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Rester v. City of El Dorado

United States District Court, W.D. Arkansas, El Dorado Division

January 11, 2017

SHARMON RESTER PLAINTIFF
v.
CITY OF EL DORADO, an incorporated Body through Mayor Frank Hash in his Official Capacity as Mayor and the City Council In their Individual Official Capacity as the City Council of El Dorado[1]DEFENDANT

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Susan O. Hickey United States District Judge

         Before the Court is Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment. ECF No. 38. Plaintiff has responded. ECF No. 42. Defendant has filed a reply. ECF No. 44. The Court finds this matter ripe for its consideration.

         BACKGROUND

         On August 7, 2015, Plaintiff Sharmon Rester filed this action seeking a declaratory judgment and preliminary and permanent injunctive relief against Defendant, the City of El Dorado.[2] Plaintiff claims that Defendant violated his due process and equal protection rights under the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution. (ECF No. 1, ¶ 11).[3] These claims, however, have been narrowed so that Plaintiff is currently alleging only a procedural due process claim under the Fourteenth Amendment. ECF No. 34, p. 3.

         This case involves two properties located at 304-308 Robinson Street and 1005 Pecan Street in El Dorado, Arkansas. Plaintiff is the owner of the Pecan Street property. On August 15, 2013, Defendant's Code Enforcement Officer, Kirby Craig, sent a certified letter to Plaintiff stating that a structure on the Pecan Street property was found to be a “fire/health hazard unsafe and/or a public nuisance.” ECF No. 38-2, p. 4. The letter further stated that the “building [was] in immediate need of repair and maintenance” and that Plaintiff had thirty days “to make the building . . . habitable, secure, structurally sound, and brought up to the current Codes that shall apply, or remove [the building] and clean up all the debris from the premises.” ECF No. 38-2, p. 4. The letter informed Plaintiff that “[i]f action [was] not taken the matter [would be] turned over to the City Council of El Dorado for Condemnation.” ECF No. 38-2, p. 4. Plaintiff's wife signed for the letter on August 15, 2013. Plaintiff, however, maintains that he never saw the letter.

         On October 24, 2013, the City Council passed a resolution condemning the Pecan Street structure based on its deficiencies. ECF No. 38-2, p. 6. Plaintiff received actual notice of this resolution via mail, ECF No. 38-1 pp. 14-15, 18-19. Additionally, notice was posted on the structure located on the Pecan Street property and published in the local newspaper. ECF No. 38-2, ¶. 5. After Plaintiff received notice of the resolution, he spoke to Kirby Craig about working to improve the property. After this conversation, at least one year passed without Plaintiff taking any action to “fix” the property. ECF No. 38-2, ¶ 6. Defendant then razed the structure located on the Pecan Street property. On June 1, 2015, Plaintiff entered into an agreement with Defendant to pay for half of the costs Defendant incurred in demolishing the structure.

         On August 7, 2015, Plaintiff filed the current lawsuit alleging that his Fourteenth Amendment rights were violated by Defendant because he “was not afforded an opportunity to be heard . . . or [given] notice for [the] actions of condemnation and the subsequent demolition of [his] property.” ECF No. 1, ¶ 11. Defendant, however, argues that it is entitled to summary judgment regarding the Pecan Street property.

         At some point during this litigation, Plaintiff indicated that he was also making a procedural due process claim regarding a second property located at 304-308 Robinson Street. The Robinson Street property is titled in the name of Lois Bailey, who is Plaintiff's mother. On February 6, 2014, a certified letter was sent to Bailey notifying her that a structure located on the Robinson Street property had been found to be a “fire/health hazard, deemed unsafe and/or a public nuisance due to abandonment or neglect.” ECF No. 38-2, p. 18. The letter further stated that if the unsafe conditions regarding the structure were not abated, the matter would be submitted to the City Council for condemnation proceedings. The letter, however, was returned “unclaimed.” ECF No. 38-2, p. 19.

         The Robinson Street property was condemned by the City Council via a resolution passed on June 17, 2014. The resolution was posted on the structures located at 304-308 Robinson Street, and notice of the resolution was published in a local newspaper. Bailey is not a party to the present lawsuit, and the City has not razed any structure located on the Robinson Street property. Plaintiff argues that his procedural due process rights were violated because the property was condemned without affording him notice of the condemnation proceedings and an opportunity to be heard. Defendant, however, argues that Plaintiff's claim regarding this property should be dismissed because Plaintiff is not the legal owner of the Robinson Street property and does not have standing to bring a claim regarding this property.

         DISCUSSION

         The Court will first address the preliminary issue of whether Plaintiff has standing to bring his procedural due process claim regarding the Robinson Street property. The Court will then address Defendant's argument that it is entitled to summary judgment regarding the Pecan Street property.

         A. Standing

         The complaint does not refer to any specific property at issue. Instead, the complaint refers generically to “Plaintiff's property.” During discovery, Plaintiff clarified that two El Dorado, Arkansas properties are at issue in this case: 1005 Pecan Street and 304-308 Robinson Street. Defendant asserts that Plaintiff lacks standing to bring claims regarding 304-308 Robinson Street because he does not own this property.

         Standing is “assessed under the facts existing when the complaint is filed.” Lujan v. Defenders of Wildlife, 504 U.S. 560, 569 n. 4 (1992). The Supreme Court has ...


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