HOA: Bah Humbug! | Cases | First Liberty

In past years, Jeremy and Kristy Morris hosted a Christmas display at their home in the Hayden, Idaho-area, asking visitors for donations to charities that assist those with childhood cancer and or who have suffered abuse and neglect. The displays ran for two years, but halted when confronted by an HOA and litigation.

The conflict began in 2014 when the Morrises planned to move to a new home The Morrises then let the West Hayden States First Addition Homeowners Association know of their intention to host a Christmas display to ensure compliance with HOA regulations.

The HOA’s response was a remarkable display of religious hostility and illegal discrimination.

In its letter, the HOA president stated, “I am somewhat hesitant in bringing up the fact that some of our residents are non-Christians or of another faith and I don’t even want to think of the problems that could bring up. It is not the intention of the Board to discourage you from becoming part of our great neighborhood but we do not wish to become entwined in expensive litigation to enforce long-standing rules and regulations and fill our neighborhood with the hundreds of people and possible undesirables.”

In 2017 the Morrises sued the HOA for trying to block the display. In response, the HOA countersued. Though the displays did not run for two years during litigation, the Morrises continued to receive verbal abuse and even death threats from their neighbors.

After a trial, an Idaho jury found that the HOA engaged in religious discrimination against the Morrises and awarded them $60,000 in compensatory damages and $15,000 in punitive damages. The jury also found that a letter sent by the HOA in 2014 showed “preference that a non-religious individual” should purchase the home.

However, in April 2019, the judge overruled the jury’s verdict, imposed an injunction preventing the Morrises from decorating their home for Christmas, and imposed thousands of dollars of attorney’s fees on the Morrises.

In May, attorneys with First Liberty filed an appeal at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

In October 2019, First Liberty and the law firm Gibson Dunn & Crutcher, LLP urged the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit to reverse the Idaho judge’s decision.

“The jury concluded that the homeowners’ association discriminated against the Morris family by repeatedly attempting to shut down the family’s Christmas display and children’ charity fundraiser,” Jeremy Dys, Special Counsel for Litigation and Communications for First Liberty Institute said. “The jury in this case recognized clear religious hostility by the HOA.  Their well-reasoned verdict should have been respected by the judge and, now, be reinstated by the Ninth Circuit.”

“No one should have to face the discrimination and harassment this family endured just for trying to live out their faith and serve their community.  We look forward to presenting our arguments in the Ninth Circuit on behalf of this charitable family,” added Allyson Ho, partner at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher and veteran Supreme Court advocate.


* Photo provided by Mark Addy with Maximum Exposure Photography

News Release
For Immediate Release: 10.14.19
Contact: Lacey McNiel, media@firstliberty.org
Direct: 972-941-4453

Judge’s Decision to Overrule Jury Over Christmas Lights Case Appealed to Ninth Circuit
First Liberty Institute brief seeks to reinstate jury’s decision after Idaho couple is punished by homeowner’s association for spreading Christmas cheer, raising money for homeless children.

Coeur d’Alene, ID—First Liberty Institute and the law firm Gibson Dunn & Crutcher, LLP urged the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit to reverse an Idaho judge’s decision to overrule a jury’s verdict finding an Idaho couple’s homeowners association (“HOA”) discriminated against him based on his religion.  First Liberty clients Jeremy and Kristy Morris’s HOA harassed them for months over having a Christmas display on their own property.

Read the brief here.

“The jury concluded that the homeowners’ association discriminated against the Morris family by repeatedly attempting to shut down the family’s Christmas display and children’ charity fundraiser,” Jeremy Dys, Special Counsel for Litigation and Communications for First Liberty Institute said. “The jury in this case recognized clear religious hostility by the HOA.  Their well-reasoned verdict should have been respected by the judge and, now, be reinstated by the Ninth Circuit.”

“No one should have to face the discrimination and harassment this family endured just for trying to live out their faith and serve their community.  We look forward to presenting our arguments in the Ninth Circuit on behalf of this charitable family,” added Allyson Ho, partner at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher and veteran Supreme Court advocate.

Jeremy and Kristy Morris hosted an annual Christmas display at their home in Hayden, Idaho, asking visitors for donations to charities that serve children with cancer and children who have been victims of abuse and neglect. The Morrises moved to a new home in 2014 and notified the West Hayden Estates First Addition Homeowners Association that they would have a Christmas display.

In response, the HOA wrote, “I am somewhat hesitant in bringing up the fact that some of our residents are non-Christians or of another faith and I don’t even want to think of the problems that could bring up” and “we do not wish to . . . fill our neighborhood with the hundreds of people and possible undesirables.”

After their HOA tried to block the display, the Morrises sued. A trial resulted in an Idaho jury finding, after days of trial and 15 hours of deliberations, that the HOA discriminated against the Morrises on the basis of their religion, awarding them $75,000 damages. The jury also found that the letter sent by the HOA showed “preference that a non-religious individual” should purchase the home. Nonetheless, the judge overruled the jury’s verdict, imposed an injunction preventing the Morrises from decorating their home for Christmas, and imposed thousands of dollars of attorney’s fees on the Morrises.

“I had to go to court because I invited my neighbors for Christmas.  I truly hope the judges on the Ninth Circuit will free us to be able to once again celebrate Christmas and raise money for charity,” Kristy Morris added.

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Click here for a PDF of this news release.

About First Liberty Institute

First Liberty Institute is the largest legal organization in the nation dedicated exclusively to defending religious freedom for all Americans.

To arrange an interview, contact Lacey McNiel at media@firstliberty.org or by calling 972-941-4453.


News Release – 5.6.19

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