Andrew Wimer
Andrew Wimer · May 22, 2023

ARLINGTON, Va.—Late Friday, the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals issued a decision that revives a lawsuit against the Shelby County Environmental Court. Sarah Hohenberg and Joseph Hanson both lost their homes after being sued in the Environmental Court. The two fought back with the Institute for Justice (IJ), claiming that their rights under the U.S. Constitution had been violated because of the court’s deficient procedures.

“We are pleased that the 6th Circuit recognized that federal courts have the authority to hear challenges against local governments when they create judicial systems that violate people’s constitutional rights,” said IJ Attorney Keith Neely. “The Environmental Court destroyed Sarah’s and Joseph’s lives, and now they will finally have an opportunity to be heard.”

Though Shelby County established the Environmental Court to clean up abandoned properties, it now hears cases involving people’s homes. Worse yet, it does not function like a court at all; its ever-changing goalposts and multiyear proceedings left both Sarah and Joseph homeless and without anything to their names. In Sarah’s case, when she refused to sign over her home to a “receiver,” the court issued a warrant for her arrest and she became a fugitive from the law.

“I vowed that I would do whatever it takes to hold the Environmental Court responsible for the decade of torture they put me through,” said Sarah. “I’m grateful that we get to carry on this fight for justice.”

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