ACLU suing state of Indiana in Lawrenceburg discrimination case

The American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana is suing the Hoosier state for disability discrimination, the most recent piece of litigation in a lawsuit stemming from a donated piece of land in Lawrenceburg.

In the case of New Horizons Rehabilitation, Inc. v. State of Indiana; Executive Director, Indiana Department of Homeland Security, 4:17-cv-00049, the ACLU, on behalf of New Horizons Rehabilitation, is seeking a preliminary injunction against the state for intentional discrimination against New Horizons and its clients, who have intellectual and developmental disabilities. The rehabilitation group provides job training, family support, pre-vocational training and other similar services to its clients in Ripley, Dearborn, Ohio, Franklin, Decatur and Switzerland counties.

In 2013, New Horizons acquired a piece of land in Lawrenceburg that was donated with the understanding that it would be used to build a home for individuals with disabilities. The property in question is zoned for single-family residences, and according to the ACLU, the group home would be “physically indistinguishable from the other single-family homes in the area.”

However, according to court documents filed in September 2016 in a lawsuit against the city of Lawrenceburg, Mike Clark, Lawrenceburg director of engineering and zoning director, told New Horizons that the planned group home did not constitute a consistent use for a single-family zoning district and informed New Horizons that it would have to apply for a variance

Although New Horizons began the variance application process, it eventually withdrew after being told that its application would be denied. Clark then told the rehabilitation group that its plans would have to be redesign as a commercial building requiring approval from the Indiana Department of Homeland Security. New Horizons applied for approval, but the Department of Homeland Security denied its request because it considered the planned building to be a home, not a commercial building.

Now, according to the ACLU, the Indiana Department of Homeland Security is interpreting “existing Indiana law and regulations to require that the New Horizons home meet requirements different from single-family residences occupied by non-disabled persons, contrary to the Constitution and federal law.” Specifically, the ACLU and New Horizons allege violations of the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment, the Fair Housing Amendment Act, the Rehabilitation Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act.

“The Constitution and federal law guarantee that persons with disabilities will not be discriminated against. And yet the State of Indiana is imposing onerous burdens on New Horizons Rehabilitation and its client solely because they are persons with disabilities,” ACLU of Indiana Legal Director Ken Falk said in a statement.

The case was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana on Tuesday and seeks a preliminary injunction and damages.

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