Charlestown, Ind.—The homeowners in Charlestown’s Pleasant Ridge neighborhood will see Charlestown Mayor Robert Hall and his staff in court on November 12, 2019 for the start of a five-day trial on the homeowners’ claims that the city violated their constitutional rights. Yesterday, Judge Jason M. Mount of Scott County, sitting by special designation in Clark County, ordered the parties to trial next month.
The homeowners, represented by the public interest law firm Institute for Justice (IJ), will prove that the city violated—and continues to violate—their due process and equal protection rights by favoring developer John Neace over ordinary property owners. Since autumn 2016, Neace has been buying homes in the historic Pleasant Ridge neighborhood as part of a plan with the city to replace all existing homes and residents with fancier homes and wealthier residents. Neace now owns approximately 200 of the 350 properties in the neighborhood. The evidence will establish that the city has used its property maintenance code to fine property owners, including plaintiff Pleasant Ridge Neighborhood Association, to compel sales to Neace.
Judge Mount indicated in a 2017 proceeding that such a scheme would likely be unconstitutional. The upcoming trial will be the homeowners’ opportunity to put forward their evidence once again and seek a final judgment.
“The city’s brazen effort to replace Pleasant Ridge’s modest homes and lower-income homeowners will come to an end in Judge Mount’s courtroom,” said IJ Senior Attorney Anthony Sanders. IJ has represented the homeowners since filing suit in January 2017.
“This trial comes on the heels of findings by Judge Mount and the Indiana Court of Appeals that Charlestown violated city and state law in trying to force home sales to Neace,” added IJ Senior Attorney Jeff Rowes. “The U.S. and Indiana Constitutions don’t allow the city to use code enforcement to cleanse a neighborhood of ordinary Americans doing their best to raise their families.”
The city first partnered with Neace in 2014, then seeking millions from the state of Indiana to subsidize the bulldozing of Pleasant Ridge and its replacement with a subdivision like Norton Commons outside Louisville. When the city council torpedoed that effort following public outcry, Mayor Hall doubled down in 2016, launching a wave of code enforcement designed to force homeowners to sell to Neace for his asking price of $10,000.
“This trial will show the truth of what the city has done to us, of what it has been like to have to fight every day just to keep the city from destroying your home, and that truth will set us free,” said plaintiff and City Councilwoman Tina Barnes. Tina owns a home in Pleasant Ridge where she cares for her disabled adult daughter and raises her two granddaughters.
The trial is scheduled to begin at 9:00 a.m. on Tuesday, November 12, 2019 at the Clark County Courthouse, 501 East Court Avenue, Jeffersonville, IN 47130.