prior to the announcement of Support Ministries' intention to open the home, no citizen of Waterford had ever expressed a need to amend the boarding house definition contained in the village zoning ordinance. (E.g., Tr. at 188). Moreover, Trustee Doud testified at his deposition that no reports were prepared by the board regarding boarding and rooming houses. (Tr. at 188).
Furthermore, no one ever complained about the number of residents or the number of rooms during the thirty years the Sixth Street house was occupied by the Sisters of Mercy and the Holy Cross Fathers, whose use apparently was non-conforming but was never opposed by the community. Defendants assert that information regarding the number of people who occupied the facility while it was owned by the Holy Cross Fathers was not presented to the ZBA during the course of its hearing, and thus they can hardly be criticized for failing to consider information that they did not have. A review of the transcripts of the ZBA public hearings, however, shows that they were informed by Support Ministries that up to fifteen persons had previously occupied the building at one time. (Exhibit P-48 at 9, line 9; and at 18, line 8). This information was never questioned by the ZBA.
Defendants claim they are entitled to consider in these multiple occupancy situations the demands that will be placed on parking, traffic, garbage collection, etc. They note that there has been testimony that the parking and traffic situation in Waterford is already very difficult. (Tr. at 276-77). This argument, however, ignores the undisputed, credible testimony by Nancie Northrup Williams, both before this court and before the ZBA, that most of the proposed residents do not have cars (Tr. at 26, P-48 at 45) either due to medical reasons related to HIV or because of their necessity to meet the tests for needs-based service programs. (Tr. at 26). She stated that even people who may own a car do not have the money to register and insure it and keep it in good working order. (Tr. at 26). In addition, a car "often becomes an asset that is liquidated to enable them to finance housing and medical needs." (Tr. at 26).
Support Ministries proposes having a total of six parking spaces which would be adequate for their staff of two to four at a given time (Exhibit P-48 at 45) and a visiting nurse. (Tr. at 26). The deposition of one of the prior residents of the Sixth Street house reveals that up to five cars were driven by the residents, but all but one of the parking spaces were on the street. (Exhibit P-51 at 6). Support Ministries, on the other hand, plans to add four parking spaces on their property rather than parking on the street.
Furthermore, ZBA member William Coffey significantly stated at his deposition that his concerns about traffic congestion and parking in the area around the Sixth Street house did not play a role in his decision to deny Support Ministries' zoning application. (Tr. at 216). Trustee Doud similarly stated that parking did not play any part in his voting for Local Law No. 2 of 1990. (Tr. at 188).
Nancie Northrup Williams also testified about Support Ministries' arrangements for the disposal of infectious wastes. (Tr. at 27-28). Since the village would not be responsible for the removal of such waste, it would seem that the Support Ministries project would create no more demand for garbage collection than that which was demanded by the prior owners who also housed up to fifteen residents at a time.
In sum, this court finds that defendants' concerns about parking, traffic, and garbage are mere pretexts.
E. Constitutional Issues
Plaintiffs assert that defendants' actions also violate the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. However, since this court finds in favor of plaintiffs on statutory grounds, it is unnecessary to address their constitutional claim. There is a well-established "judicial preference to avoid unnecessary constitutional rulings." Association of Relatives and Friends of AIDS Patients, 740 F. Supp. at 107; Baxter v. City of Belleville, Ill., 720 F. Supp. at 734 (citing Singleton v. Wulff, 428 U.S. 106, 124, 49 L. Ed. 2d 826, 96 S. Ct. 2868 (1976) (Powell, J., concurring in part and dissenting in part)).
III. CAUTION TO THE OPPONENTS OF THE SIXTH STREET HOUSE
While this court is sensitive to the feelings of the citizens of the Village of Waterford and aware that there may be resentment by some that a court is imposing upon their preference to control their own affairs, ours is a nation of laws. These laws enacted by our elected representatives must be followed. Those afflicted by the HIV virus, however contracted, are entitled to understanding and compassionate treatment. Society has a moral and legal obligation to make reasonable accommodations to meet their needs and may not discriminate against them, particularly when such discrimination is based on misinformation or outright prejudice.
Given my findings and the relief ordered below, and in view of the almost violent opposition by some of the village residents, as well as alleged anonymous threats against the Sixth Street house, this court unfortunately finds it necessary to caution the project's opponents against any rash, irresponsible behavior against the facility, its staff, and its residents. Accordingly, as at least one other court has done in the past,
this court notes that among other possible state and federal criminal sanctions, 42 U.S.C. § 3631 provides for criminal sanctions against "whoever, whether or not acting under color of law, by force or threat of force willfully injures, intimidates or interferes with, or attempts to injure, intimidate or interfere with" handicapped persons exercising rights under the FHA. Upon conviction of a violation of section 3631, a defendant "shall be fined not more than $ 1,000, or imprisoned not more than one year, or both; and if bodily injury results shall be fined not more than $ 10,000, or imprisoned not more than ten years, or both; and if death results shall be subject to imprisonment for any term of years or for life." 42 U.S.C. § 3631. This court trusts that these words of caution are unnecessary and that the village residents can at the very least peacefully coexist with the Sixth Street house residents.
