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Cooke v. Town Of Colorado City

United States District Court, D. Arizona

February 16, 2016

RONALD COOKE and JINJER COOKE, husband and wife, Plaintiffs,


James A. Teilborg Senior United States District Judge

Pending before the Court is Movant United Effort Plan Trust (“UEP”)’s Motion for Order to Show Cause, (Doc. 738), in which UEP argues that defendant Colorado City (“Colorado City”) should be held in contempt “for continuing religious discrimination in violation” of prior Court orders, primarily the injunction issued on November 26, 2014. (Doc. 723). The Court now rules on the pending motion.[1]

I. Background

In the interest of brevity, the Court restricts its recitation of the facts to those pertinent to the pending motion. See the Orders of February 13, 2013, and September 4, 2015, for a full recounting of the matter’s background. (Doc. 318 at 2-10; Doc. 703).

Following a jury trial in which Plaintiffs Ron and Jinjer Cooke (collectively, the “Cookes”) and Plaintiff-Intervenor the State of Arizona (the “State”) prevailed over Defendants, [2] the Court entered the Amended Judgment and Permanent Injunction (hereafter the “injunction”). (Doc. 724 at 1). The injunction, in part, enjoined the following:

During the ten-year period beginning from the date of this Judgment, Defendants and their agents shall not (1) discriminate because of religion against any person in the terms, conditions, or privileges of the provision of services or facilities in connection with the sale or rental of a dwelling; or (2) coerce, intimidate, threaten, interfere with, or retaliate against any person in the enjoyment of his or her dwelling because of religion or because that person has asserted rights, or encouraged others to assert their rights, protected by the federal Fair Housing Act or the Arizona Fair Housing Act.

(Doc. 724 at 2). The injunction shall “remain in place for ten years from the date of th[e] Judgment, ” and the Court “retain[ed] jurisdiction to enforce it.” (Id. at 2-3).

On December 14, 2015, UEP, “on behalf of itself and its beneficiaries who possess occupancy agreements to reside on UEP property, ” moved this Court to find Colorado City in contempt of the aforementioned injunction “for continuing religious discrimination.” (Doc. 738 at 1). UEP seeks a “limited period of discovery, ” and an evidentiary hearing to establish that: (1) Colorado City passed a 2007 Land Division Ordinance (hereafter the “Subdivision Ordinance”) with the “express intent” of discriminating against individuals who do not belong to the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS); (2) the passage and application of the Subdivision Ordinance resulted in religious discrimination against UEP and its beneficiaries; and (3) Colorado City “has engaged in disparate treatment in applying the Subdivision Ordinance to residents of the city” on the basis of their affiliation with the FLDS. (Id. at 7-8).

With the motion fully briefed, [3] the Court turns to the merits of UEP’s claim.

II. Discussion

The parties’ briefing raises two issues that must be addressed by the Court:[4] (1) whether UEP has standing to move this Court itself or on behalf of its beneficiaries to find Colorado City in contempt; (Doc. 740 at 9-10); and (2) whether litigation initiated by Colorado City in Maricopa County Superior Court precludes this Court from considering UEP’s motion. (Id. at 10-11). Each will be addressed in turn.

(A) Standing

The Court begins with the issue of whether UEP has individual standing to move the Court on its own behalf. The launching point for the Court’s analysis is the September 4, 2014, Order that-in part-“permanently enjoine[d] Defendants [to include Colorado City] from discriminating on the basis of religion in performing their official duties” and retained “jurisdiction in this case for ten years.” (Doc. 703 at 6-7). The Court’s authority to issue the injunction emanated from A.R.S. § 41-1491.35 (2014), which permits the Court to “award preventive relief, including a permanent or temporary injunction, restraining order or other order against the person responsible for a violation of the Arizona Fair Housing Act [AFHA] as necessary to assure the full enjoyment of the rights granted by this article.” (Doc. 703 at 6). Thus, while the Court’s relief is designed to prevent Defendants from violating citizens’ rights enshrined in the First Amendment, the injunction is grounded in the AFHA.[5]

The Court’s September 4, 2014, Order stated that “the State or an aggrieved party will be able to move for an order finding Defendants in contempt and assessing appropriate remedies.” (Doc. 703 at 7). “[A]ggrieved party, ” however, is an undefined term and not helpful to determine who may seek relief under the Court’s injunction. The Court finds that a more appropriate term-which comports with both the Court’s Order, (Doc. 703), and injunction, (Doc. 724)-is that an “aggrieved person” may move this Court for a contempt order. As discussed supra, the Court’s authority to award injunctive relief is derived from the AFHA, and the injunction itself contains language taken directly from the ...

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