Todd & Weld LLP is pleased to announce that it has achieved a substantial victory on behalf of its client, the non-profit South Middlesex Opportunity Council ("SMOC"), in its landmark civil rights case against the Town of Framingham and numerous Framingham public officials. SMOC sued the Town of Framingham in October of 2007 in the United States District Court for the District of Boston alleging that the Defendants violated the civil rights of the disabled population served by SMOC by intentionally interfering with SMOC's efforts to site residential treatment programs in the community. SMOC is a decades old anti-poverty agency with an outstanding record of providing social services to the poor and disadvantaged. In response to the lawsuit, the Town and the defendant public officials, including members of the Board of Selectmen and the Planning Board, hired some of the largest and most expensive law firms in the country to defend against SMOC's claims and spent significant taxpayer dollars on the defense of the lawsuit. Todd & Weld LLP represented SMOC in significant part on a pro bono basis.
In July 2009, SMOC offered publicly to settle the case if the Defendants would agree simply to follow the civil rights laws in the future and to cooperatively form 2 commissions to, among other things, study the mistakes of the past. The Defendants refused the offer. In September 2010, United States District Court Judge Douglas P. Woodlock issued a comprehensive 100 page decision denying the Defendants' numerous motions for summary judgment. Judge Woodlock wrote that SMOC's evidence was sufficient to establish that the Defendants "through abusive communications and improper efforts to manipulate the municipal permitting process, unlawfully violated the detailed legal constraints fashioned to assure that prejudice within a community not impede access to housing and related programs for those suffering from recognized disabilities such as alcoholism and addiction."
In the wake of Judge Woodlock's decision, the Defendants agreed to mediate the case.
As widely reported in the media, as part of the settlement the Defendants agreed to a $1 million settlement payment to SMOC. The Defendants also agreed in a document approved by Judge Woodlock to follow the civil rights laws in the future, and to the training of Town Officials in the area of the civil rights of the disabled. In commenting on the settlement, Todd & Weld LLP partner and lead counsel, Howard M. Cooper stated "This is a tremendous victory for the disabled and a landmark civil rights case establishing the rights of non-profits who need to site programs in our communities for the poor and disadvantaged to be free from discrimination in the permitting process. I am proud of the effort made by Todd & Weld on SMOC's behalf and grateful to my partners for the significant pro bono contribution made in this important effort. Todd and Weld lawyers Heidi A. Nadel, Megan C. Deluhery and others played critical roles in the litigation and deserve tremendous credit for achieving this result."