CCR Represents Plaintiffs in Hearing on Royal Oak vs. Brunswick Cty Fair Housing Case

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Center attorneys speak with ROCCA Clients at August 13 hearing in Brunswick County Superior Court

On August 13, 2012, CCR attorneys Elizabeth Haddix and Peter Gilbert, with co-counsel Jack Holtzman of the Fair Housing Project of Legal Aid of North Carolina on behalf the Royal Oak Concerned Citizens Association (ROCCA), Curtis McMillian and Dennis McMillian, defended against Brunswick County's motion to dismiss the ROCCA and McMillian claims filed over a year ago. Attorney Ray Owens from Higgens & Owens, PLLC is also co-counsel for Plaintiffs. Brunswick County is represented by the law firm of Womble Carlyle Sandridge & Rice. Its motion to dismiss and several other motions were heard before Judge Thomas Lock in Brunswick County Superior Court.

Senior Attorney Elizabeth Haddix and incoming
Community Development Fellow Bethan Eynon
talking with ROCCA president Lewis Dozier.

The County's principal alleged grounds for dismissal are that ROCCA does not have standing to sue, and that Plaintiffs' state Fair Housing Act claims fail because Plaintiffs did not first file an administrative complaint with the North Carolina Human Relations Commission (HRC) and allow that agency to complete an investigation before filing suit in court.

Plaintiffs' response is that the North Carolina Fair Housing Act (NCFHA) allows a claimant both options: to file an administrative complaint and/or file a complaint in court. The HRC also holds that same legal opinion. (Read CCR's article, "The Exhaustion Requirement as a Barrier to Fair Housing Claims (PDF)," published in the Spring 2011 North Carolina State Bar Journal)

The County attempted to characterize the lawsuit as being solely about the proposed landfill, arguing that any claim concerning the landfill was rendered moot when the Brunswick County Planning Board denied the County's application for a Special Exception Permit. ("Brunswick County Planning Board's Denial of Landfill Permit is Final," May 11 post) The County also argued that the controversy is not ripe until DENR issues final permits for the landfill. Plaintiffs responded that the decision to place another landfill in Royal Oak was but the latest act in a forty year pattern and practice of discrimination challenged by the lawsuit, that Plaintiffs seek remedies not only for the harm of the landfill, but for the denial of water and sewer, the general rezoning, and decades of burdening the community with other environmental hazards and unwanted land uses.

At the August 13 hearing, CCR and co-counsel also defended against the County's Motion to Dismiss the complaint they filed in May, 2012 on behalf of Mark Hardy, who cannot live in the home he owns in Royal Oak because of the poor water quality, lack of access to public water and sewer, and presence of the County's landfill and other unwanted land uses in Royal Oak.

Elizabeth Haddix and Bethan Eynon talk to ROCCA
resident and Plaintiff Curtis McMillan

ROCCA and the McMillians sought to add Mr. Hardy as a plaintiff in their lawsuit, but that motion was denied in April, 2012. Mark Hardy therefore filed his own complaint, alleging similar claims as those made by ROCCA and the McMillians under the NCFHA, the Equal Protection Clause of the North Carolina Constitution, and North Carolina's Environmental Justice Act, G.S. § 153A-136(c). Those claims assert that Brunswick County's decisions to deny the plaintiffs access to water and sewer services, to rezone land in their community from Rural Residential to Industrial General for the purposes of expanding the existing landfill, as well as its decisions to disproportionately burden Royal Oak with the County's solid waste facilities, are all part of an historic pattern and practice of race discrimination.

The County moved to dismiss Mr. Hardy's complaint on res judicata grounds, arguing that the denial of ROCCA's motion to add him as a plaintiff constitutes a final decision on the merits of his NCFHA and Equal Protection claims. Mr. Hardy has responded that the doctrine of res judicata cannot apply where 1) Mr. Hardy was not a party in the ROCCA motion, and 2) the denial of ROCCA's motion to add him as a plaintiff does not, under North Carolina law, constitute a “final decision on the merits” of his claims.

Royal Oak residents sitting outside the courtroom
before the hearing

The court also heard argument on Plaintiffs' Motion to Stay the ROCCA litigation pending appeal of the July 7, 2012 Order denying Plaintiffs access to information they believe to be crucial to proving their race discrimination claims.

A decision from the August 13 hearing is expected within the next week. Read Plaintiffs' motions and briefs:

Read more about Brunswick County through earlier posts on our blog.

Posted by Elizabeth M. Haddix on Wed. August 15, 2012 1:54 PM
Categories: Brunswick County, Community Inclusion, Environmental Justice, Fair Housing, Race Discrimination
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