Intro and Facts
When I was trying to figure out what to write on this week, one of the cases that I came across involved Barbara Walters (Walters v. Cowpet Bay West Condominium Association, 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 13 (D. Virgin Islands, January 2, 2015)). Really, no kidding! Except, it is not THE Barbara Walters. Rather, this is a person from the Virgin Islands who sued her condominium association because they initially did a very poor job of understanding the law when it came to the dog she used, which was suggested by her doctor, to help her cope with her anxiety. She sued under the Fair Housing Act as well as the ADA. During the pendency of the litigation, she passed away. The issue raised by this case is whether her Fair Housing Act and ADA claims survive. I have divided this blog entry into categories: introduction and facts; court’s reasoning; and takeaway. However, this blog entry is so short that the reader should have no problem reading all of it in one sitting.
The court said that in this particular situation her Fair Housing Act and ADA claims did not survive her death and here is why:
1. Neither the Fair Housing Act nor the ADA provide for what happens when a plaintiff dies;
2. In that situation, the law in the Third Circuit is that federal courts have to seek guidance from state survival acts providing they are not inconsistent with the policies underlying the federal statute;
3. The Virgin Islands has two different survival statutes. The first one is a general survival statute. The second one is a survival statute for actions sounding in personal injury or tort. The general survival statute is broader than the one sounding in personal injury or tort because the one sounding in personal injury or tort is restricted to physical injuries.
4. Federal appellate courts applying state survival law to civil rights actions as a matter of course treat civil rights actions in the same manner as torts;
5. It makes sense for courts to treat civil rights laws in the same manner as torts because they operate very similarly: A) civil rights laws consist of duties owed by individual to the public just like tort law does; and B) people do not consent to the duties rather they are imposed upon them by society. I might add that damages even work similarly between the two, though not exactly in the same way.
6. Since the statute sounding in personal injury or tort is the most analogous survival statute, it is that statute that must be looked at to see whether the cause of action survives. Unfortunately for the plaintiff, there was no physical injury alleged and no physical injury could have been proven.
In many ways, this particular blog entry is very similar to the blog entry discussing the applicable statute of limitations. In that particular blog entry, we discussed what is the applicable statute of limitations for ADA claims. The way it worked was that you had to find the most applicable state statute of limitations. It is the same way here. As mentioned in that blog entry and as mentioned by the court here, the most applicable statute, whether it be statute of limitation discussed in that blog entry or whether it be survival discussed here, is probably going to be the personal injury statute. That said, as discussed in a comment to the statute of limitations blog entry, it is possible that a state might have a statute that is even more appropriate than the statute sounding in personal injury or tort. For example, if a state had a survival statute for violations of civil rights, then arguably that survival statute would trump a survival statute sounding in personal injury or tort or a general survival statute.