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Archbold-Garrett v. New Orleans City

United States Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit

June 22, 2018

LOURDES T. ARCHBOLD-GARRETT, wife of/ and; DAVID L. GARRETT, Plaintiffs-Appellants

          Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana

          Before KING, JONES, and GRAVES, Circuit Judges

          EDITH H. JONES, Circuit Judge

         Without prior notice, the City of New Orleans demolished a building along the IH-10 service road that plaintiffs had recently purchased at a tax sale. Yet two days before the demolition, the City actually cancelled the Code Enforcement lien on the property, which it obtained after sending notices only to the owner from 18 years earlier. When the Garretts objected to the demolition, the City added insult to injury by sending them a bill for the costs. Unsurprisingly, they filed suit. The question before this court is whether their lawsuit survives the City's motion to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1). We hold it does. We VACATE the district court's judgment and REMAND for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.


         The Garretts' Section 1983 complaint alleged violations of the Takings Clause of the Fifth Amendment, the Fourth Amendment, and the Fourteenth Amendment Due Process Clause.

         The property at issue is a parcel of land and a townhome that used to stand off of I-10 in New Orleans. The City had owned the property since 1998 after its previous owner, Charles Jett, neglected to pay his taxes. The City's ownership was recorded with the City Conveyance Office shortly thereafter. Notwithstanding its ownership, the City instituted housing Code Enforcement proceedings against Jett in 2012.

         The Appellants purchased the property from the City on October 2, 2015, and recorded the conveyance on October 14. They aver that the building on the property was structurally sound, and the purchase documents contain no warnings of defects (though the document makes no positive statement about the buildings and improvements either).

         Heedless of the sale to Appellants, or of its original tax sale purchase, the City continued to pursue Jett for alleged code enforcement deficiencies. An administrative judgment was entered against Jett on October 30, ordering him to pay over $12, 000 in fines and warning that the building could be demolished in the future. A judgment lien was recorded on the property on December 7, 2015. The Appellants were not named in the judgment or lien, and they received no notice from the City about the judgment or lien. All proceedings were against Jett, the pre-1998 owner.

         On January 15, 2016, the Appellants' realtor noticed a sign advising upcoming demolition of the property. When the realtor informed them of the sign, they contacted the City. After some back-and-forth with the Code Enforcement department, Appellants persuaded the City to cancel the lien against the property. The e-mail exchanges indicated that Appellants intended to develop the property and resolve all code enforcement issues. The lien was cancelled on January 25, 2016.

         Two days later, despite having cancelled the enforcement lien, the City demolished the townhouse on the Appellants' property. The Appellants had no warning.

         Appellants' counsel sent the City a letter on April 14 requesting compensation for the wrongful demolition. The City responded on April 19 with a bill exceeding $11, 000 for the demolition costs. The bill informed the Appellants of their "right to appeal the accuracy and reasonableness of these costs by appearing at a hearing." Plaintiffs did not appeal.

         The Appellants filed this civil rights case in federal court on October 28, 2016, alleging denial of due process and just compensation under the Fourth, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendments. The City moved to dismiss Appellants' complaint for lack of subject matter jurisdiction because their claims were unripe. The district court agreed that the Appellants' takings claim was jurisdictionally unripe because they failed to seek compensation in state court. The district court reasoned that the Appellants' failure to seek compensation in state court also meant that their intertwined procedural due process and Fourth Amendment claims were unripe. Following dismissal of their suit, the Appellants timely appealed.

         STANDARD ...

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