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Plaintiff Says Shelters Barred Her for Mental Disability

A woman who claims defendant chari­table organizations unlawfully refused to admit her to homeless shelters because of her alleged mental health disability has failed to state claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Rehabilitation Act or the federal Fair Housing Act, and the 4th Circuit af­firms dismissal of her suit.

No state actors

Plaintiff’s claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 cannot succeed because none of the defen­dants are state actors. Defendants here are three private charities and plaintiff has not alleged any facts that even re­motely suggest that defendants’ actions were attributable to the state. Without state action, she has no § 1983 claim.

Plaintiff’s claim of a civil conspiracy between the Salvation Army and Church in the City must also be dismissed. Plati­nic provides no facts to suggest that the Salvation Army and Church in the City conspired to do anything, much less to de­prive her of rights because of her alleged mental disability. Her allegation that she was told not to return to the Salvation Army after being evicted from Church in the City does not show any coordination or conspiracy, but simply shows two char­ities working to help the same population of homeless people in Charlotte.

Disability claims

Plaintiff also raises a claim under the Americans with Disabilities Act but lacks standing to bring it. Title III of the ADA prevents discrimination on the basis of a disability in places of public accommo­dation. But a private right of action for injunctive relief requires a showing of irreparable injury, a requirement that cannot be met where there is no show­ing of any real or immediate threat that the plaintiff will be wronged again. Any denial of access to the shelters occurred almost two years before plaintiff filed this action. Her complaint does not allege that she is still homeless or that defendants would still deny her access to the shelters because of her disability.

In dismissing plaintiff’s ADA claim for failure to exhaust administrative reme­dies, the district court erred by character­izing her claim as an employment claim under Title I of the ADA. Because plain­tiff’s claims do not concern her employ­ment, they do not fall under Title I and thus are not subject to the administrative exhaustion requirement. And none of the defendants here are public entities, so plaintiff cannot proceed under Title II of the ADA.

Plaintiff’s Fair Housing Act claim was properly dismissed because her complaint does not contain a plausible allegation of discrimination. Plaintiff’s complaint fails to adequately identify her mental disabil­ity. She provides limited evidence that she has some type of mental illness – she received care from a behavioral health or­ganization, she had an appointment with a doctor and she was on medication. In her informal appellate brief, she specifies her mental illness as a mood disorder. This evidence does not suggest that her mental illness is a handicap covered by the FHA. Plaintiff’s complaint also does not draw a sufficient nexus of causation between whatever mental illness she may have and defendants’ actions.

Shelter concerns

The communications between the Sal­vation Army and plaintiff indicate the Salvation Army had legitimate reasons to be wary of admitting her and sought rea­sonable assurances that she would not cause problems as a resident. An email from the area commander stated that she was asked to leave because her actions during her time at the shelter exhibited disrespect and hostility toward the staff. The Salvation Army was within its rights to require reasonable steps to ensure that plaintiff was stable before admitting her to the shelter.

Plaintiff complains that the Salvation Army did not accept her discharge papers from the hospital emergency room as a mental health evaluation. These papers were the result of a brief consultation and fell short of being the considered opinion of a mental health professional. The Sal­vation Army was under no obligation to accept such an abbreviated assessment as an adequate response to its offer of shelter if plaintiff submitted to a fuller mental health evaluation from a behav­ioral health organization.

Finally, plaintiff’s claim under the Re­habilitation Act was also properly dis­missed. Assuming the Salvation Army would be subject to the Act, plaintiff’s claim should nonetheless be dismissed for the same reasons as her FHA claim.

We affirm dismissal of plaintiff’s com­plaint, modified only to show that the dis­missal be without prejudice.

Thomas v. The Salvation Army South­ern Territory (Wilkinson) No. 14-2214, Nov. 8, 2016; USDC at Charlotte, N.C. (Conrad) Gregory Dolin for appellant; Matthew D. Lincoln for appellees. VLW 016-2-154, 21 pp.