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The Metro Atlanta Task Force for the Homeless Releases New Univ. Lawsuit Documents

By Jordan Friedman Posted: 11/14/2011
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The Metro Atlanta Task Force for the Homeless recently made public a series of emails exchanged among Emory Healthcare officials dating back to 2007, which Task Force officials said serve as direct evidence in its lawsuit accusing Emory University and Healthcare of establishing plans to sabotage the Peachtree Pine Homeless Shelter. Meanwhile, the University and Emory Healthcare have filed a “Motion to Dismiss” the charges filed against them.

As previously reported in an Oct. 14 Wheel article, the Task Force filed suit against the University and Emory Healthcare on Oct. 11, presenting a claim that Emory has attempted to interfere with the Homeless Shelter’s business and contractual relations since its inception in 1997.

A complaint filed by The Murray Law Firm, LLC, states that Emory University and Healthcare engaged in “deceptive, covert and malicious actions” designed to drive the Task Force from the Peachtree Pine building.

The University has since denied its involvement in any plans to cut funding from the Peachtree Pine building.

Lance Skelly, director of media relations for Emory Hospitals and Wesley Woods Center, wrote in an email to the Wheel that “any contention or statement that Emory is unconcerned with the community is, therefore, without any basis whatsoever.”

Released Documents

Charles Steffen, a member of the Task Force board of directors, wrote in an email to the Wheel that in the Task Force’s initial lawsuits against the City of Atlanta, Central Atlanta Progress, the Atlanta Downtown Improvement District and several other corporate entities, Task Force officials had asked Emory to provide them with “any and all documents in its possession related to the charges made in our cases.” The Task Force had not filed suit against Emory at that time.

The University and Emory Healthcare provided thousands of internal documents, according to Steffen, but only on the condition that the documents would remain under seal.

“We agreed to this stipulation because Emory was not then a named defendant in any of the suits and because we were very eager to see the full scope of the conspiracy against us,” Steffen wrote.

Steffen additionally noted that these documents “turned out to be highly incriminating and left little doubt that Emory was an active and eager party to the conspiracy from the beginning.”

The documents, he explained, are no longer under seal because they have been introduced as exhibits in the Task Force’s federal suit against the city.

Steffen and Anita Beaty, executive director of the Metro Atlanta Task Force for the Homeless, both mentioned that they believe these documents clearly demonstrate Emory’s role in sabotaging Peachtree Pine and attempting to cut its business and contractual relations.

“These extraordinarily damning materials show some of the ways in which Emory has engaged in a pattern of tortious interference and defamation against the Task Force, the two charges that university officials claimed were without ‘merit,’” Steffen wrote.

Beaty similarly commented that these documents as “the tip of the iceberg.”

“They show how long Emory officials have been trying to damage the Task Force in order to get homeless men off Peachtree Street,” she wrote in an email.

In an Emory Healthcare statement available on its website, Skelly wrote that the claims against the University and Emory Healthcare by the Task Force “have no merit” and that Emory plans to defend them “vigorously in court.”

Skelly explained in his email to the Wheel that recently shared internal communications “provide an insight into Emory’s desire that our neighbors residing in the Metro Atlanta Task Force for the Homeless have access to a robust array of important services and accommodations that are offered at many shelters around the country.”

In “Exhibit 2” of the recently released email correspondences — which were provided by Emory Healthcare — Albert Blackwelder, chief operating officer (COO) of Emory’s Wesley Woods Center, wrote in a 2007 email to four top executives at Emory Healthcare that he and two other individuals had previously spoken with Dan Cathy regarding Peachtree Pine Shelter. Cathy was at the time one of the Task Force’s largest private donors, according to Steffen.

The email from Blackwelder states, “[We] went to talk with Dan Cathy yesterday about our concerns with the operation of this shelter and the disservice they provide the community both neighbors and the hom[e]less themselves. Dan Cathy has given money to the shelter and even volunteers there including staying overnight there. We hopefully made an impression that there is another side to this operation that he might not be aware of ... The effort is to both shut off public funding to the shelter and to try and impact private funding as well, hence the vis[i]t to Dan Cathy.”

Blackwelder denied to personally comment on the matter.

The next three exhibits in the newly released documents are from 2009.

According to Steffen, the “conspiracy had taken a new turn” at that time because the parties involved were attempting to not solely cut off funding but also to “drive us into default and obtain the property at Peachtree Pine.

“What we are seeing in the next three exhibits is the making of a conspiracy to acquire these notes, put the Task Force in default and foreclose on the building,” Steffen wrote. “And Emory is right in the middle of this conspiracy.”

When reached by email, Peterson denied personal comment.

In “Exhibit 20,” A.J. Robinson, president of Central Atlanta Progress, Inc. wrote that he was “trying to pull together a brief meeting to discuss the future of certain property on Peachtree Street.” The email was addressed to Dane Peterson, COO of Emory University Hospital Midtown, among others.

In an email from Robinson to Peterson as part of “Exhibit 21,” Robinson states that Atlanta investor Manny Fialkow was willing to “foreclose and kick them [Peachtree] out,” but notes that he is entitled to a “discount.”

Peterson responded in an email to Robinson that Fiakow could purchase the notes for the full $900,000 after which Emory would reimburse him $100,000.

“Exhibit 22,” which features an email from Fialkow to Peterson, laid out a possible way of structuring a deal with Emory.

The email states, “Structure will likely be a new LLC to be formed at closing on the purchase of any new property. The members will have an interest that is equal in percentage to their respective allotment of amount invested/loaned.”

“The final email from that very man, Manny Fialkow, to Dane Peterson, is evidence of their close relationship in the deal to ‘get’ the Peachtree Pine Building,” Beaty explained.

Motion to Dismiss

Emory filed a “Motion to Dismiss” on Nov. 10, which, according to Skelly, the court will now consider. He said there is no particular timeline as to when this will occur.

The motion, provided by Emory Healthcare, states that the “MATF [Metro Atlanta Task Force] has failed to state a claim upon which relief can be granted and has failed to plead with particularity.” Such claims were disclosed more fully in a memorandum.

“At most, the Task Force can only show that the City of Atlanta and its officers intentionally interfered with the Task Force’s business relationships because they did not approve of the Task Force’s operation of the homeless shelter and its impact on the city,” the memorandum explains. “The Task Force cannot prove that the City of Atlanta was motivated by its own pecuniary gain.”

Steffen wrote he believes that the newly released email correspondences demonstrate that Emory is helping fund the conspiracy.

“By enacting ‘quality-of-life’ ordinances that effectively criminalize the condition of being homeless, by creating a homeless service delivery system that channels homeless people from the downtown area to supportive housing facilities on the city’s periphery ... the city’s corporate and political leaders believe that the central city will become a privileged zone of high-end consumption,” Steffen wrote.

The Emory memorandum also asserts that the Task Force’s accusations regarding damaging its business relations and reputations “are state law tort claims barred by sovereign immunity under the Georgia Constitution.”

— Contact Jordan Friedman.

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