On Friday afternoon, the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed a lawsuit challenging an ordinance that Granite City, Illinois, used to make hundreds of low-income families homeless. Under the ordinance, the city would force private landlords to evict entire households if any member was charged with a felony anywhere within city limits.
The Institute for Justice (IJ) represents two victims of Granite City’s compulsory-eviction law. For years, Debi Brumit and Andy Simpson lived in a private rental home in the city. In 2019, however, one of Debi’s adult daughters was arrested within city limits for trying to steal a van. Debi and Andy had nothing to do with the crime. They did not know the crime had happened. Debi’s daughter did not even live with them. But because the daughter sometimes spent time in their home, Granite City officials ordered the couple’s landlord to evict them—along with two of Debi’s grandchildren (at the time, a toddler and an infant). Only after IJ secured a temporary restraining order against the city were Debi and Andy able to stay in their home.
“We’re disappointed in the court’s ruling that our rights were never violated,” said Debi. “Granite City victimized Andy and me and my grandchildren for months just because my daughter did something wrong somewhere in city limits. That came with real costs for us, it was wrong, and we thought the courts would set it right.”
Last September, the district court held that the ordinance was perfectly lawful as a tool of “crime deterrence and prevention.” Debi and Andy appealed that decision to the Seventh Circuit, arguing that Granite City’s experiment with collective punishment violated the U.S. Constitution.
Rather than ruling on the merits of the couple’s constitutional claims, the Seventh Circuit last week held that their claims could not be decided and that their case should be dismissed. In the court’s view, Debi’s and Andy’s rights were never violated because they were never actually forced from their home.
Together with IJ, Debi and Andy are evaluating options to seek further review of the Seventh Circuit’s decision.
“The Constitution prohibits the ‘guilt by association’ inherent in Granite City’s enforcement of its compulsory-eviction law,” said IJ Senior Attorney Sam Gedge. “That Debi and Andy were fortunate enough to get a temporary restraining order that let them stay in their home does not mean they weren’t harmed by Granite City’s unconstitutional enforcement. Their rights were violated the moment the city ordered their landlord to evict them for a crime they did not commit, and the federal courts absolutely have the power and obligation to vindicate those rights.”
IJ is a nonprofit, public interest law firm that defends property rights nationwide. In a lawsuit against New York City, IJ ended a decades-long policy of forcing households to exclude family members from their homes. In a class action against the city of Philadelphia, IJ put a stop to a similar practice by the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office in coercing property owners to waive constitutional rights.