Dallas—Yesterday evening, the Institute for Justice, working on behalf of Hinga Mbogo and his Ross Avenue business, filed a countersuit against the City of Dallas’ efforts to force Hinga’s Automotive off the property it has occupied for thirty years. IJ also asked the court to dismiss the city’s attempt to collect upwards of $300,000 in fines from Hinga, even though the ordinance the city alleges he is violating explicitly limits fines to a maximum of $2,000 total. IJ’s filings came in response to a suit filed by the city that sought to force Hinga Mbogo to stop fixing cars on the land he owns and impose fines of up to $1,000 per day, dating back to August 2015.
The city’s lawsuit follows an April city council meeting where the councilmembers voted to deny Hinga’s Automotive a Specific Use Permit, hoping that with him gone the city would attract retail establishments like “Starbucks and Macaroni Grill,” as one city councilmember explained during the meeting (even though neither business has expressed any desire to take advantage of Dallas’ land grab).
“What Dallas is doing here is seeking to punish an entrepreneur for doing what the Texas Constitution says he can do,” said William Maurer, a senior attorney at the Institute for Justice. “Under the Texas Constitution, the government cannot take a legal business and make it illegal unless it has a compelling reason. Pushing a beloved local business out so the city can attract more chain restaurants is not a legitimate reason, much less a compelling one.”
In 2005, Dallas changed the zoning along Ross Avenue to make operating an auto mechanic shop illegal. The city gave Hinga a certain amount of time to close up shop to make way for the city-approved businesses. But Hinga has fought the city’s attempt to push him out for businesses favored by city planners for the past 11 years. This April, his time ran out when the city denied his request to stay for an additional two years where he built his business .
Unlike eminent domain, where the city would have to at least pay him market value for his property, when the government retroactively changes a zoning law—a process formally known as “amortization”—the city does not compensate the property owner. Instead, the city gives the owner a limited amount of time to either sell the property or “come into compliance” with the zoning change. “Coming into compliance” means either ending his current business and replacing it with another or even tearing down his building and putting something else there.
Tens of thousands of people have rallied in support of Hinga. An online petition on Change.org has been signed by more than 90,000 people. The petition states that using “zoning laws to destroy small businesses is wrong.”