The United States Department of Justice Department of Justice Seal The United States Department of Justice
Search The Site
 

HCE Cases black banner

THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE DISTRICT OF COLORADO


UNITED STATES OF AMERICA,
     Plaintiff,

v.

BOARD OF COUNTY COMMISSIONERS
OF THE COUNTY OF MONTEZUMA,
     Defendant.

___________________________________


COMPLAINT

  1. This action is brought by the United States of America to enforce the provisions of the Fair Housing Act, as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 3601 et seq.

  2. This Court has jurisdiction over this action under 28 U.S.C. § 1345 and 42 U.S.C. § 3614(a).

  3. Defendant, Board of County Commissioners of the County of Montezuma (the "Board"), is the governing body of the County of Montezuma. The County of Montezuma is a political subdivision of the State of Colorado within the District of Colorado, organized under the laws of the State, and located in the southwestern part of Colorado.

  4. The County of Montezuma (the "County"), through the Defendant Board of County Commissioners, exercises zoning and land use authority over land within its boundaries. The Montezuma County Land Use Code contains the County's zoning and land use regulations.

  5. Pursuant to the Montezuma County Land Use Code, unincorporated areas within Montezuma County have "landowner initiated zoning," in which landowners may choose to have their property placed in a particular zoning category or may leave the property unzoned.

  6. In the spring of 1999, John Brach ("Brach") sought to open and operate a group residence in Montezuma County to be called the "Eagle's Nest Adolescent Treatment Facility." The purpose of the proposed group residence was to house and counsel adolescents, some of whom are Native American, who are recovering from alcohol and/or drug dependency. Brach, who resides in the District of Colorado, has a Master's Degree in Special Education and certificates in school administration and counseling. He has over 26 years of experience working with Native American students as a school administrator, teacher, and counselor.

  7. In the spring of 1999, Brach identified the site at 15472 Road 35.3 in Mancos, CO, within the County of Montezuma (the "Mancos site"), as the site for the proposed group residence. The owners of the property had operated a Bed & Breakfast Lodge on the property. Brach and the property owners began negotiations for Brach to purchase the property.

  8. Upon information and belief, the Mancos site is located in an unincorporated area within Montezuma County.

  9. In April of 1999, Brach contacted the Montezuma County Planning office to inquire of county officials, in their official capacity, about zoning requirements applicable to the Mancos site. He was told that the property at 15472 Road 35.3 in Mancos was unzoned, and that consequently all that was required for zoning purposes to operate the proposed group home was that he obtain a "letter permit" from the County. Between April and June of 1999 Brach was told by two different representatives of the Planning Department, in their official capacities, that as long as his proposed use of the property met the applicable "threshold standards," the letter permit would be granted.

  10. On or about June 28, 1999, Brach filed an application for a "letter permit" with the County, indicating that his proposed use of the property met all applicable "threshold standards."

  11. In a description of the proposed group home submitted with the permit application, Brach notified the County that some of the clients would be Native American and that the location was well suited for serving Western Colorado and the Native American population.

  12. On or about July 12, 1999, the Board of County Commissioners of Montezuma County determined that instead of a "letter permit," Brach would have to obtain a "high impact permit" in light of his proposed use of the property. The Board referred the matter to the Montezuma County Planning Commission.

  13. The Montezuma County Land Use Code requires the County to send written notice of an application and public hearing concerning a high impact permit only to adjoining landowners. However, while there are only five or six parcels of property adjoining the property on which Brach proposed to site the group home, the County sent a letter dated July 14, 1999 to fifty-three (53) separate households inviting them to voice their concerns about the permit application at public meetings before both the Planning Commission and the Board of County Commissioners.

  14. On or about July 22, 1999, the Montezuma County Planning Commission, after taking comments from the public, recommended that Brach's application for a high impact permit be denied.

