A federal judge has ordered an Indianapolis landlord to pay $220,000 for discriminating against a sick tenant.
U.S. District Court Judge William T. Lawrence ruled July 3 that Carolyn Smitley must pay about $220,000 in actual and punitive damages for violating the rights of Carolyn McGuffin, who was ill and confined to a hospital bed in her apartment.
Smitley, Lawrence said in his eight-page judgement, “consciously and intentionally discriminated against McGuffin” or “acted with reckless disregard of McGuffin’s rights.”
Amy Nelson, executive director of the Fair Housing Center of Central Indiana, called the decision a significant ruling for the Hoosier state.
“Unfortunately, housing discrimination happens very frequently, but we have not had the opportunity to receive many judicial rulings,” Nelson said. “It’s positive to see a judge ruling this way, particularly in awarding punitive damages.”
Contacted by phone Wednesday, Smitley strongly denied discriminating against McGuffin. She said she was unaware of January and March hearings when she was given an opportunity to defend herself had she shown up in court.
“I don’t have any money,” Smitley told IndyStar. “It just don’t seem legal that a judge can make a decision on something and not even notify myself. I’m not going to accept the decision.”
In a lawsuit filed in April 2016, the Fair Housing Center claimed that Smitley violated federal housing law when she ordered McGuffin to move out of the apartment at 5000 Southeastern Ave.
McGuffin was bed-ridden and recovering from a serious flesh-eating infection when, according to the lawsuit, Smitley entered her apartment without notice or permission and demanded that McGuffin leave.
Smitley, according to the lawsuit, told McGuffin she belonged in a nursing home.
“I don’t want you living here in a hospital bed,” Smitley told McGuffin in August 2015, according to the lawsuit.
Smitley repeatedly harassed and tried unsuccessfully to evict McGuffin, the lawsuit said.
McGuffin died in August 2016, said Tom Crishon, an attorney with Indiana Disability Rights who represented McGuffin’s estate and other plaintiffs.
The judge awarded $75,000 to McGuffin’s estate, $46,000 to the Fair Housing Center and about $99,000 in attorney fees.
Smitley said she is almost 80 years old and is now bed-ridden herself. She said she inherited the apartment building after her husband died and said he was better at running the business.
“All this time I’ve trusted and prayed for God to take care of it for me, and I have faith that he will,” Smitley said. “I did not discriminate. If anything I was trying to help the woman.”
She insists she cannot afford to pay the judgment.
“I don’t know law. I wish I knew a good attorney,” she said. “You don’t know one, do you?”
Reference : https://www.indystar.com