New Orleans takes a wrecking ball to a couple’s constitutional rights
October 23, 2017
New Orleans, Louisiana; October 23, 2017: 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 had been given no notice—and they didn’t receive a penny in compensation.
Incredibly, the only person who was sent any notice was a long-gone former owner who lost the building to the city 18 years earlier in a tax sale.
To add insult to injury, when the Garretts complained about the demolition of their building, the city hit them with a bill for $11,000 for the cost of razing it.
The Garretts have brought a constitutional challenge to these abuses of their fundamental property rights and due process rights. Their case is now before the Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, where they are represented free of charge by Pacific Legal Foundation.
“New Orleans took a wrecking ball to the Garretts’ rights, and demolished their dreams in the process,” said PLF Senior Attorney J. David Breemer.
“Their experience was straight out of Kafka,” he said. “They woke up to find their building demolished through a city condemnation process in which they were never named, involved, or notified.
“The city not only failed to reimburse them, it had the gall to charge them for reducing their building to dust,” he continued. “The court must right these wrongs.”
“My wife and I bought this building intending either to upgrade it and rent it out, or sell it quickly,” said Mr. Garrett. “But we didn’t have time to make our decision. We were blindsided by the city. 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. We are asking the courts to give us justice and teach the city it can’t treat anyone this way.”
An important issue in the case is access to justice: May property owners sue to vindicate their constitutional rights in federal court without going to state court first? The Garretts filed in federal court because New Orleans has a long history of not paying financial judgments awarded by state courts. “The federal courts should be open to every American who has suffered a constitutional wrong,” said Breemer. “The Constitution’s protections for property rights are among its most important guarantees, and federal courts cannot take a back seat in enforcing them.”
“Pacific Legal Foundation defends individual liberty, including the right to due process and reimbursement when government destroys private property,” said PLF President and CEO Steven D. Anderson. “This case illustrates PLF’s vigilance and determination in fighting to secure these fundamental principles.”
The case is Garrett v. New Orleans. More information can be found at: pacificlegal.org/NewOrleans.
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Pacific Legal Foundation is a national nonprofit legal organization that defends Americans threatened by government overreach and abuse. Since our founding in 1973, we challenge the government when it violates individual liberty and constitutional rights. With active cases in 34 states plus Washington, D.C., PLF represents clients in state and federal courts, with 17 wins of 19 cases litigated at the U.S. Supreme Court.