Hill v. Community of Damien of Molokai
911 P.2d 861 (1996)
Damian opened a group home in Albuquerque for people with
AIDS. Four people lived at the home, and they received in-home nursing
Hill (and other neighbors) lived nearby and noticed an
"increased amount of traffic." They sued for an injunction on
the basis that the group home violated a community covenant.
The covenant said that the lots could only be used
for single-family homes and not for stores, apartments, schools, rooming
houses, or other things.
The Trial Court found for Hill and issued an injunction.
The Trial Court found that the group house was more akin
to a health care facility than a residence, therefore they violated the covenant.
Hill argued that a group home does not meet the standard
of a "single family home."
Damian argued that a group home was a permitted use, and
also that the covenant was a violation of the Federal Fair
The New Mexico Supreme Court reversed.
The New Mexico Supreme Court said that when they
They must have clear and unambiguous language.
They will be interpreted in favor of the free enjoyment
of the property.
Nothing can be read into the covenant by
They must be interpreted reasonably so as not to create
a illogical or unnatural construction.
Words must be interpreted with their original and
The Court found that the group house is more akin to a
single-family home with a sick family member. Therefore the house meets
the definition of a residential dwelling as required under the covenant.
The Court found that the word "family" in the covenant
does not necessarily exclude unrelated unmarried single adults living
together. Therefore the house meets the definition of a single-family
home as required by the covenant.
There is a lot of precedent and strong policy reasons
for including group homes like this in the definition of single-family
The Court found that the residents operated as a family
unit, with a stability and functionality of a traditional family.
The Court found that the covenant was geared
towards regulating structural appearance and use, so Hill's argument that
the group home created more traffic was not relevant.
Nothing in the covenant appeared to be designed
to reduce traffic, so you couldn't use the idea of increased traffic to
say someone was violating the covenant.
The Court also found, that even if you accepted Hill's
arguments and said that the group home violated the covenant, then
the covenant was a violation of the Fair Housing Act.
The Fair Housing Act §3604(f)(1) bars
discrimination on the basis of handicap.
The Court found that the covenant has a discriminatory
intent, and is not enforceable.
It was clear from the evidence that Hill and the
neighbors just didn't want AIDS patients in their neighborhood.
They didn't begin complaining about traffic until
after a newspaper article talked about the purpose of the group home.
Other neighbors had obvious covenant violations
that were not being prosecuted.
The Court found that the covenant had a disparate
That means, that even if there was no intent, the covenant
was still unenforceable because it had a discriminatory effect.
§3604(f)(3)(B) says that neighbors have to make
"reasonable accommodations" when necessary. Therefore the covenant
was unenforceable unless the group home resulted in some unreasonable
burden for the community.
Even after the group home won the right to stay, they were
continually harassed by Hill and the other neighbors. At one point, when
a resident was taken to the hospital by ambulance, all the neighbors stood
in their yards and toasted with champagne glasses.