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March 21, 2001


The opinion of the court was delivered by: James F. Holderman, District Judge:


Plaintiff, the United States of America ("the Government"), brought this action against defendant, the City of Chicago Heights ("the City"), under the Fair Housing Act, as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 3601 et. seq. ("FHAA"), seeking declaratory and injunctive relief, as well as compensatory damages and the imposition of a civil penalty. The Government brings this action on behalf of Thresholds, Inc. ("Thresholds"), an Illinois corporation which establishes and operates group homes for persons who suffer from mental illness. The Government alleges that: (1) the City intentionally discriminated against Thresholds' proposed residents on the basis of their handicap, mental illness, by refusing to grant Thresholds a special use permit in violation the FHAA ("intentional discrimination claim"); (2) the City violated the FHAA by failing to make a reasonable accommodation in its zoning laws to allow Thresholds to locate within 1,000 feet of another alleged "community family residence" ("reasonable accommodation claim"); and (3) the City's new Zoning Code, enacted the same day the City denied Thresholds' request for a special use permit, December 21, 1998, violates the FHAA on its face ("1998 Zoning Code claim").

The Government filed suit against the City pursuant to § 3614(a) of the FHAA, which provides that the Attorney General is authorized to commence a civil action in a United States district court "[w]henever the Attorney General has reasonable cause to believe that any person or group of persons is engaged in a pattern or practice of resistance to the full enjoyment of any of the rights granted by this subchapter, or that any group of persons has been denied any of the rights granted by this subchapter and such denial raises an issue of general public importance." 42 U.S.C. § 3614(a). The Government has filed a motion for partial summary judgment on its reasonable accommodation and 1998 Zoning Code claims. The City filed a cross-motion for summary on the same two claims, plus a motion for summary judgment on the Government's intentional discrimination claim. The City also filed a motion to strike selected portions of the Government's evidence submitted in support of its motion for summary judgment. For the following reasons, the City's motion to strike is DENIED. The Government's motion for partial summary judgment is GRANTED in its entirety, and the City's motion for summary judgment is DENIED in its entirety.


I. Background

Thresholds' primary goal is to integrate persons with serious mental illness into the community. Thresholds provided rehabilitative help to its clients, helping them to learn social skills, to resume their education, to live independently, and to go back to work. Thresholds treats between 6,000 and 7,000 persons annually from approximately 24 branches in the Chicago area. One way in which Thresholds provides these services is by establishing group homes and other residential settings in which persons with mental illness can live, aided by professional staff Thresholds' group homes provide a supportive, family-like atmosphere to aid in the transition to community living.

Dr. Thomas Simpatico, the Government's expert witness, is Chief of the Bureau of Chicago Network Operations for the Illinois Department of Human Services, Office of Mental Health. Dr. Simpatico testified at his deposition to the prevalence of mental illness and that "group homes offer an ideal environment in which to help people anticipate and overcome the obstacles encountered in everyday living while fostering the greatest possible degree of autonomy." The group home is often the only appropriate treatment setting for persons for whom the hospital represents too restrictive of an environment but who are not well organized enough for independent living. Dr. Simpatico opined that "group homes are necessary for the successful treatment of persons with serious and persistent mental illness." Dr. Simpatico testified that he is aware of the location and concentration of all Office of Mental Health funded resources, and that group homes are badly needed in the south suburbs of Chicago, including Chicago Heights. Dr. Simpatico based his opinion on his knowledge of epidemiological data regarding serious and persistent mental illness and knowledge of the current levels of systems funding for mental health services. In particular, Dr. Simpatico testified that the Office of Mental Health funds only three group homes located in the City, one with an eight-person capacity, and two with a four-person capacity. Dr. Simpatico also testified that there is a need for residential services for more than sixteen persons with serious mental illness in Chicago Heights.

The National Association of the Mentally Ill ("NAMI"), South Suburbs, is a parent group who wanted housing for their own children in the south suburbs. At the time Thresholds sought to locate a group home in the south suburbs of Chicago, NAMI was in partnership with Thresholds in providing services for persons with mental illness. In particular, NAMI wanted housing that serviced their towns, one of which was the City. The president of NAMI wrote a letter to Angelo Ciambrone, the City's mayor, telling the Mayor Ciambrone that the Thresholds' project would benefit the City.

