Daytona Beach group home continues operation and wins $100,000 settlement after attempted shutdown

The City Commission of Daytona Beach, Florida agreed in March to give up a yearlong fight against a home for recovering drug and alcohol addicts. The City will pay $100,000 to settle a federal discrimination lawsuit.

The settlement approved by commissioners includes $60,000 for attorney fees and costs. Michael Gardner, owner of the home, will split $6,000 with 10 clients. Hearthstone Foundation, a nonprofit company that operates the home, will get $34,000. The settlement ensures that the Peabody House, a group recovery home in a beachside Daytona residential neighborhood, will continue to operate and help up to 10 recovering alcoholics and drug addicts simultaneously.

The Commission’s move came despite opposition from neighbors who opposed the group home and spoke out at Commission meetings over the past year. According to the Daytona Beach News-Journal, Commissioners approved the settlement on a 4-3 vote with support from Mayor Bud Asher and commissioners Rick Shiver, Yvonne Scarlett-Golden and Charles Cherry. Commissioners Darlene Yordon, Mike Shallow and George Burden opposed the settlement.

Neighbors wanted “illegal dormitory” shut down

According to the News-Journal, city officials started a code enforcement action against the home that resulted in fines for operating an “illegal dormitory” in a residential area and ordered the home to shut down. The actions were at the urging of neighbors, according to the article.

The group home’s operators refused to close the home and filed a federal lawsuit under the Fair Housing Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act, asserting that the City was discriminating against the Peabody House residents on the basis of disability. Steven Polin, an attorney with Oxford House, another group home operator, assisted Hearthstone with its lawsuit.

Commissioner Scarlett-Golden told the News-Journal that the City had no alternative but to settle. “Do we continue spending money trying to win when we know our probabilities of winning are almost nil?” she asked. Commissioner Yordon continued to side with neighbors of the home who oppose it. “The neighborhood has made it clear they don’t want to resolve this, they want to fight,” Yordon told the News-Journal.

The rhetoric against the home had been harsh as evidenced by anti-Peabody posts on web site, operated by “Citizens for Honest Government.” The site accused the home’s owner of simply viewing the home as a money-making endeavor instead of a place to help people in recovery. The site’s creator also stated, “Now call me nuts, but my definition of disabled does not extend to someone who chooses to suck on a crack pipe. That is an insult to all the truly disabled people out there who struggle to meet life’s challenges. Lets (sic) just hope some federal judge sees this for what it is...a big scam (sic).”

At City Commission meetings, neighbors of the Peabody House claimed that transients and panhandlers had increased in the neighborhood since the home opened, that drug addicts and alcoholics were not really disabled, that the house should be moved to some other part of the city, that too many cars were parked at the house, and that the house generated more revenue than other rental homes in the neighborhood.

Peabody House representatives responded that there were never more than four cars at the home, all of which fit into the home’s garage. They pointed to the fact that there was a garden club in the neighborhood with 250 members and held bi-weekly meetings which caused a great number of additional cars to be parked in the neighborhood.

In granting a preliminary injunction to Peabody House to stop the City from shutting it down, a federal judge noted that City Commissioners had claimed that recovering addicts and alcoholics were not disabled. The judge denied that assertion, saying that addiction “places severe limitations on people’s lives” and pointed to several other federal cases that expressed the same sentiment.

The settlement agreement reached with the City resolves the claims of both parties. According to Polin, one of the Plaintiff’s attorneys, the City agreed to treat Peabody House as a “single family home” as long as the home continues to follow all the regulations and codes required of such homes.

Gardner v. City of Daytona Beach
Case No. 6:02-CV-357-ORL-19KRS (M.D. Fla.)
The Honorable Patricia C. Fawcett, U.S. District Judge
Steven Polin and Billie Jo Owens, attorneys for plaintiff
Case filed: March 22, 2002
Settlement: March 19, 2003