Gwinnett County, Georgia Pays $55,000, Agrees to Personal Care Home For 6 Residents

A Gwinnett County, Georgia couple have won $55,000 and the right to operate a personal care home for 6 people in settlement of their fair housing suit in federal court.

Richard and Janice Churchill had charged the County and some of their neighbors in Snellville, GA, with discrimination in violation of the 1988 Fair Housing Amendments. They said their opponents broke federal fair housing laws that safeguard the rights of elderly, handicapped and those who care for them.

The settlement approved by the Federal District Court in Atlanta, was "to compensate the Churchills for the pain and suffering they have experienced as a consequence of the acts of the County of which they have complained."

In May 1990 they sued the Gwinnett County Commission, which has approved the Churchills' care of two people in 1988 and four in 1989. But the County refused to grant them a special use permit for six - even though the state Department of Human Resources; and county health department had certified them. They received approval from the fire marshal's office and had a state license for six persons.

The suit also named angry neighbors who have opposed the home at public meetings, saying the Churchills' clients wander around the neighborhood and scare children.

No Where Else To Go

Jesse Fuller, a 58 year old disabled veteran, said he wouldn't have anywhere to live if it weren't for Richard and Janice Churchill, who care for the elderly and handicapped in their Snellville house.

"If I didn't have them, where would I go?" said the lean, grizzled man who suffered a nervous breakdown 30 years ago.

He sat in federal district court while an attorney for the Churchills argued that they should be able to care for two more people like Mr. Fuller.

U.S. District Judge Richard C. Freeman had initially refused to grant a temporary restraining order that would have immediately allowed the Churchills to expand their care.

Attorneys for the county commission said it was not illegal to require the Churchills to get a special permit for their home.

Two residents on Shady Hill Court near the Churchill Home who organized a petition drive against it said the home disrupts the neighborhood. They say the residents of the home wander onto their property, sometimes half dressed and confused.

"I have small children, and when (the Churchill residents) wander out of their house and into mine, it scares the kids," said Linda Aliff, a neighbor and defendant.

"We're not against this kind of facility; it's just not appropriate for our neighborhood," said Wanda Bryan, a neighbor who was also named in the suit.

Mrs. Churchill called her neighbors "very selfish" and her husband insisted, "We are here to stay." They live in the basement of the house with their teenage son and daughter, and renovated their garage to house more people.

They claim the county has conducted unwarranted fire and building inspections to try to put them out of business.

County Lacks Living Services

"We want to run the finest home in the U.S.A.," Mr. Churchill said. "Persecuted? Yes, we feel persecuted. Especially in a county that doesn't have enough alternative living services to begin with," according to the Atlanta Constitution of May 4, 1990.

Plaintiffs counsel had earlier said fair horsing laws passed in 1988 should make special use permits like those required by Gwinnett County illegal. But county attorney Richard A. Carothers said Gwinnett has broken no laws.

"The county authorized them for two people and then four," he said. "We wouldn't discriminate against four, so why would we discriminate against six?"

Kathryn M. Zickert of Decatur, Georgia, was counsel for the Churchills, and Jonathan Weintraub was counsel for Gwinnett County . No. 1:90-CV-944-RCF