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01.30.2020

On January 27, 2020, Relman Colfax filed a lawsuit against the City of Howell, Michigan, its mayor, and its community development director for obstructing a plan to open a sober living home for women recovering from substance use disorders. The complaint raises claims under the Fair Housing Act, Americans with Disabilities Act, and Michigan's Persons with Disabilities Civil Rights Act.

The suit, brought on behalf of Amber Reineck House, its founder and President, Courtney Atsalakis, and the Fair Housing Center of Southeast & Mid Michigan, alleges that defendants have—over the past two years—responded to community opposition by engaging in a concerted effort to prevent Amber Reineck House from opening a sober living home for women in Howell. 

Ms. Atsalakis founded Amber Reineck House in 2017, in memory of her sister, Amber Reineck, who died of a fentanyl overdose in 2015. The nonprofit organization is dedicated to acquiring affordable properties in Michigan to provide housing and support services for individuals recovering from substance use disorders, and to give women in recovery a chance to overcome their addiction in an affordable, supportive, community setting.

The lawsuit filed this week claims that Defendants have taken a series of unlawful actions to block Amber Reineck House from opening a planned sober living home for women in Howell, Michigan, where the only other such homes are available for men. The unlawful barriers erected by Defendants to Amber Reineck House’s plans have included:

  • Imposing and repeatedly extending a discriminatory moratorium on special land use applications that would have allowed unrelated persons to live together in a single-family home, preventing the house from operating;
  • Refusing a request by the Amber Reineck House for reasonable accommodations to the City’s zoning requirements for residential neighborhoods; and
  • Proposing an amended zoning ordinance, which may be enacted as early as next month, that would impose a host of discriminatory, unreasonable, and onerous burdens on sober living homes and other group homes for people with disabilities.

The suit alleges that Defendants took these actions in direct response to significant community opposition to the proposed home, which was based on discriminatory bias against persons recovering from substance use disorders. 

The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan. Plaintiffs seek a declaratory judgment, injunctive relief, and compensatory and punitive damages.

The Relman Colfax case team is led by Michael Allen, Sara Pratt, and Joseph Wardenski, with assistance from paralegal Amalia Perez. The firm is co-counseling with Stephen Dane of Dane Law LLC and Robin Wagner of Pitt McGehee Palmer & Rivers PC.

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