Couple not giving up after dismissal of discrimination case upheld

(Credit: Joseph Pinciaro)
(Credit: Joseph Pinciaro)

After the Supreme Court ruled last week that the U.S. Constitution guarantees the right to same-sex marriage, the phrase “love wins” quickly hit the airwaves and social media as a testament to the fact that over everything else — even in the face of the nation’s highest court — love can prevail at the end of the day.

But for the family of one local couple who has been mired in a lawsuit with their former disability providers, the ruling came as a reminder that in the end, love has not won for them in the eyes of the law. At least not yet.

About five weeks ago, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit dismissed an appeal that had been filed on behalf of Paul and Hava Forziano. The original lawsuit, which garnered national attention at the time, claimed that because neither of their nonprofit caretakers gave the married couple the facilities to live together, both organizations — Independent Group Home Living and Maryhaven — as well as the commissioner of the New York State Office of Persons with Developmental Disabilities discriminated against them under several statutes, including the Americans With Disabilities Act and the Fair Housing Act. The case was dismissed last March by U.S. Eastern District Court of New York Judge Leonard Wexler.

A panel of three judges recently agreed with the lower court.

Robert Briglio, one of two lawyers representing both families, said Monday that the plan is to file for a re-hearing of the case in the Second Circuit and, if all else fails, petition to be heard in front of the Supreme Court of the United States.

“Interestingly, some of the quotes from [Supreme Court Judge Anthony] Kennedy fit our clients perfectly,” said Mr. Briglio, pointing to the oft-quoted last paragraphs of last week’s majority opinion on same-sex marriage.

Mr. Briglio then quoted part of it: “‘In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than they once were.’ Nobody can tell you better than our clients that they are better together than they are trying to be independent. It’s just an unbelievable difference.”

Mr. Forziano, 32, has been diagnosed as being in the mild-to-moderate range of intellectual functioning, while Ms. Samuels, 38, is classified in the moderate range. She had been a client at Maryhaven while Mr. Forziano received his services through IGHL. Officials with both nonprofits declined to comment.

Judge Wexler stated in his March 2014 decision that the case was “not ripe for review” because the couple currently has housing together. After leaving their former providers, the two moved into an accessory unit in a group home run by the downtown-based East End Disabilities Associates on July 1, 2013.

Therefore, the judge stated, “there is no real case or controversy before the Court with respect to this case … the injury alleged by plaintiff must be ‘actual or imminent,’ not ‘conjectural’ or ‘hypothetical.’ ”

However, Mr. Forziano’s mother, Roseann, stated that “it’s unfair.” If the couple ever lost their housing, whether through the closure of EEDA or a merger with an organization that wouldn’t allow it, the two would have to live with her and her husband if they wanted to live together. And when the day comes that Roseann and her husband, Frank, die, she said, who knows what could come of Paul and Hava.

“IGHL doesn’t feel that people like Paul and Hava can have a true marriage, and there is nothing to challenge them on that,” she said. “So if you happen to end up in an agency that has that kind of attitude, they won’t be married. And the state won’t hold the agency to the fact that marriage is a civil right.”

Mr. Briglio hopes a decision about a re-hearing will be made within the next couple of months.