Louisville: Woman, parents plagued by neighbor win $180,000 award

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By NINA WALFOORT
Staff Writer

For two years, Dwight and Caroline Simpson held their neighbor hostage. They tried to prevent Laura R. Pantoja from moving into the house her parents owned at 1324 S. Brook St. by making housing complaints, issuing subpoenas, writing threatening letters and complaining repeatedly to Louisville housing inspectors.

In 1992, Pantoja filed a discrimination complaint, claiming her neighbors' campaign was a racially motivated effort to drive her from the property.

Last week, a federal administrative law judge agreed and awarded $100,000 to Pantoja and $80,000 to her parents, Victor and Laura L. Pantoja.

Judge Samuel A Chaitovitz found the Simpsons guilty of violating federal fair housing laws with their "heartless and unrelenting campaign" against the Pantojas.

He awarded Laura R Pantoja $100,000 because of "severe and sustained emotional distress" caused by the Simpsons.

"She went from being a happy person in 1990 with the prospect of being independent and looking forward to living in her own home, to being a person who is unhappy (and) afraid for her safety," Chaitovitz wrote.

He also levied a civil penalty of $20,000 against the Simpsons for engaging in discriminatory housing practices and charged them $2,785 to cover Laura R. Pantoja's legal fees.

In her complaint and during the hearing this spring, Laura R. Pantoja, who is Hispanic, said that responding to the endless paperwork created by the Simpsons delayed her renovations and exhausted her. She postponed her plans to move into the house, in part because she became afraid to go there alone.

Pantoja said yesterday she is happy with the ruling, but it will take her along time to get over the stress and fear the Simpsons caused her.

"In a way, I worry now worse because I don't know what his reaction will be," she said. She also expressed doubt she would ever receive the money, "but I don't care about the money. I just want to be left alone."

U.S. Housing and Urban Development Department attorney Steve Edelstein, who represented the Pantojas, said he was very happy with the ruling. He had asked for $315,000.

The Simpsons, who did not respond to a reporter's phone calls yesterday, never replied to the discrimination complaint. At the hearing Dwight Simpson argued at length over procedural questions and then collapsed in the courtroom and was taken to a hospital just before he was to present his side of the case. The Simpsons did not appear when the case was reconvened.

The feud was not limited to the HUD complaint.

The Simpsons and Pantoja also fought in circuit court over a tax bill on the Pantojas' property that Simpson bought for $221. When Pantoja attempted to pay it, Simpson refused the money, saying it was not sent properly and questioning her right to act for her parents. The case was resolved this summer in Pantoja's favor.

Still pending is a "Rule 11" complaint filed against Simpson in the tax-bill case. Pantoja's attorney John Fowler is seeking to have Simpson sanctioned and fined for pursuing frivolous litigation.

Copyrighted 1994 Courier Journal and Louisville Tunes Co, Reprinted with Permission. September 13, 1994.