II. 1972 Zoning Code

The purposes of the group home provision of the 1972 Code were stated as part of the 1990 amendments in a series of "Whereas" clauses. Those clauses are as follows:

WHEREAS, it has been shown that large numbers of people with disabilities need to live together in community residences with support staff as a functional family to be enabled to live within the community and not be inappropriately forced to live in an institution or nursing home;
WHEREAS, community residences for persons with disabilities are often the only way large numbers of people with disabilities can be enabled to live within the community;
WHEREAS, the national Fair Housing Amendments Act of 1988 (102 U.S. Stat. 1619) prohibits discrimination in housing against persons with handicaps or disabilities;
WHEREAS, community residences for persons with disabilities is a residential use and should be allowed in all areas of the municipality where other residential uses are permitted;
WHEREAS, over 40 research studies of the impacts of community residences for people with disabilities find that such residences generate no adverse impacts on the surrounding communities so long as they are licensed and not clustered on a block.
WHEREAS, it is necessary to prevent clustering of community residences on a block in order to facilitate normalization, one of the main functions of a community residence, and preserve the residential character of the neighborhood.

To that end, a "family community residences" was permitted to locate in a single-family district if it obtained a Certificate of Occupancy.

The City's 1972 Zoning Code differentiated between "families," "community family residences," and "group community residences." The 1972 Zoning Code defined "family" as:

one or more persons related by blood, marriage or adoption, or a group of not more than five (5) persons (excluding servants), who need not be related by blood, marriage or adoption, living together and maintaining a common household . . .

The 1972 Zoning Code defined "family community residence" as:

a single dwelling unit occupied on a relative permanent basis in a family-like environment by a group of not more than eight (8) unrelated persons with disabilities, plus paid professional staff provided by the sponsoring agency, either living with the residents on a twenty-four hour basis, or present whenever residents with disabilities are present at the dwelling; and complies with the zoning regulations for the district in which the site is located.

The 1972 Zoning Code set forth the authorization required for a special use permit. It provides that the City Council alone has the authority to grant or deny an application for a special use permit. The 1972 Zoning Code further provided that for each application for a special use permit, the Zoning Board of Appeals ("ZBA") "shall report to the city council its findings and recommendations." That Code provided that "prior to submitting its report to the city council the zoning board of appeals shall review the report of the plan commission and give due consideration to the plan commissions' findings and recommendations. The 1972 Zoning Code provided that the ZBA shall keep minutes of its proceedings and that "findings of fact shall be included in the minutes of each case and the reasons for granting or denying each application shall be specified." The 1972 Zoning Code also set forth the standards the ZBA must use in determining whether or not to recommend the granting of a special use application. The ZBA is a seven-member board appointed by the mayor and the City Council. The Plan Commission is a nine-member board, appointed by the mayor.

III. Thresholds Seeks to Locate in Chicago Heights

Beginning in the Spring of 1995, Thresholds expressed an interest in locating in Chicago Heights, particularly at 619 West 15th Street, to Joseph Christofanelli, the former City Planner. On May 30, 1995, Christofanelli wrote to Thresholds that the property "is currently zoned as a R-1 Single Family Residence District," and that the zoning classification is appropriate for a family community residence. On November 9, 1995, Thresholds entered into an option to purchase agreement for the property at 619 West 15th Street. On August 1, 1995, Thresholds purchased the property. The application for HUD section 811 funding required, among other things, that Thresholds engage an architect and engineer, obtain working drawings and specifications for the proposed group home, conduct environmental testing on the site, prepare a survey, obtain a contractor, and have that contractor prepare a cost breakdown for the project. Thresholds submitted its application for HUD funding on July 7, 1997. At various times in 1996 and 1997, Thresholds communicated with the City employees in the water, building, and fire departments regarding sewer hook-ups and inspection for the proposed group home.

On May 21, 1998, Thresholds submitted a special use permit application to the City requesting a waiver of the spacing requirement to permit it to construct and operate a group home for eight adult persons with mental illness and a professional staff member. In making the request, Thresholds asked the City to make a "reasonable accommodation" for people with disabilities, who would reside there, as set forth in the Fair Housing Act Amendments of 1998, 42 U.S.C. § 3604(f)(4)(B). Thresholds included, among the attachments to the application, a copy of the warranty of deed showing that it had purchased the property at 619 West 15th Street. Thresholds' special use permit application was the first application the City had ever received requesting a waiver of the City's spacing requirement under the 1972 Zoning Code.

