Metropolitan News-Enterprise


Tuesday, July 24, 2017


Page 1


Ninth Circuit:

Man Entitled to Trial on His Request to Housing Authority for Home Gym


By a MetNews Staff Writer


A man who requested a third bedroom from the Housing Authority of the City of Los Angeles to store exercise machines has won his bid before the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for reversal of the District Court’s granting of summary judgment in favor of the agency.

In a split memorandum opinion filed Friday, Circuit Judge Mary M. Schroeder and District Judge Edward M. Chen of the Northern District of California, sitting by designation, voted to reverse the judgment granted to the agency by District Judge Michael W. Fitzgerald of the Central District of California. Circuit Judge Milan D. Smith Jr. wrote a dissenting opinion.

The plaintiff in the case, Neway Mengistu, is bound to a wheelchair. The housing authority currently provides him with two bedrooms, one for him and the other for a live-in assistant.

The agency is also required by state and federal law to accommodate his medical needs.

Mengistu argued that he needed the third bedroom to house various exercise equipment which was medically necessary to avoid muscle atrophy. In opposing the agency’s motion for summary judgment, he pointed to doctors’ notes he had submitted supporting that contention.

Documentation Not Stale

The opinion says:

“A reasonable jury could conclude that the requested accommodation was reasonable and that the agency denied Mr. Mengistu’s request solely because it chose to disregard his medical evidence, and not because of any stale documentation.”

Fitzgerald had granted summary judgment because Mengistu’s initial application to the agency for the third bedroom had not listed the equipment he needed. After the housing authority notified him of the missing information, Mengistu’s doctors submitted letters listing the equipment.

The majority contrasted this short delay with a 1997 Ninth U.S. Circuit case where the applicant’s information was 10 years old and had not been updated. In that case, Weinreich v. Los Angeles County, the court determined that the agency had properly denied the requested accommodations.

“Here,” the majority concluded, “there was no similar need for any updated certification, as Mr. Mengistu’s doctors timely responded and confirmed the need for the equipment.”

Smith’s Dissent

Smith disagreed based on his view of the response by those doctors. He explained:

“During this verification process, one doctor acknowledged that the listed machines were not actually medically necessary, and indicated that he had signed the letter only because he believed that the equipment ‘might give [Mengistu] added motivation to actually attempt to exercise and improve his condition.’ Further, both doctors admitted that Mengistu, not the doctors, had found the equipment and could have stayed active without it, which would have rendered a third bedroom for the equipment unnecessary.”

The dissenting jurist added:

“Because the third bedroom was not necessary to afford him an equal opportunity to use and enjoy a dwelling, Mengistu was not entitled to a three-bedroom voucher and the district court did not err in granting summary judgment…”

The case is Mengistu v. Housing Authority of the City of Los Angeles, 16-56591.


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