reduction so the City could not make a reasonable accommodation and was dismissed from the suit.

The district court also found that the State and the DSS violated the Equal Protection clause through their enactment and enforcement of those statutes, enjoined them from further enforcement of those statutes, and granted Larkin summary judgment.

Larkin v. State of Michigan, 883 F. Supp. 172 (E.D. Mich. 1995) aff'd 89 F.3d 285 (1996).

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