Letter from Caron to neighbors
By Tim Pallesen
A federal judge has granted a temporary injunction to stop Delray Beach from enforcing its stringent transient housing ordinance against the Caron Foundation.
U.S. District Judge William Dimitrouleas stopped short of ordering the city to grant Caron’s request to open a sober house for seven patients at 1232 Seaspray Ave.
But he said Delray Beach must continue to process Caron’s request for reasonable accommodations there without violating federal laws that prohibit discrimination against recovering alcoholics and drug addicts.
As Caron’s lawsuit heads for trial, the treatment provider shocked residents in the Seaspray neighborhood on May 11 by hand-delivering a letter notifying 40 neighbors that their communications will be sought as evidence for the trial.
“We intend to examine all of your records, yard signs, notes, surveillance tapes, telephone and cell phone records, letters, emails, documents and writings concerning the Caron Foundation and its attempts to provide community housing to people in recovery,” Caron attorney Jim Green wrote.
Responding to outrage over sober houses near the ocean, commissioners approved the transient housing ordinance on Feb. 21, one day before rejecting Caron’s request for the Seaspray house.
“This sequence is highly suspect and strongly suggests that the city acted with an improper discriminatory motive,” Dimitrouleas wrote May 4.
The transient housing ordinance lowers the number of times that bedrooms can be rented to three times per year. The city’s previous ordinance allowed six rentals per year.
“The turnover rule would prevent Caron from effectively running its program,” the judge wrote in his 29-page ruling. “The house would essentially be inoperable.”
The preliminary injunction will remain in effect until Caron’s lawsuit goes to trial to determine whether a permanent injunction should be granted and the city ordered to pay damages.
Dimitrouleas wrote that Caron has shown “a substantial likelihood of success in demonstrating that the city has discriminated” when the case goes to trial.
The drug and alcohol treatment provider moved its first three clients into its Seaspray Avenue house under the watchful eyes of security guards one day after distributing the letter to neighbors.
“The letter’s timing a day before Caron moved people into the Seaspray home was suspect and the manner in which it was delivered — by bouncer-type goons trespassing over people’s private property — was repugnant,” neighbor Cary Glickstein said. “Residents are furious.”
Mindy Farber, a lawyer who lives in the neighborhood, said Caron has no right to the communications because neighbors who oppose the sober house aren’t defendants in the lawsuit against the city.
“It’s a frightening letter. What he’s done is bizarre,” Farber said. “I don’t think what he’s asking for is anything they have. I would just ignore him.”
“These people have been vocal opponents of my client and its patients and appear to be willing to do anything and say anything to stop my client and its patients,” Green said. “I certainly have a right as a party in a federal discrimination lawsuit to obtain their records. While they are certainly free to speak, it’s clear that what they intend to do is highly relevant to the federal court.” He noted that the judge already quoted several residents in his written order granting the preliminary injunction.
Glickstein, who chairs the city’s planning and zoning board, said Green’s intent in sending the letter has backfired.
“Residents now are more galvanized than ever to continue this fight,” he said.
Dimitrouleas quoted Glickstein and another board member in his ruling, saying they “made blatantly discriminatory statements” to pressure city commissioners to legislate against sober houses.
Glickstein had called the sober house movement “a cancer in this town” that “denigrates the neighborhood.”
Two federal laws, the Fair Housing Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act, prohibit housing discrimination against recovering alcoholics and drug addicts.
“I’m disappointed by some of the comments made by city residents,” city commissioner Adam Frankel said after the judge issued his order. “They cannot make comments or have demonstrations that are discriminatory in nature.”
Dimitrouleas agreed with the city’s argument that Caron hadn’t provided enough medical justification to allow seven patients at its Seaspray sober house.
Caron responded with lengthy written reports from two experts to provide that justification.
“Seven is the clinically necessary number to foster a positive group dynamic and minimize the feelings of loneliness and isolation that are an addict’s biggest enemies and barriers to recovery,” wrote Dr. Riley Regan, who has served as the primary government official for alcoholism and drug addiction in three states.
“If the program is limited to only three residents, it will be a wasted effort,” Regan wrote.
Green offered Delray Beach one last opportunity after the May 4 ruling to settle the lawsuit and avoid a trial. “I know emotions have been running high, but I hope the city and the portion of the community that’s been hostile will reconsider now and work toward an amicable resolution of this controversy,” he said.
City officials have refused to back off.
“The judge didn’t strike down everything we’ve done,” Mayor Woodie McDuffie said. “We will continue to work toward defending our single-family neighborhoods.”