US Court of Appeals, 5th Circuit, No. 11-50333, May 31, 2012: Time gap between historic building demolition order and demolition raises question of fact requiring trial, not summary judgment, on 4th amendment claim of unreasonable seizures and 14th Amendment procedural due process claim.
In 2008 the City of San Antonio demolished a building of some historic value. The City notified a person who turned out no longer to own the property, who informed the City the property had been transferred. The City did not notify the then-current owner and failed to search the registry of deeds to identify the owner. The building was declared a “clear and imminent danger to the life, safety, and/or property necessitating an immediate demolition.” Nine days elapsed between nine days between inspection and demolition. The demolition proceeded despite the fact that when the demolition crew arrived at the property, a contractor was in the process of preparing foundation repairs. In 2006 the City had determined the property to be an imminent danger “for largely the same reasons justifying the 2008 demolition” but did not proceed “in part because the City informed the Property’s then-owner of the deficiencies, and he made repairs significant enough to forestall demolition.”
The US district court granted summary judgment to the property owner and a jury awarded damages. The City appealed.
The Appeals Court, reviewing the facts de novo, found that it was error for the district court to have granted summary judgment because a reasonable interpretation of the facts would allow for competing conclusions. On the one hand, the nine-day gap between the demolition order and its execution suggests that there may have been abuse of discretion on the part of the City. On the other hand, a fact finder could reasonably find that the fact that the property was damaged and the inspectors “conducted a reasonably thorough investigation”, plus the view that “the City arguably adhered to the Ordinance” outweigh any evidence of procedural unreasonableness. Accordingly the Court remanded for further proceedings.
Decision available at http://www.ca5.uscourts.gov/opinions/unpub/11/11-50333.0.wpd.pdf.