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Judge throws out part of suit on foster kids

The association now has 20 days to clarify its claim that the Gourlays violated deed restrictions or drop the suit.

By CARY DAVIS, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published January 7, 2003


NEW PORT RICHEY -- The Gourlays might be on their way to winning their fight to continue raising foster children in a deed-restricted Port Richey subdivision.

Late Monday, a Pasco circuit judge threw out the portion of a lawsuit, filed in state court in October by the Forest Lake Estates Civic Association, that claims that Steven and Corinna Gourlay violated deed restrictions by taking in five people "not related . . . by blood or marriage."

Circuit Judge Stanley Mills ruled that the lawsuit failed to specifically allege that the five children are not part of a "single family" living in the Gourlays' house. The lawsuit does not describe the relationship between the Gourlays and the children.

"Based on the wording of the complaint," Mills wrote in his two-page order, "the five persons in question could be adoptees or have some other legal relationship with the (Gourlays) that might entitle them to the status of membership in the single family . . ."

The judge's ruling does not end the case. Mills gave association attorney Donald Peyton 20 days to either amend the complaint and specifically state why he thinks the children violate deed restrictions or to drop the matter.

Peyton could not be reached for comment Monday about his plans for the lawsuit.

However, in a separate hearing in Tampa federal court on Monday, Peyton indicated that he might voluntarily dismiss the portion of the lawsuit that relates to the foster children, according to Paul Rebein, an attorney for the Gourlays. But first, Peyton said, he wants to take depositions to determine whether the Gourlays are licensed foster parents with legal custody of the children, according to Rebein.

State records show that the Gourlays are licensed foster parents who receive $2,000 a month to care for the children.

The Gourlays, with the backing of the American Civil Liberties Union, have countersued the Forest Lake Estates Civic Association in federal court, claiming a violation of federal and state fair housing laws.

Corinna Gourlay said there was no need for Peyton to further prolong the association's lawsuit with depositions and more litigation. If he wants the matter to go away, she said, he can simply ask to see her foster care license. He could have done that before filing a lawsuit, she said.

"He can come to the door, and I'll show it to him," she said. "I even carry little cards in my wallet."

A federal appeals court has ruled that foster children qualify as members of a familial unit under fair housing laws.

The Florida Attorney General's Office is backing the Gourlays in the dispute. State lawyers say the civic association violated fair housing laws by discriminating against the couple and their foster children.

In addition to the foster care issue, the Gourlays still face other legal action. Judge Mills let the association's lawsuit proceed Monday on grounds alleging that the Gourlays, who also have four biological children, violated deed restrictions by erecting unspecified structures in the backyard without approval.

The Gourlays say the structures in question are a swing set and a partially buried boat hull that serves as a sand box. The Gourlays say they removed the boat hull Friday.

Said Rebein, the Gourlays' lawyer: "We're pleased with the court's decision. We've asserted from the beginning that this claim should be dismissed, and we're happy that the judge agreed with us."

But Rebein said he was not prepared to dismiss the federal discrimination case against the civic association.

"They violated the Gourlays' rights by . . . filing the lawsuit," Rebein said. "The Gourlays have been damaged."

The Gourlays said recently that they were thinking of moving out of Forest Lake Estates. Corinna Gourlay said Monday that she was "happy about Mills' decision," but she is prepared for the fight to continue.

"I'm still going to be on guard," she said.

-- Cary Davis covers courts in west Pasco County. He can be reached in west Pasco at 869-6236, or toll-free at 1-800-333-7505, ext. 6236. His e-mail address is cbdavis@sptimes.com .

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