Paul and Hava Forziano, mentally disabled couple, take housing case to federal appeals panel

Paul Forziano kisses his bride, Hava Samuels, after Paul Forziano kisses his bride, Hava Samuels, after the disabled couple was wed in a ceremony in Wading River. (April 7, 2013) Photo Credit: Newsday / John Paraskevas

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Two people with mental disabilities who sued the state and their group homes for the right to live together after getting married are appealing after a federal judge threw out their case.

Paul and Hava Forziano and their parents filed suit in January 2013 in federal court in Central Islip after their group homes -- run by Independent Group Home Living Program and Maryhaven Center of Hope -- both refused to house the couple together after their April 2013 marriage.

The suit named the two nonprofit agencies along with New York State and the commissioner of the New York State Office of Persons with Developmental Disabilities, alleging violations of the Fair Housing Act, the Americans With Disabilities Act, the due process and Equal Protection clauses of the 14th Amendment, and New York's mental-hygiene law.

After the suit was filed, the state found a home for the now-married couple at East End Disability Associates in Riverhead, where they live together in their own apartment attached to a group home.

But the family opted to continue with the suit, arguing that the state needed to require that all group homes for the mentally disabled allow for married couples to live together.

The parents said they also were concerned that Paul and Hava could one day be separated if they ever had to move out of their apartment and into a different group home.

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"If East End Disability should not exist for whatever reason, where do Paul and Hava go?" said Paul's mother, Roseann Forziano.

The family is appealing after U.S. District Court Judge Leonard D. Wexler dismissed the case in March.

"Plaintiffs have failed to demonstrate that defendants discriminated against them due to Paul and Hava's disabilities," Wexler wrote in his decision.

He also ruled that it was only "speculation and conjecture" that Paul and Hava might one day not be able to live at East End Disability, and that to issue a permanent injunction "to prevent alleged harm that Paul and Hava may or may not suffer in the future" was inappropriate.

IGHL did not respond to a request for comment, and the state attorney general's office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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A spokeswoman for Catholic Health Services, of which Maryhaven Center of Hope is a member, said the agency would have no comment due to ongoing litigation.

Last month, the couple and their parents filed an appeal in the federal Second Circuit Court of Appeals. Martin Coleman, one of the attorneys litigating the case, said that Wexler did not address all of the claims made in the suit.

"We believe the court made some significant errors," he said.

Coleman said he expected the appeals court to issue an order setting a schedule for briefs in the case in three months.

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