David and Lourdes Garrett had ambitious plans to renovate a dilapidated townhouse that they bought from the city of New Orleans. But their dream turned into a nightmare when—barely four months after they purchased the building—the city suddenly sent a wrecking crew and demolished it. The Garretts were stunned. They received no notice, no hearing, and no compensation. A federal district court dismissed claims the city violated their constitutional protections against property takings, due process failure, and unreasonable seizure. PLF won an appeal in federal circuit court which vacated the earlier ruling and said all of the Garretts’ claims can and should be heard in federal district court.
When David and Lourdes Garrett purchased a neglected townhouse from the city of New Orleans in 2015, they had plans to renovate it and rent it out. But they never had a chance. Approximately four months after the acquisition, the city demolished the building. It provided the Garretts with no prior notice, hearing, or opportunity to repair.
“We were blindsided by the city,” David Garrett said. “You deserve at least a phone call or letter from the government—and an opportunity for a hearing—before it sends over a bulldozer. The city’s failure to contact us was simply outrageous.”
The city’s actions are unconscionable since the Garretts’ interests were easily ascertainable and indeed, obvious, given the Garretts’ recent and recorded purchase from the city itself. Yet, the only notices and hearings prior to demolition went to a long gone owner, whose ownership ended when the city took possession in 1998.
When the Garretts protested the demolition of their property, the city responded by sending an $11,000 bill for the cost.
The Garretts have brought a constitutional challenge to these abuses of their constitutional protections against due process failures, property takings, and unreasonable search and seizure. Representing the Garretts free of charge, PLF took their case to the Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. On June 22, 2018, the appeals court reversed the earlier judgement saying all of their claims can and should be heard in federal district court.
This decision clarifies that property rights are not second-class rights in federal court but are instead worthy of prompt federal judicial protection—a conclusion that has (unfortunately) often eluded other federal courts.