Monday, January 6, 2014

Hill v. Community of Damien of Molokai case brief

Hill v. Community of Damien of Molokai case brief summary
911 P.2d 861 (1996)

The District Court of Bernalillo County (New Mexico) held that the use of certain property by defendant organization as a group home for individuals with Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome violated a housing development covenant, which limited the use of lots to single-family residences, and that enforcing the restrictive covenant did not violate the Federal Fair Housing Act (FHA), 42 U.S.C.S. §§ 3601-3631. The organization appealed.

  • Community of Damien of Molokai (D) operated a group home for individuals with AIDS in Albuquerque. 
  • Four individuals resided in the home, and were cared for by nursing staff, who did not live in the residence. 
  • Community’s neighbors, including William Hill (P), filed for an injunction to enforce a covenant that existed on the land on which Community was located. 
  • The covenant stated that the land was only to be used for single family purposes. 
The lower court found that the increased traffic due to the presence of the group home had detrimentally altered the character of the neighborhood and that plaintiff neighbors, who sought enforcement of the covenant, had no discriminatory intent.


  • The court reversed and held that the term "family" was ambiguous and that because the group home was designed to provide the individuals who lived there with a traditional family structure, setting, and atmosphere, the use complied with the covenant. 
  • The court noted that the strong governmental policy that encouraged locating group homes in single-family residential areas further justified an expansive interpretation of the term "family." 
  • The court held that even in the absence of discriminatory intent, enforcement of the covenant violated the FHA because it had a disparate impact upon the handicapped, who required congregate living arrangements in order to live in a residential community. 
  • Finally, the expansive interpretation of the covenants was a reasonable accommodation required by the FHA. 
  • However, the denial of attorney's fees to the organization was justified in light of the neighbors' nondiscriminatory intent.
The court reversed the judgment of the district court, which granted the neighbors' request for enforcement of a restrictive covenant.

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