Connecticut's highest court on Friday sided with the town of Rocky Hill in a long-running legal dispute, ruling a privately operated nursing facility for state prisoners, parolees and mental health clients should not be considered an arm of the state and therefore should be subject to local zoning restrictions and paying local property taxes.
The state Supreme Court, in an advance decision posted on the Judicial Branch's website, overturned a lower court decision that said iCare Management LLC and its subsidiaries are an arm of the state, given their contract with the state. The high court sent the case back to the lower court.
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The court's decision sends a strong signal that such facilities should be subject to local property taxes and zoning regulations, said Kevin Maloney, a spokesman for the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities, which filed a brief in support of Rocky Hill, located just south of Hartford.
"The properties in question in Rocky Hill, those types of facilities, could exist in many other communities, and that is one of the reasons why CCM got involved heavily in the case," Maloney said.
Friday's decision stems from a lawsuit filed by Rocky Hill in 2012 seeking a ruling that local zoning regulations prohibited such a nursing home from operating in a residential neighborhood. The defendants filed a motion to dismiss, saying they were entitled to sovereign immunity. A trial court judge agreed, and the facility was allowed to open.
Attorney Jonathan M. Starble, who represents the nursing home, said Friday's court decision does not change the ultimate outcome of the case because the facility ultimately does comply with zoning rules in Rocky Hill, a town of about 20,000 residents.
"The Supreme Court has now concluded that the nursing home is subject to local zoning regulations. This nursing home complies with the Rocky Hill zoning regulations," Starble wrote, adding how the town previously acknowledged the home had complied.
But the Rocky Hill town attorney, Morris Borea, said it should now be up to the local planning and zoning board to decide whether the facility, at the site of a nursing home that became vacant, meets regulations.
"We now have a case set up to hear whether they do comply with zoning," Borea said.
He said the original nursing home had been grandfathered as a non-conforming use. But he contends that status was surrendered when the old facility closed. He said the new nursing home is a different type of entity given the potential security risks and police services the town must provide.
The project has sparked strong opposition from residents of Rocky Hill, called "a wonderful location for families and businesses to grow" on the town's website. Lawyers said some of the clients at the home include people listed on the state's sex offender registry.
State officials announced plans in December 2012 to build a 95-bed, specialized nursing home for severely disabled prisoners and mentally ill patients in Rocky Hill. The project was designed to save the state money because the federal government would pay for half their care in such facilities.