  15. On or about August 9, 1999, two members of the three member Board of County Commissioners held a public hearing on Brach's application for a high impact permit to operate the proposed group home. Area residents who attended this hearing, sa well as the earlier Planning Commission meeting, made numerous comments indicating opposition to the siting of the proposed group home based on the fact that the prospective residents of the home would be people with disabilities and/or Native American. At the conclusion of the hearing, the two Commissioners voted to deny Brach's application.

  16. The proposed residents of the group home are "handicapped" within the meaning of 42 U.S.C. § 3602(h).

  17. The proposed residential facility is a "dwelling" within the meaning of 42 U.S.C. § 3602(b).

  18. The defendant's refusal to issue either a letter permit or a high impact permit prevented John Brach from establishing and operating the proposed group home at the Mancos site.

  19. The defendant's actions in refusing to issue a letter permit or a high impact permit were taken on account of the handicap and race, color, or national origin of the prospective residents of the group home, in violation of 42 U.S.C. §§ 3604(a), 3604(b), 3604(f)(1), and 3604(f)(2).

  20. The County's conduct was intentional, willful, and taken in disregard of the rights of others.

  21. The defendant's refusal to allow John Brach to establish and operate the Eagle's Nest Adolescent Treatment Center constitutes a denial to a group of persons of rights granted by Title VIII of the Civil Rights Act of 1988, 42 U.S.C. §§ 3601-3619, that raises an issue of general public importance, 42 U.S.C. § 3614 (a).

  22. John Brach and other persons who have been, or who may have been, the victims of the County's discriminatory practices are aggrieved persons, as defined in 42 U.S.C. § 3602(i). These persons have suffered, or may have suffered, damages as a result of the defendant's conduct.

WHEREFORE, the United States prays that the Court enter an ORDER that:

  1. Declares that the actions of Montezuma County described herein constitute a violation of the Fair Housing Act;

  2. Enjoins Montezuma County, its agents, employees, assigns, successors and all other persons in active concert or participation with them, from violating any provision of the Fair Housing Act on the basis of disability, race, color, or national origin;

  3. Enjoins Montezuma County, its agents, employees, assigns, successors and all other persons in active concert or participation with them, to make reasonable accommodations in their policies, practices, rules or services as required by the Fair Housing Act, including accommodations that permit the establishment and operation of group residences;

  4. Requires such action by Montezuma County as may be necessary to restore all persons aggrieved by the County's discriminatory housing practices to the position they would have occupied but for such discriminatory conduct;

  5. Awards such damages as would fully compensate each person aggrieved by Montezuma County's discriminatory housing practices for their injuries caused by such discriminatory conduct, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 3614(d)(1)(B);

  6. Awards each person aggrieved by Montezuma County's discriminatory housing practices appropriate punitive damages, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 3614(d)(1)(B); and

  7. Assesses a civil penalty against Montezuma County in an amount of money authorized by 42 U.S.C. § 3614(d)(1)(C), in order to vindicate the public interest.

The United States further prays for such additional relief as the interests of justice may require.


                                                                            JANET RENO
Attorney General
 
BILL LANN LEE
Assistant Attorney General
 
JOAN A. MAGAGNA
Chief, Housing and Civil Enforcement Section
 
ISABELLE M. THABAULT
Deputy Chief
CATHERINE A. BENDOR
Attorney
U.S. Department of Justice
Civil Rights Division
Housing and Civil Enforcement Section
P.O. Box 65998
Washington, D.C. 20035-5998
Tel. (202) 514-4305
Fax. (202) 514-1116


Document Filed: December 21, 2000.

General Information Housing and Civil Enforcement Section
 
Leadership
Steven H. Rosenbaum
Chief
Contact
Housing & Civil
Enforcement Section
(202) 514-4713
TTY - 202-305-1882
FAX - (202) 514-1116
To Report an Incident of Housing Discrimination:
1-800-896-7743
Mailing Contact
U.S. Department of Justice
Civil Rights Division
950 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.
Housing and Civil Enforcement Section, NWB
Washington, D.C. 20530

Email: fairhousing@usdoj.gov

Stay Connected YouTube MySpace Twitter Facebook Sign Up for E-Mail Updates Subscribe to News Feeds