The St. Paul Public Housing Agency can proceed with eviction proceedings against a woman who admitted she smoked crack cocaine in her apartment and allegedly let her guests do the same, the Minnesota Court of Appeals said Tuesday.

The three-judge Appeals panel reversed and remanded a lower-court ruling that put a stop to the eviction action against Deanna Ewig, 53. The lower court ruled last year that Ewig had "a disability" under the federal Fair Housing Act because she was addicted to cocaine. Thus, the lower court said, the agency's attempt to evict her was discriminatory.

The Appeals Court's response: "Absurd."

"Interpreting a federal anti-discrimination law to excuse illegal drug use produces an absurd result," the court said.

Ewig had lived in a public housing highrise in St. Paul for two or three months when the agency said she had violated the terms of her lease, which prohibited "any criminal activity, including drug-related criminal activity."

The agency alleged in its complaint that Ewig let her guests do drugs at her apartment, and she admitted at a hearing that she had smoked crack there at least two times.

The district court did not address the allegations of drug use but did find that Ewig "has a disability."

The Appeals Court ruling said that the Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination because of a handicap, but that a handicap does not "include current, illegal use of ... a controlled substance."

John Gutzman, director of the agency, and Michael Driscoll, its legal consultant, said they had no choice but to appeal the district court's ruling.

"Ninety-nine percent of [public housing] households succeed," Gutzman said, but "drug-related criminal activity is the Number 1 broad category for lease terminations."

The agency, he said, has a "very low tolerance for illegal activity and especially when it's thrown in our face."

Although the Appeals Court ruling was "unpublished," meaning it does not automatically set precedent, the case can be cited in other cases, Driscoll said.

"It sets the precedent on the right side of the fence," he said. "It makes a statement, frankly."

Ewig "likely will be evicted," Driscoll said. And when that happens, her apartment "will be occupied immediately," Gutzman said. He said the agency has had a 99.5 percent occupancy rate for 14 years and has about 6,000 households on the waiting list.

Michael Hagedorn of Southern Minnesota Regional Legal Services, who was one of Ewig's attorneys, said no decision has been made on whether to appeal the decision.

The case was decided by Appeals Judges Gordon Shumaker, Bruce Willis and Randolph Peterson.

Pat Pheifer • 651-298-1551