It described as “harassment” various instances of their critical speech and noted that a single instance of harassing speech could give rise to liability under the law. It is not clear whether the parties raised, and the court did not make any gesture toward considering, whether some or all of the statements involved might be protected by the First Amendment, which is mentioned nowhere in the opinion....ADDED: Here's the opinion. Key passages:
Under the Fair Housing Act, “[i]t shall be unlawful to coerce, intimidate, threaten, or interfere with any person in the exercise or enjoyment of, or on account of his having exercised or enjoyed . . . any right granted or protected by section 3603, 3604, 3605, or 3606 of this title.” 42 U.S.C. § 3617....
The term “interference” is not defined by the Fair Housing Act or the implementing regulation, 24 C.F.R. § 100.400 (2016). Therefore, the word must be “understood by its ordinary meaning.”... Interference under Section 3617 may consist of harassment, provided that it is “sufficiently severe or pervasive” as to create a hostile environment....
Walters and Kromenhoek allege that Felice, their neighbor, violated Section 3617 by posting derogatory, harassing and, at times, threatening comments on Talkington’s blog. Felice wrote that dog owners might be “happier in another community rather than ostracized at [Cowpet], which would be another fine recourse, besides a significant $$ fine, with progressive amounts.” App. 1905. He wrote that someone who needed an emotional support animal “might go off his/her gourd” in a “violent reaction. We don’t even know we need protection! Bad Law!” App. 1906-07. He wrote “[i]f you can’t remove the guilty, you can certainly ostracize them.” App. 1920. He called dog owners “miscreants” and “totally selfish, spoiled, brats, willing to flaunt their illegality in every one[’]s face.” App. 1939. He wrote that dog owners’ “gall and nerve require full responce [sic], with ostracizing the offenders in every manner at our disposal,” including “[i]solat[ing] them completely to their little ‘dog patch’ on the beach and ignor[ing] them at every venue or occasion!” Id. He wrote that “failure to comply [with the no dogs rule] must lead to liens and even foreclosure, if needed, for compliance to be effective.” Id.
Felice posted at least nine harassing messages, over a period of more than five months, from October 2011 through March 2012.17 All of these writings were made public on the Internet. Felice continued his postings even after Walters responded, on the blog, that she was “mortified, that my personal business has been laid out over the internet without my permission or forewarning.” App. 1912.
We conclude that there are genuine disputes of material fact “over the inferences that can be reasonably drawn from” Felice’s blog posts.
A reasonable jury could find that Felice’s harassment was sufficiently severe or pervasive as to “interfere” with Walters and Kromenhoek’s fair housing rights under 42U.S.C. § 3617. A reasonable jury could also infer that there was a causal connection—that Felice engaged in harassing conduct “on account of” Walters and Kromenhoek’s exercise of their fair housing rights. Id. Accordingly, we will reverse the grant of summary judgment for Felice.
Walters and Kromenhoek allege that Talkington, their neighbor, interfered with their fair housing rights by writing on his blog. Talkington named Walters and Kromenhoek and made public and derided their requests for accommodation of their disabilities. He posted that “Barbara [Walters] has a dog and claims to have ‘papers’ that allow her to have it.” App. 1904. He wrote that Walters “has a pet and should be fined.” App. 1910. Talkington posted an email from Harcourt to both Walters and Kromenhoek stating that they were in violation of the “no dogs” rule. Talkington wrote that Walters and Kromenhoek were “known violators” and that their emotional support animals were “illegal neighborhood puppy dogs.” App. 1924. He wrote that Walters and Kromenhoek’s certifications for their emotional support animals were issued by disreputable websites without “verify[ing] either the animal’s credentials or the purported disability.” App. 1930. He suggested that Walters and Kromenhoek obtained their emotional support animal certifications from “diploma mill[s]” that would accept “stress” as a disability. App. 1935. Talkington wrote that Cowpet should “go on the offensive” and sue Walters and Kromenhoek. App. 1938. He explained that this would force them to “spend their own cash,” and “the rubber will meet the road on how far everyone is willing to go on this issue.” App. 1941.
Overall, Talkington posted numerous harassing blog posts and comments over more than five months. He posted these comments publicly on the Internet. He continued to do so after Walters expressed her “mortifi[cation]” that her need for an emotional support animal was made public. App. 1912.
We hold that there are genuine disputes of fact over the inferences that can be drawn from Talkington’s blog posts. Windsor, 986 F.2d at 659. A reasonable jury could find that his conduct constituted harassment that was sufficiently severe or pervasive as to “interfere” with Walters and Kromenhoek’s fair housing rights. 42 U.S.C. § 3617. A reasonable jury could also find that there was a causal connection between Talkington’s conduct and Walters and Kromenhoek’s exercise of their fair housing rights. As such, we will reverse the grant of summary judgment for Talkington.