The City of Derby has withdrawn its appeal of a federal housing discrimination case and paid the plaintiffs $2.8 million in damages.
The news was announced in a press release sent to the Valley Indy Tuesday. A court document from the federal court database also confirms the withdrawal and is embedded at the bottom of this article.
“The moral of the story is that discriminating by trying to keep out supportive housing developments is not only morally wrong – it’s expensive,” said Brett Hill, executive director of HOME, Inc., one of the plaintiffs, in a prepared statement.
The money to pay the court’s decision is coming from the city’s insurance carrier, according to Amy Eppler-Epstein, a lawyer with New Haven Legal Aid who represented the plaintiffs in the case.
The Valley Indy reached out to four Derby officials seeking comment. Several said they weren’t aware of the latest development in the lawsuit.
Ron Sill, president of the Board of Aldermen, said he was “flabbergasted” the city’s interest in the lawsuit was being dropped when no one on his board was apprised of the situation.
In 2004, HOME Inc. was one of several non-profit groups that teamed to renovate three apartment buildings in downtown Derby in order to provide housing for people who received assistance from the Birmingham Group (now known as BHCare), which provides an array of services to help people who have mental health issues.
A federal lawsuit filed in 2006 accused Derby officials of delaying approvals for the project because of the potential tenants. The lawsuit claimed the delay and roadblocks thrown in the project’s path were an orchestrated effort of former Mayor Marc Garofalo’s administration with assistance from the Derby Zoning Board of Appeals.
Derby officials had argued HOME, Inc. wasn’t upfront about their plans for the property.
The lawsuit went to trial in 2010. It included testimony from Garofalo, Derby building inspector David Kopjanski, along with former Alderman and ZBA chairman Sam Rizzitelli.
The Original Decision
In a 71-page written decision issued in August 2011, U.S. District Judge Tucker Melancon ruled that Derby officials, including Kopjanski, Garofalo and Rizzitelli, discriminated against the plaintiffs.
The judge called Kopjanski’s interpretation of the city’s zoning rules with regard to the application “nonsensical” and noted that the members of the Derby ZBA had not even read an interpretation of zoning code offered by their chairman, Rizzitelli, before agreeing with it.
“The court finds that discrimination was not only a significant factor in Derby’s dealings with and decisions not to grant plaintiffs CZCs (certificate of zoning compliance) but further that discrimination was the sole reason for Derby’s actions,” Judge Melancon wrote.
A copy of the judge’s decision is posted below. The article continues after the document.
The City of Derby was ordered to pay $750,000 in August 2011. However, that number has since mushroomed to almost $3 million after attorney fees and interest were taken into account.
Derby filed an appeal of the judge’s decision in July 2012.
However, documents filed in federal court by attorneys representing the city and its insurance carrier show the appeals were withdrawn Oct. 22.
The downtown Derby apartments have since been gutted, renovated and rented.
“This all could have been avoided if Derby had just done the right thing, and issued the zoning certificates instead of trying to keep this project out of Derby,” said Epper-Epstein, the New Haven Legal Aid lawyer, in a prepared statement. “It wouldn’t have cost them a penny if they had just allowed the supportive housing development to go forward. And it was a win-win proposition, improving blighted housing, while giving people who already lived in the area stable housing, as well as supportive services.”
The long-running federal lawsuit has never been discussed at length during any Board of Aldermen meetings, but last month Joe Bomba, a former Aldermen, raised the issue during the meeting’s public portion session, asking how the Aldermen were going to deal with such a large payout.