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Ohio Civil Rights Commission v. Myers

Ohio Civil Rights Commission v. Myers, 2nd District Court of Appeals, Ohio, 2014-Ohio-144 (Jan. 17, 2014)
Issue: Is Ohio’s Fair Housing Act, Ohio Revised Code (R.C.) Section 4112.02(H) limited to behavior related to housing transactions and therefore inapplicable to harassment by a neighbor?

Summary:  The 2nd District Court of Appeals ruled that a neighbor may be held liable under R.C. 4112.02(H)(12) for conduct that interferes with the exercise or enjoyment of a fair housing right of a person with a disability. The court further held that an aggrieved person need not have a claim for a violation of any other provision of R.C. 4112.02(H) in order to bring a claim under R.C. 4112.02(H)(12). The Ohio Civil Rights Commission brought this case on behalf of Dotty Podiak, a hearing-impaired tenant whose assistance dogs are trained to alert her to door bells, alarm clocks, smoke detectors, and other common noises within a home.
The commission alleged that a neighbor, Philip Myers, harassed and intimidated Podiak and her animal assistants due to Podiak’s disability. The conduct at issue included mocking Podiak’s use of sign language, repeatedly whistling and hitting a stick while on his front porch that caused the dogs to alert Podiak to those noises, falsely complaining that Podiak intentionally used her animal assistants to frighten and intimidate him, and knocking over a flower pot on his property and falsely reporting to management that Podiak’s animal assistants were responsible for the damage. Podiak allegedly moved out due to Myer’s conduct. 
Myers moved to dismiss the complaint, asserting the commission’s claims must fail as a matter of law because Ohio’s Fair Housing Act was limited to behavior related to housing transactions, and Myers was just a neighbor. Additionally, Myers argued that Ohio does not recognize a “hostile housing environment,” and the allegations in the complaint did not rise to the level of actionable conduct. On these grounds, the Montgomery County Common Pleas Court granted Myers’ motion and dismissed the complaint. The commission appealed.  
Outcome: The court decided that R.C. 4112.02(H)(12)’s prohibitions regarding conduct that coerces, intimidates, threatens, or interferes with any person’s exercise of any right protected by the statute applies to any person, be he a neighbor or otherwise, and covers discrimination that occurs after acquiring or taking possession of the property. The court declined to find that Myers’ alleged conduct was addressed by R.C. 4112.02(H)(1) and (15), which prohibit the refusal to sell, transfer, assign, rent, lease, sublease, or finance housing accommodations, including conduct that might “otherwise deny or make unavailable” a housing opportunity. Similarly, the court declined to apply R.C. 4112.02(H)(16), which makes it unlawful to discriminate in “the terms, conditions, or privileges of the sale or rental of housing accommodations.”
Legal Significance: The court recognized that Ohio’s statute prohibits discriminatory conduct by neighbors by its language that limits discriminatory behaviors of “any person.” As a result, a neighbor or fellow tenant may be liable for discriminatory conduct even when the conduct is unrelated to the transfer of real estate.