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Bias suit against Harford Co. officials allowed to continue

Bias suit against Harford Co. officials allowed to continue

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Del. Rick Impallaria (The Daily Record/Maximilian Franz)
Del. Richard K. Impallaria, above, as well as former Del. Patrick L. McDonough, is named in the lawsuit. (The Daily Record/File Photo)

Federal judges have allowed conspiracy and discrimination claims to proceed against Harford County officials after largely denying motions for summary judgment in ongoing litigation over the treatment of a Muslim retirement community project in Joppatowne.

In their complaint, the plaintiffs contended the county began manufacturing roadblocks after officials heard complaints about the community being “Muslim-only” and including a mosque on site. The county contended officials were not swayed by public outcry but merely enforced the county’s code and practices.

The lawsuit, brought by the owners of the subdivision, the nonprofit organizing home sales and a buyer for one of the completed homes, alleges religious discrimination was behind the county’s refusals to issue additional building permits, water and sewage permits and use-and-occupancy permits. The lawsuit also names Del. Richard K. Impallaria and former Del. Patrick L. McDonough and accuses them of conspiring with the county to hold up permits.

A federal judge issued an injunction last year ordering the county to issue permits for 14 completed homes, finding the county’s refusal to do so was motivated in part by the “active and vile racist animus” expressed by some county residents.

In a series of rulings in recent weeks, two federal judges largely denied motions for summary judgment by the defendants, meaning the case will proceed to trial.

Attorneys for the plaintiffs said their clients were pleased the court recognized that the claims should be heard by a jury.

“We have believed from the outset, and continue to believe today, that the Harford County officials and the delegates attempted to stop this project for discriminatory reasons, and we look forward to proving that to a jury,” attorneys from Venable LLP in Baltimore and Kramon & Graham P.A. in Baltimore said in emailed statements.

Attorneys for OT LLC, which owns the subdivision, and Gemcraft Homes Inc., the builder, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

U.S. District Judge George L. Russell ruled on Sept. 23 that there was a genuine dispute of material fact about the intent of the county defendants and the burden placed on the plaintiffs. He largely denied summary judgment motions from both sides, but he dismissed the plaintiffs’ claim for judicial review of administrative acts.

A spokeswoman for the county declined to comment Friday.

On Thursday, U.S. District Judge Stephanie A. Gallagher, who has since been assigned to the case, also largely denied the summary judgment motion filed by Impallaria and McDonough.

The delegates moved for summary judgment, arguing they are immune from most of the federal claims made because they did not violate a clearly established right of the plaintiffs. But Gallagher found that the evidence, when viewed in the light most favorable to the plaintiffs, showed the delegates may have violated multiple federal rights.

“Plaintiffs have adduced evidence that the Delegates conspired with the County to impede a housing project because of the religious identity of prospective occupants, in violation of … the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment, the Fair Housing Act, and (the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act),” Gallagher determined.

A spokeswoman for the Maryland Office of the Attorney General, which is representing Impallaria and McDonough, declined to comment Friday.

The case is OT LLC et al. v. Harford County, Maryland et al., 1:17-cv-02812.

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