Thresholds' application for a special use permit was sent to the City Council. On June 1, 1998, the City Council sent the application to the Zoning Board of Appeals ("ZBA") for a public hearing. At a July 1, 1998 public hearing, Christofanelli stated that Thresholds' proposed site was within approximately 450 to 500 feet of another family community residence. Thresholds was represented by Julia Rupp, its Director of Administration, Mary Lang Antilotti, Program Director for Thresholds South Suburbs, and Don Pyles, a member of Thresholds' Board of Directors, at the July 1, 1998 meeting. Rupp described Thresholds as serving people with mental illness for the past 35 years, and stated "[w]e're probably the largest provider and one of the most respected nationally." Rupp described the operation of the proposed group home: it would serve adults with mental illness, would be supervised — trained staff would be present whenever residents were present and there would be a a live-in staff person, and the residents would be required to attend some kind of structure during the day, such as work or work adjustment training. Rupp further testified that 99% of the residents take medication for their illness, that medication was a very important part of the program, and that the resident staff monitors the taking of medication. Rupp stated that Thresholds tries to move people into the home that are from the area, that Thresholds already serves people from the Chicago Heights area at a day program, and that NAMI wanted housing in the area for their family members that live here. Rupp also explained that Thresholds had been told by Christofanelli that the land was properly zoned for a group home before purchasing the property, that the building would be paid for with money from HUD, that the process of obtaining money from HUD is very long, and that Thresholds was not told of the other home until it had a contractor and was ready to start the project Rupp also addressed concerns over density of group homes, explaining that Thresholds wants "to be integrated in the community . . . one of the things we like about our community is diversity and integration." Rupp explained that the 14th Street home had only three residents, and that they had different disabilities than Thresholds' proposed residents. Rupp also answered concerns that the residents would be violent, explaining that Thresholds is very assertive about making sure that persons are stable and able to stay in the community before they are accepted by Thresholds and that Thresholds always gets along very well with its neighbors.

The Plan Commission held a meeting on July 29, 1998. Thresholds was again represented by Rupp, Lang-Anzilotti, and Pyles. There, Thresholds provided an overview of the program and described its proposed residents. Thresholds explained that it had applied for HUD funding and that it takes a long time to get that funding in place. Thresholds requested that the City make a reasonable accommodation as outlined in the FHAA. Community residents appeared at the meeting and spoke against the Thresholds application. Christofanelli estimated that there were 25 to 30 people present in the audience, which was more than the norm. Six people from 15th Street and 16th Place spoke to the Commission, stating that they worried about encroaching negative influences, including crack houses and drug dealers, and that a community residence would be another negative influence that would lower the property value of their homes. Rupp assured the audience that their property values would not go down, and that she would provide research studies if anyone wanted to see them. At the end of the July 29, 1998 meeting, the Plan Commission voted unanimously to recommend that the City Council deny Thresholds' application for a special use permit. Christofanelli testified that any deliberation over a special use permit application occurs at the formal meetings of the Plan Commission. One member of the Plan Commission testified that there was no discussion among the members of the Plan Commission as to how they would vote before the vote. The Plan Commission minutes for the meeting do not set forth any reasons for recommending that the Thresholds application be denied. The recommendation of the Plan Commission is set forth in a letter dated December 2, 1998. That letter recommended denial of the application and contained no findings.

A ZBA meeting was held August 19, 1998 to discuss Thresholds' application for special use permit. Thresholds' application was tabled, but community residents were present and permitted to speak against the application. Those residents who spoke stated that they supported the 1,000 foot spacing requirement. The residents were informed that they could take the issue up at the next scheduled meeting of the City Council, August 24, 1998. The residents did appear at the City Council meeting and voiced their objection to Thresholds' application, although the matter was not on the agenda. At a September 23, 1998 meeting of the ZBA, the application was again tabled.

At an October 21, 1998 meeting between representatives of the United States Attorney's Office and Christofanelli and City Corporation Counsel August Anzemlo, the City offered to exchange the property Thresholds owns at 619 West 15th Street with another parcel of land elsewhere in the City. Thresholds rejected the offer because of worries that it would delay the project by a minimum of two years.*fn2 Thresholds' Executive Director, Dr. Jerry Dincin, testified that he had once before agreed to trade sites in the City of Chicago and as of August, 2000, five years had gone by and the Thresholds' housing still had not been built. The City offered to do everything in its power to speed up Thresholds' HUD funding if Thresholds accepted the alternate site. The City also offered to assist Thresholds in any way possible with its applications for city permits.

The ZBA met again on December 2, 1998. Thresholds' application was the only item on the agenda. Community residents again appeared at the meeting and presented a petition which contained approximately 144 signatures, urged the City to deny the request from Thresholds, stated that two homes within 500 feet of each other "will overtax the resources of the neighborhood," and stated "[d]ue to the extreme drugs and alcohol in the area, it would be in the best interests of the perspective [sic] occupants and present residents of the neighborhood to build this home in another area." The residents also voiced oral objections to the application, including comments such as "we have enough problems." Any deliberation over a special use permit by the ZBA happened at the formal meetings of the ZBA. Christofanelli testified that "chances are" that he told the ZBA how the Planning Commission had voted, that the vote "would be important information for them," that he did not tell the ZBA the reasons for the Planning Commission's vote because the Commission stated no reasons for the vote in its letter, and that he did not recall the ZBA asking for the reasons for the Plan Commission vote. The ZBA voted unanimously at its December 2, 1998 meeting to recommended that the City Council deny Thresholds a special use permit. The recommendation of the ZBA is set forth in a letter dated December 3, 1998. The ZBA made no written findings of fact, nor did it set forth in writing the reasons for its recommendation or the evidence considered by the ZBA in making its recommendation to deny Thresholds' special use permit application.

