A federal judge has preserved conspiracy and discrimination claims, among others, against two Republican state delegates in a lawsuit over a Muslim retirement community in Harford County.
Dels. Richard K. Impallaria and Patrick L. McDonough are accused of civil rights violations and various federal and state law violations for allegedly conspiring with the county to hold up permits for the Joppatowne development, which is marketed to Ahmadiyya Muslims.
The lawsuit, brought by the owners of the subdivisoin, the nonprofit organizing home sales and a buyer for one of the completed homes, alleges religious discrimination was behind refusals to issue additional building permits, water and sewage permits and use-and-occupancy permits.
In June, U.S. District Judge George L. Russell III issued a preliminary injunction ordering the county to issue permits for 14 completed homes in the subdivision. The parties are proceeding to trial on the permits for the remaining lots.
Russell ruled Tuesday the plaintiffs sufficiently “described communications and commands” to halt permits from the delegates to Harford County officials, including conversations with and letters to County Executive Barry Glassman.
The complaint also claims a discriminatory intent by the alleged conspirators — the county defendants and the delegates — based on remarks made at meetings between them and community meetings organized by Impallaria and attended by McDonough.
Russell also declined to dismiss the racial discrimination claims against the delegates because while some of the allegations relate to religion and nation, which are not protected by the federal statute cited in the complaint, some refer to race.
At a multi-day hearing in June on the plaintiffs’ injunction request, both delegates testified about how they became involved in the controversy over the development and their actions on behalf of constituents.
Impallaria said he received calls and emails expressing concerns about rumors the community would be exclusively Muslim and have a mosque on sight, which he believed would violate the Fair Housing Act. McDonough said he advised Glassman to make sure the project complied with local and federal laws and attended the community meetings to learn more about the project.
A total of four town hall meetings were held last fall, and after the first one the delegates sent a letter to Glassman asking the county to cease issuing permits until the project was investigated for compliance.
The delegates argued they are not county employees ultimately responsible for what happens with the project, and the county contends that Glassman did not have to do what the local delegates requested. But Russell pointed out at the hearing the county did ultimately stop issuing permits.
Russell also preserved a claim of tortious interference with business relations because the plaintiffs sufficiently alleged that the delegates intentionally conspired to violate their rights.
The delegates, who are represented by the Maryland Office of the Attorney General, must respond to the lawsuit within 14 days of Russell’s order. A spokeswoman for the office declined to comment on pending litigation.
The case is OT LLC et al. v. Harford County, Maryland et al., 1:17-cv-02812-GLR.