Pro Bono Highlight: Wendy Olson Prevails for Client in Dispute Over Operating Group Foster Homes

In The News

Stoel Rives litigation partner Wendy Olson prevailed for her pro bono fair housing client in a case in which the client sought to operate group foster homes in the City of Ammon, Idaho, but was restricted from where they could be run by a zoning ordinance passed by the city after the client had begun the permitting process.

In early 2017, Karen Tornkvist, a licensed foster parent, purchased a home in Ammon, Idaho, with the intent to use it as a group foster home. The home is located in an R-1 zone, which allows for, among other uses, “one-family detached dwellings and accessory buildings, complying with all requirements of the zone including but not limited to setbacks and open space.” Ammon City Code did not expressly require a special permit for a group foster to operate in an R-1 zone, but Tornkvist was told by a representative of the city that a special permit would be needed in her case and later that the house was not zoned for a group foster home and the City Council was not accepting any more special-use permit applications.

Tornkvist applied for a license to run the house, and three more she intended to purchase, as a business and also investigated but did not ultimately pursue the possibility of rezoning the houses to R2-A, which allows dwellings to be used for multifamily townhomes, condominiums and apartment buildings containing not more than eight units. In late 2017, Ammon City Council enacted Ordinance 598, which amended city code in part restricting group foster homes of any size to zone R2-A and above.

After the new ordinance was enacted and Tornkvist’s application was rejected, Intermountain Fair Housing Council (IFHC) filed suit on behalf of Tornkvist, alleging that the ordinance violates the Fair Housing Act and plaintiffs’ right to equal protection of the law under the Fourteenth Amendment, and seeking a preliminary injunction against it. During the government shut down, IFHC, which is primarily funded through HUD grants, lost considerable resources, and IFHC’s litigator left for more stability at which point Olson took over the case and argued the motion in late February.

In a thorough and pointed decision, Judge David Nye, the new Idaho Chief U.S. District Judge, wrote, “Plaintiffs have demonstrated a likelihood of success on the merits and of irreparable injury if Ordinance 598 is enforced. Both the balance of equities and the public interest also favor a preliminary injunction.”

Stoel Rives has a long tradition of community service and remains committed to providing pro bono services in our communities. Each attorney is expected to work toward a goal of 50 hours of pro bono service per year, the majority of which should be given to persons of limited means or organizations designed to address the needs of such persons. The firm gives billable credit up to 50 hours of pro bono service and considers the pro bono service of each attorney in making compensation decisions. More on the firm’s pro bono policy can be found here.

Related Professionals

Related Practices & Industries


Media Contact

Jamie Moss (newsPRos)
Media Relations
w. 201.493.1027 c. 201.788.0142

Mac Borkgren
Senior Manager, Marketing Communications & Operations

Jump to Page
Stay Informed Arrow

Subscribe to Our Updates