On December 21, 1998, the City Council met to vote on Thresholds' application. Three City Councilpersons testified that they were given no written findings of fact explaining the basis for the ZBA's recommendation to deny Thresholds' permit. Mayor Ciambrone testified that he did not know the reasons the Plan Commission or the ZBA voted to recommend denying the application. Community residents again appeared and voice opposition to the application; no resident spoke in favor on the application. The comments generally reflected concern over "crazy people" wandering the neighborhoods and devaluing of property in the neighborhood. One alderman asked if there was anyone from Thresholds present. Rupp stated to the Council that Thresholds representatives had attended hearings and answered residents' concerns, had gone to the City three years prior to ensure that it had appropriate zoning, that the project would be paid for by HUD and the funding had taken a long time, that Thresholds was about to break ground when it was informed about the other group home, and that the City's zoning which prevented Thresholds from moving in is against the FHAA. Rupp then offered to answer any questions. In response, Mayor Ciambrone stated "I think we had the hearing before the Plan Commission and Zoning Board." One alderman asked whether Thresholds' funding would be jeopardized if it did not go forward. Rupp responded that funding was tied to that location, that it was possible to move, but that the process was lengthy and that it would take years to obtain the funding, and that Thresholds had to move a location once before in Chicago and that the funding had been substantially delayed as a result. One alderman requested additional time to study the matter. The Mayor did not respond to that request, but instead called for a roll-call. The City Council voted at the December 21, 1998 meeting to deny Thresholds' application for a special use permit. Three members voted to abstain and the Mayor cast the tie-breaking vote to deny the application.

Joseph Christofanelli is the former City Planner and the head of the City's Planning and Zoning Department. The City designated Christofanelli, pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 30(b)(6), as its representative to testify on its behalf regarding the reasons for the December 21, 1998 decision of the City Council to deny the request to grant a special use permit to Thresholds to operate a family community residence at 619 West 15th Street, how the City reached that decision, the facts that support that decision, the persons consulted with reference to that decision, and what documents the City relied upon in reaching its decision. Christofanelli testified that the City Council voted to reject the application because they accepted the recommendations of the Plan Commission and the ZBA. Christofanelli did not testify to any other reason the City Council voted to reject the application. Christofanelli also testified that the City Council was not compelled by law to accept the recommendation of the ZBA and the Planning Commission.

August Anzelmo is and was at all times relevant to this action corporation counsel to the City. The City designated Anzelmo as its representative, pursuant to Rule 30(b)(6), to testify on its behalf regarding whether the City maintains in this action that granting Thresholds a special use permit to construct its group home at 619 West 15th Street is a reasonable accommodation, and if not, to testify as to any and all reasons the City has for believing that the requested accommodation, a special use permit, is not reasonable or necessary to afford the prospective residents an equal opportunity to use and enjoy a dwelling, the facts which support those beliefs, the persons consulted with reference to whether granting the special use permit is reasonably necessary, and the documents the City relies upon relating to its beliefs on reasonable accommodation. Anzelmo testified that the City does not contend that the operation of the Thresholds group home at 619 West 15th Street would alter the residential character of the neighborhood. Anzelmo testified that the City does not claim that allowing Thresholds to operate its group home on 15th Street would pose a threat or danger to public health, injure or harm others in using their property, substantially diminish or impair property values in the vicinity of the proposed home, or impede surrounding property owners in developing and improving their properties. Anzelmo also testified that the City does not claim that there are inadequate utilities, that there is inadequate off-street parking, or that there would be difficulty with respect to vehicles entering and leaving the proposed home. Anzelmo testified that a financial burden could exist for the City in the form of increased litigation costs arising from other group home providers also seeking exceptions to the spacing requirement, that those costs would be financial and administrative burdens on the City, that Thresholds' location would "wreak havoc" on the City's Zoning Ordinance, and that granting the accommodation would render the dispersal provision "meaningless" because it would open the door for similar requests and create a precedent that would lead to undesirable clustering of group homes.

IV. The 1998 Zoning Code

On December 21, 1998 the City enacted a new Zoning Ordinance, No. 98-36 (the "1998 Zoning Code"). The 1998 Zoning Code has nine requirements that a "group home" must meet in order to locate in a single-family district. Among the ...

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