City wins early victory in lawsuit alleging landlord discriminated against veteran and his support dog

A judge has denied the landlords’ request for documents such as journal entries, drug tests and disability records relating to a housing discrimination lawsuit.

The lawsuit, brought against the landlords by the City of Lawrence, involves a man the city claims requires an emotional-support dog. In a ruling this week, the judge upheld the city’s objection to producing more than a dozen documents relating to the man, Christopher Evans, who is also identified in the lawsuit as a veteran with a mental disability.

The attorney representing the city in the suit, David Brown, alleges that the point of the city’s case is that when Evans presented the landlord with a letter from his therapist regarding the dog, his application was not accepted.

“The judge’s ruling limits the case to the points we wanted to make,” Brown said. “The question is, in that two-minute conversation, did the landlord discriminate against Mr. Evans?”

The decision, made by Douglas County District Judge B. Kay Huff, states that the documents aren’t relevant to the case.

“…It does not matter at this point whether Christopher Evans can produce documentation proving his disability, need for accommodation, and a pristine background suitable for tenancy,” Huff wrote. “What matters is that he presented documentation to defendants indicating his documented need of a support animal and was denied a lease.”

The attorney representing the landlords has claimed that Evans would have posed a threat to other tenants and questioned his status as a disabled veteran. Also among the documents requested by the defendants were any psychiatric records, criminal records, substance abuse treatment documents and applications for governmental benefits. The defendants’ attorney did not immediately return a call from the Journal-World Friday afternoon.

The city filed the lawsuit last year claiming that the landlords, Lyndon and Kathi Mullis, of Baldwin City, discriminated against Evans due to his disability and his use of an emotional-support dog. At issue is whether the landlords violated a local ordinance and federal fair housing law when they allegedly turned Evans away based on their pet policy for Ashbury Townhomes, 925 E. 14th St.

The original lawsuit was filed Nov. 8 in Douglas County District Court by the City of Lawrence Human Relations Commission, and is seeking damages of more than $75,000, as well as reimbursement of court costs and attorney fees. The subsequent counterclaim filed by the landlords claims an abuse of process by the city and seeks $50,000 of damages, as well as reimbursement of other costs and attorney fees.

The city’s nine-member Human Relations Commission has the ability to investigate, rule upon and resolve discrimination complaints, and the lawsuit states that conciliation efforts to resolve Evans’ dispute were attempted but failed.

The trial in the lawsuit is scheduled for 9 a.m. Dec. 13 in Douglas County District Court.