State and Local Legal Blog

Zoning Disabilities Action

January 19, 2010
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On January 11, 2010, the Department of Justice entered into litigation in Richmond Township, Michigan.  The litigation, Sacred Heart Rehabilitation Center, Inc. v. Richmond Township and Richmond Township Planning Commission, affects an addiction clinic in Macomb County, Michigan.

Essentially, Sacred Heart, which had maintained a facility at the current location for years, sought to renovate and expand the existing facility and erect a new building.  The zoning authority denied the permits sought by Sacred Heart.

Sacred Heart brought suit in federal court arguing that the denial of the permit is a result of unlawful discrimination against persons with disabilities.  The township filed a motion to dismiss, arguing that Sacred Heart has no right to seek protection from the denial of the permit in federal court.

When the United States entered the litigation on the side of Sacred Heart, it argued that since the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Rehabilitation Act and the Fair Housing Amendments Act are all federal civil rights statutes, and the plaintiff is alleging that by its actions the township violated the civil rights of Sacred Heart and the constituency it serves, it has a clear right to redress in federal court.

Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights, Thomas E. Perez stated:  “The Sacred Heart Rehabiliation Center should have access to the federal courts to make its case that Richmond Township’s actions inappropriately reinforces (sic) false stereotypes, myths and fears about persons with addiction disorders.”

Barbara McQuade, U. S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan, stated:  “Municipalities certainly have the right to enforce their zoning laws, but not in a way that illegally discriminates against people with disabilities.  We will not hesitate to insure that the civil rights of persons with disabilities are protected, and we have weighed in on this case to assist the Court in interpreting key anti-discrimination statutes.”

The statements of Perez and McQuade can be found in the Department of Justice Office of Public Affairs release #10-021.

It is important for municipal and county zoning authorities to keep these issues in mind when a zoning request which could impact various protected classes is sought in the community.

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Happy New Year!

January 4, 2010
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If you follow this blog, you will realize that I took a significant hiatus (much of October, all of November and December 2009).  But I am back, and hope to provide interesting information and food for thought, particularly on state and local legal issues.  Occasionally, I wander into lagniappe, and that is where I am going today.

I took the opportunity, over the holidays, to watch a fair number of documentaries as I knitted, cooked and found ways to avoid cleaning my home.  Most of these documentaries were on various topics concerning World War II, either from the History Channel, History International, the Military Channel or the National Geographic Channel.  A couple of them were DVDs that I had acquired from The Teaching Company.  As I knitted, purled, watched and listened, I became convinced that most Boomers and probably fewer members of more recent generations really grasp the concept of freedom and what it means.  I thought about Kris Kristofferson’s contribution to my understanding of freedom:  “Freedom is just another word for nothing left to lose/But nothing ain’t worth nothing but it’s free”  (lyrics from “Me and Bobby McGee” by Kristofferson and Fred Foster, 1969).

Freedom is, in fact, another word for everything left to lose.  The absence of freedom is a state that most of us, fortunately, have not experienced and like most things that we have not experienced, we do not understand.

And as I think of this new year — 2010 — I think that one of my goals will be to begin to understand freedom in the way that those who lived through World War II understood it.  As a member of an occupied culture, how would I cope with foreign occupation?  How would I cope with being singled out for particular scorn because I have, for example, a Welsh heritage?  As a liberator, would I think that another person’s ability to live a free life is an important enough issue to cause me to risk losing my own life?  As a member of the resistance, would I have the courage necessary to risk myself for the greater good of my country, society and beliefs?  As a collaborator, would I make choices to keep my family alive or fed, or to make my life more simple, less risky?  I really can’t imagine how I would respond to those situations, but it is something I am going to ponder this year.

Fortunately, our society offers unnumbered freedoms to us.  Let us, in 2010, take the opportunity to exercise these freedoms.  Let us choose to make a difference.

Think of one small thing that you can do for your community in 2010.  Go out and do it!  Because you are free to do so.

Happy New Year!


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