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January 12, 10

NEWS / Justice Department to Participate in Zoning Disability Case in Richmond Township, Michigan

WASHINGTON – The Justice Department today filed a brief as a friend of the court in Sacred Heart Rehabilitation Center Inc. v. Richmond Township and Richmond Township Planning Commission, a civil rights case regarding the expansion of an addictive disorders treatment facility in Macomb County, Mich. The government’s brief supports a lawsuit filed by Sacred Heart Rehabilitation Center, which runs a nondenominational charitable services organization to serve indigent individuals with a range of addictive disorders, including alcoholism. The matter is being handled jointly by the Civil Rights Division and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Michigan.

In 2007, Sacred Heart applied for a building permit to renovate and expand its existing facility, and to erect a new building. The expansion would allow Sacred Heart to centralize its admission process and to house the Clearview Specialty Women and Children Program, which provides specialized rehabilitative residential care for women who need to bring their children with them into treatment, and pregnant women who have addiction problems and require specialized treatment. Richmond Township, Mich., denied Sacred Heart’s requested zoning permit on Sept. 19, 2007.

Sacred Heart and the United States argue that this denial is the result of unlawful discrimination against persons with disabilities. The township is seeking to have the case dismissed – arguing that the center has no right to seek protection of its civil rights in the federal courts. The United States’ brief argues that because the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the Rehabilitation Act and the Fair Housing Amendments Act are all federal civil rights statutes, plaintiffs in such cases have a clear right to redress in the federal courts.

"The Americans with Disabilities Act ensures that zoning laws cannot be used to discriminate against individuals with disabilities," said Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division. "The Sacred Heart Rehabilitation Center should have access to the federal courts to make its case that Richmond Township’s actions inappropriately reinforces false stereotypes, myths and fears about persons with addiction disorders."

"Municipalities certainly have the right to enforce their zoning laws, but not in a way that illegally discriminates against people with disabilities," said Barbara McQuade, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan. "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 full and fair enforcement of the ADA and its mandate to integrate individuals with disabilities is a major priority of the Civil Rights Division and the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Eastern District of Michigan. The ADA protects individuals with disabilities from discrimination by public entities.




AnnaMaria Realbuto
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