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LLC v. City of Hartford

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

December 29, 2017

62-64 KENYON STREET, HARTFORD LLC, PAUL ROSOW, Plaintiffs,
v.
CITY OF HARTFORD, Defendant.

          RULING ON DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

          VICTOR A. BOLDEN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         62-64 Kenyon Street Hartford, LLC, (“Rooming House” or the “Kenyon Street LLC”), a Connecticut limited liability company that operated a rooming on Kenyon Street in Hartford, and its sole member, Paul Rosow, filed this lawsuit alleging violations of statutory and constitutional rights by the City of Hartford (“the City” or “Hartford”). The claims relate specifically to an ordinance passed by the City that required rooming houses to be owner-occupied in order to be licensed. Plaintiffs allege that the ordinance was passed to deliberately target Mr. Rosow, who lives in Arizona and would be unable to meet the residency requirement.

         Defendants now move for summary judgment. For the reasons stated below the summary judgment will be GRANTED.

         I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         Hartford's Municipal Code defines a rooming house as “a residential structure” for which the principal purpose “is to provide lodging, but not meals, for compensation, by pre-arrangement for definite periods, for three (3) or more persons.” Hartford Municipal Code Article VII, § 18-161. The City of Hartford requires licenses for businesses that operate rooming houses. Hartford Municipal Code Article VII, § 18-163.

         In 1986, Paul Rosow purchased the property at 62-64 Kenyon Street, which he believes has operated as a rooming house since the 1900s. Rosow Aff. at ¶ 7, ECF No. 45-2 (“Rosow Aff.”). Mr. Rosow continued to operate the property as a rooming house from 1986 until he sold the property in April, 2017, after this litigation had begun. Id. ¶¶ 6, 21. At some point, Mr. Rosow transferred the Rooming House to an LLC, 62-64 Kenyon Street Hartford, LLC; Mr. Rosow was the LLC's sole member. Def. 56(a)(1) Stmt. ¶ 1, ECF No 50-1.[1]

         Mr. Rosow lived in Hartford, Connecticut from 1985 until 2014, when he moved to Scottsdale, Arizona. Rosow Aff. ¶¶ 4-5. He never resided at the Rooming House, however, and instead appointed a designated representative to reside there and manage the property, as was permitted at that time under prior Hartford zoning laws. Id. ¶ 7. While the house was located in a residential zone, it was considered to be a pre-existing non-conforming use, and its commercial use as a rooming house was exempt. Def. 56(a)(1) Stmt. ¶ 5.

         Rooming house licenses must be renewed every year. In 2014, Mr. Rosow's license renewal was delayed. See Loos Dep. at 66, Def. Mot. Summ. J., Ex. 4, ECF No. 44-4. City officials sent inspectors to the property twice unannounced, including an inspection by Daniel Loos, then-Director of the City's Licenses and Inspections Division, himself. Id. at 49-50. The City eventually granted the license in 2014, however, and continued to grant the license throughout Mr. Rosow's ownership of the property. Def. 56(a)(1) Stmt. ¶ 4, 6, 9.

         On July 13, 2015, the City of Hartford enacted an ordinance that required that any individual seeking a license to operate a rooming house must reside at the rooming house in order to obtain a license. 26(f) Rep. ¶ 8, ECF No. 18. The ordinance specifically mentioned three zones - including Zone R-7, where the Rooming House was located - where “no license or license renewal shall be issued to a licensee who is not the owner or majority owner of the property.” See Hartford Municipal Code Article VII, § 18-164.

         While the text of the ordinance applied to all rooming houses within those zones, 62-64 Kenyon Street was the only rooming house affected by the change. 26(f) Rep. ¶ 18. Mr. Rosow alleges that he was told by the Corporation Counsel for the City of Hartford that the Rooming House would not be issued a new license in June 2016 unless he moved into the property. Rosow Aff. ¶ 19.

         At some point in late 2015, Mr. Rosow began to try to sell the Rooming House. He alleges that he had finalized a deal with Michele LeConche to purchase the property. Ms. LeConche was to be joined by a business partner, and the three tentatively agreed on a purchase price of $375, 000. LeConche Aff ¶ 3, Pl. Rep. to Def. Surreply Br., Ex. C. Ms. LeConche, however, met with Daniel Loos, who informed her that if they purchased the hotel, either her or her partner would have to live at the property. Id. ¶ 4-5. That initial purchase then fell through.

         On October 30, 2015, Mr. Rosow and his attorney submitted a request under Connecticut's Freedom of Information Act. See Rosow Aff. ¶ 22. The request sought copies of all rooming house licenses issued by the city from 2012 until present, as well as “copies of any and all non-privileged” voice recordings of meetings, meeting minutes, proposals, referendums, correspondence, drafts, memorandums, letters, notices, or other documents related to either the ordinance or the Rooming House. See Freedom of Information Act Request at 1, Rosow Aff., Ex 10. In response, Mr. Rosow alleges that there were “hundreds of e-mail communications between [City] employees and several individuals associated with an unincorporated group known as the West End Civic Association.” Rosow Aff. ¶ 23.

         The e-mails document repeated complaints by WECA members about the Rooming House. See, e.g, E-mail from Carolyn West to Shawn Wooden, October 28, 2014, Rosow Aff., Ex. 11; E-mail from Sara Bronin to Sandra Bobowski, September 4, 2014, Rosow Aff., Ex 12. WECA members also appear to have urged City officials to suspend the license, and continually pressed City officials to complete unannounced visits in order to ensure that the resident management was present. See, e.g, E-mail from Carolyn West to Daniel J. Loos, October 28, 2014, Rosow Aff. Ex. 11. In reaction, one inspector for the city noted that “I just feel like we're singling him out and I'm concerned that I may be subject to a harassment suit” when requested to make another surprise visit to the property. E-mail from Elisha Barrows to Daniel Loos, October 28, 2014, Rosow Aff., Ex. 11.

