Court of Appeals releases Opinion on Charlestown, Pleasant Ridge – Statements from City and Institute for Justice

Pleasant Ridge and Institute for Justice, City of Charlestown differ on interpretations of COA Opinion.

Read the Complete Court of Appeals Opinion Here (PDF)

Statement from City of Charlestown Regarding Preliminary Injunction in Pleasant Ridge Case Reversed by Court of Appeals

Today the Indiana Court of Appeals handed the City of Charlestown, Indiana a legal victory by reversing a Preliminary Injunction issued in December, 2017 by special judge Jason Mount in a case brought by the Pleasant Ridge Neighborhood Association against the City of Charlestown, Indiana. In that case the plaintiff alleged that the City’s methods of enforcing its Property Maintenance Code violated the equal protection clauses of the U.S. Constitution and Indiana Constitution, as well as provisions of the State’s Unsafe Building Law. The Court of appeals reversed that order.

Reversal of the Preliminary Injunction means that the City is free to continue enforcing its Property Maintenance Code and that the court-imposed limits on issuing, collecting, and waiving fines are no longer in effect.

The Institute for Justice, an out-of-town special interest group which is helping defray the legal expenses of the Plaintiffs, has issued a press release mischaracterizing the effect of the court’s ruling – completely ignoring the fact that the Court of Appeals reversed the Preliminary Injunction by rejected the Plaintiff’s equal protections claims. Likewise, their press release incorrectly indicates that the City has forced property owners out of their homes – which is simply untrue. Unfortunately, such mis-statements are not uncommon with this group. Other erroneous statements are that the the city is using eminent domain and evicting people or kicking people from their homes. Neither of these things have ever happened even though there has misleading statements and news stories to the contrary.

The City looks forward to continuing within the law to redevelopment of the Pleasant Ridge neighborhood. The reduction in crime, drug activity, animal bites, and other problems that has occurred over the last year are expected to continue.

Institute for Justice Response to Statement by City of Charlestown

The city’s attempt to spin today’s decision as a win is just that: spin. The city has lost on everything. Mayor Hall cannot point to a single legal argument that the city has won. Only by the city’s backwards logic does an unbroken string of losses amount to a victory. The Homeowners have won again and they will continue to win because they have the law and justice in their side.

The appeals court did not even rule on the city’s appeal, let alone rule in its favor. The court only ruled on the residents’ appeal and it ruled in their favor.

Unfortunately, from time to time, lawsuits get complicated. In this case, the mayor has used the complicated nature of the decision to claim a victory where one is not present.

Here is what happened:

The resident’s lawsuit makes four arguments against the city’s use of its zoning code to drive people out of Pleasant Ridge. Two alleged that the city is violating its residents constitutional rights to due process and equal protection. Another argued that the city violated it’s own ordinances. The fourth argues that the city is in violation of a state law call the Unsafe Building Law (UBL), which lays out how cities are supposed to apply their building codes. To win their suit, the residents only needed to win one of the four arguments.

In 2017, a district court judge ruled that the city was violating the Constitutional rights of its residents and the protections for them in city law—the first three claims. But he also ruled that the UBL did not prevent the city from enacting its own building code. So, by winning three of the four arguments, the residents of Pleasant Ridge won.

The city of Charlestown appealed the decision regarding the resident’s Constitutional rights and their rights under the ordinance. At the same time, the residents argued that they should also be protected by UBL, which would mean that they would win all four arguments against the city.

Today, the appeals court ruled that the UBL does prohibit Charlestown from using egregious fines that accumulate daily. The resident’s won their fourth argument. Importantly, the court did not grant the city’s appeal, and the remaining three arguments—that the city was violating the residents constitutional rights—still stand.

For technical reasons, the appeals court has now instructed the district court to incorporate today’s decision into its previous ruling in favor of the residents. To do that, it needed to lift the original preliminary injunction that was only based on constitutional principles so that the lower court can rewrite it to incorporate this additional win.

The effect of all of this is that the appeals court has handed the residents a 4-0 victory over the city.

Original Press Release from Institute for Justice

City of Charlestown Pleasant Ridge Redevelopment Plan

December 2017 Findings of Fact and Conclusion of Law by Judge Mount, Special Judge for Pleasant Ridge Neighborhood v. City of Charlestown (Appealed Order)

WFPL: The Complex Story of Redevelopment in Pleasant Ridge

Indiana Lawyer: COA Overturns Injunction against Charlestown

This story will be updated.

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