A. Injunctive Relief
"Mandatory injunctions are common in FHA and Rehabilitation Act cases. . . . Furthermore, § 3613(c) provides, in part, that the equitable relief available under the FHA includes 'an order enjoining the defendant from engaging in such practice or ordering such affirmative action as may be appropriate.'" Baxter v. City of Belleville, Ill., 720 F. Supp. at 727 (emphasis added and citations omitted). Although this court does not sit as a "super zoning board," it is of the opinion that to send Support Ministries back before the ZBA may very well result in yet another denial of their application on grounds that are purely a pretext. In order to avoid even more unnecessary delay, it is the order of this court that the defendants are hereby permanently enjoined from interfering with Support Ministries' use of 31 Sixth Street as a residence for up to fifteen homeless PWAs and are directed to issue a Certificate of Occupancy for this use and expeditiously process any building permit applications submitted by Support Ministries.
B. Monetary Damages
Section 3613(c)(1) provides that "if the court finds that a discriminatory housing practice has occurred . . ., the court may award to the plaintiff actual and punitive damages . . . ." 42 U.S.C. § 3613(c)(1).
1. Interest Expense
As a result of Support Ministries' inability to access the grant under the Homeless Housing and Assistance Program, due to defendants' discriminatory actions, Support Ministries has been forced to incur monthly mortgage interest costs in the amount of $ 900. They seek an award of compensatory damages pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 3613 (c) for the interest expense incurred from the date they acquired the property, May 29, 1991, through and including the date of this court's order and judgment. This court finds, however, that Support Ministries is not entitled to recover the entire amount of interest sought.
There was an approximately five-month delay between the time Support Ministries closed on the Sixth Street property on May 29, 1991, and the time it sought a CO from the building inspector. Although there was a vague allegation that village officials delayed responding to Support Ministries' request for information concerning the proper procedure to apply for a CO (Tr. at 42-43, 315), I find that there is insufficient proof of any wrongdoing on the part of the Waterford officials in this regard to justify an award of damages in the amount of the mortgage and other loan interest payments during that five-month period.
Furthermore, it is clear that even under the prior zoning law Support Ministries would have had to seek a special permit by applying to the ZBA. They submitted their application to the ZBA on October 31, 1991. The ZBA referred the matter to the Saratoga County Planning Board, which on December 19, 1991, voted to return it to the ZBA. Allowing a reasonable amount of time for the ZBA to hold a public hearing on the application and 60 days to render a decision, see N.Y. Town Law § 267 (McKinney 1978), this court has determined that defendants shall be responsible for the reimbursement of Support Ministries' interest payments from March 1, 1992, through and including the date the CO is issued, at a rate of $ 900 per month, for a total so far through November 30, 1992, of $ 8,100.
Defendants assert that any interest awarded to Support Ministries should be diminished due to the fact that during trial the state voted to release $ 25,000 to Support Ministries to defray the cost of interest incurred to date, as well as certain architectural expenses. As correctly noted by plaintiffs, however, this grant will be subtracted from Support Ministries' ultimate grant award, so that they will later receive only $ 505,000. In view of this fact, this court will not reduce the amount of interest awarded to Support Ministries.
2. Attorney's Fees For Zoning Process
As a result of defendants' improper conduct, Support Ministries was required to retain counsel, the law firm of DeGraff, Foy, Holt-Harris & Mealey, to attempt to secure zoning variances and approvals in the face of the board's adoption of discriminatory Local Law No. 2 of 1990. Defendants' arguments to the contrary are unconvincing. Consequently, the costs and attorneys fees for this work are compensable. Support Ministries has submitted a detailed bill totalling $ 17,004.95 from the law firm for services rendered prior to the commencement of this litigation. (Exhibit P-38). The court has examined the bill, finds it to be reasonable, and grants plaintiff Support Ministries that amount as part of their damages.
3. Monetary Damages to New York State
This court has no doubt that defendants' discriminatory conduct which delayed the establishment of an adult care facility for PWAs has also caused monetary damage to New York State. Testimony was adduced that indicates that there are some PWAs who have been hospitalized who might have qualified for admission to the Waterford facility. However, this court agrees with defendants that insufficient proof was presented at trial for this court to determine a specific damage figure. Any figure that this court would award to the State would have to be based on speculation. Accordingly, no monetary award will be made to the State.
4. Costs and Attorney's Fees Plaintiffs Incurred Due to This Litigation and Punitive Damages
The court may award plaintiffs punitive damages, 42 U.S.C. § 3613(c)(1), and "in its discretion, may allow the prevailing party . . . a reasonable attorney's fee and costs." 42 U.S.C. § 3613(c)(2). As agreed by the parties prior to trial, the propriety and amount of such awards will be the subject of further briefing by the parties and a hearing if required.
IT IS SO ORDERED.
DATED: December 4, 1992
Albany, New York
Ralph W. Smith, Jr.
United States Magistrate Judge