         The e-mails also revealed WECA involvement in drafting the ordinance at issue in this case. For instance, on May 11, 2015, a member of the WECA wrote to the then-Mayor Segarra. See E-mail form Toni Gold to Pedro Segarra, May 11, 2015, Rosow Aff., Ex. 15. The member noted that they “met with Lisa Sylvestri [sic] of the Corporation Counsel's office regarding the deficiencies of the ordinance that emerged from her office last week.” Id. Other e-mails show the City responding to the concerns of WECA members regarding what the members were concerned would be a “weak ordinance.” Id.

         The records search also produced a memorandum from the Corporation Counsel, dated June 30, 2015 entitled: “City of Hartford Arguments to Support Owner-Occupancy of Rooming Houses in Single Family Zones (R-6, R-7 and R-8).” See Rosow Aff., Ex. 16. The memorandum, which Mr. Rosow alleges was drafted in conversation with WECA, Rosow Aff. ¶ 29, states:

The residency requirement is legally ‘reasonable', [sic] that is, it is a rational effort to alleviate a problem or avoid a potential problem. The short term and transient occupancy inherent in a rooming house is inconsistent with the neighborhood structure that, especially, single-family residential zones are designed for, and even a resident agent won't have any long-term commitment to the building or neighborhood. Therefore, requiring owner residency is a reasonable regulatory step to alleviate that inconsistency while still allowing a grand-fathered use.”

Id. The memorandum also noted that Hartford “contains just two licensed, grand-fathered rooming houses in single-family zones: 62 Kenyon Street (not owner-occupied) and 131 Tremont Street (owner-occupied).” Id.

         On January 12, 2016, the City adopted a new zoning map, which altered the labeling of areas within the City. The map no longer designated residential areas, but instead changed to “neighborhood” classifications and eliminated the old R-7 zone where the Rooming House is located. Under these new requirements, according to Michael A. Fuschi, Director of Development Services for the City, “the owner occupancy requirement in the rooming house ordinance, Municipal Code Section 16-164, will not be applied” to new owners given revision in zoning map.” Fuschi Aff. ¶ 6, Def. Summ. J. Mot., ECF No. 44-2 Ex. 1. As the City explained previously, Zone R-4, R-7, and R-8 “ceased to exist.” See Def. Mem., ECF No. 24-1, 2.

         Mr. Rosow eventually sold the property on April 2, 2017 for $215, 000. Rosow Aff. ¶ 22; see also Def. 56(a)(1) Stmt. ¶ 7 (noting sale). The new owner is the manager of Mr. Rosow's other properties in the City, and the sale was negotiated directly between Mr. Rosow and Kenyon, LLC, the new owner. Def. 56(a)(1) Stmt. ¶ 8; see also Rosow Dep. at 72. The new owners were likely to continue to receive a license to operate the property as a rooming house. Def. 56(a)(1) Stmt. ¶ 10; see also Fuschi Aff. ¶ 6.

         B. Procedural History

         Plaintiffs filed this Complaint on April 20, 2016, seeking damages and injunctive relief. See Compl., ECF No. 1. They alleged that the ordinance was unconstitutional and violated the federal Fair Housing Act, 42 U.S.C. § 3601 et seq. See Compl. ¶¶ 68-74, 81-84. They also alleged violations of the Connecticut's state Constitution, the Connecticut Fair Housing Act, C.G.S. § 46a-36 et seq., and state zoning laws. Compl. ¶¶ 80-81, 85-87. Plaintiffs simultaneously moved for a preliminary injunction to prevent enforcement of the ordinance. Pl. Prelim. Injun. Mot., ECF No. 2. The parties then stipulated that “Defendant City of Hartford shall not deny, modify, suspend or revoke 62-64 Kenyon Street Hartford, LLC's rooming house license . . . during the pendency of this litigation, including any appeal” and that Plaintiffs would not pursue a preliminary injunction. Stipulation, ECF No. 16.

         The City moved to dismiss the Complaint and stay discovery. Def. Mot to Dismiss, ECF No. 24. It argued that the case should be dismissed because subsequent events - primarily, the new zoning map adopted in January, 2016 - had rendered Plaintiff's claims moot. The Court denied the motion, finding that there remained a risk of economic loss and that it was unclear whether the ordinance was truly unenforceable. Ruling at 9, ECF No. 33.

         The City now moves for summary judgment on all counts. Def. Mot. Summ. J., ECF No. 44. It argues that Mr. Rosow lacks standing in his individual capacity and that, because the Kenyon Street LLC has sold the Rooming House, any claims for injunctive relief are moot. Def. Mem. in Support of Mot. Summ. J. at 3-4, ECF No. 44-1 (“Def. Mem.”). Additionally, it argues that the plaintiffs lack an entitlement to a rooming license, and that state zoning laws and the Connecticut Constitution do not provide a private right of action. Id. at 8-11. Finally, the City argues it is entitled to summary judgment on the federal and state fair housing claims because Plaintiffs have failed to demonstrate a disparate impact on a protected group, and Plaintiffs have alleged no actionable conduct on the part of the City. Id. at 11-14.

         Plaintiffs responded and stated that they are no longer contesting the state constitutional or zoning law claims, and that they are no longer seeking injunctive relief. Pl. Opp. Br. at 16. They argue, however, that the City has misconstrued their federal constitutional claims, and that the City violated their rights to equal protection based either on a class-of-one or selective enforcement theory. Id. at 19. Finally, they renew their state and federal fair housing claims. Id. at 23-25.

         II. ...


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