Appeals court revives lawsuit against 'Environmental Court' that took residents' homes


A decision from an appeals court has resurrected a lawsuit against the Shelby, Tennessee, County Environmental Court, which issued decisions that have taken homes away from at least two people, leaving them bankrupt and on the streets.

The Institute for Justice has announced that the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals released a ruling reviving the claims 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, 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,” explained lawyer Keith Neely.

“The Environmental Court destroyed Sarah’s and Joseph’s lives, and now they will finally have an opportunity to be heard.”

While the county set up the process to clean up abandoned properties, it expanded its own jurisdiction to hear disputes over occupied homes.

But even worse, it doesn’t operate at a court, allowing the rules to be changed at will, accepting hearsay as testimony, and more.

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“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,” the legal team said.

WND reported when the fight developed that the city assigned the court to rule against homeowners regarding the condition of their homes.

In both of the worst examples over its abuse, lawyers said, court officials attacked homeowners whose residences were damaged by storms.

In one case, it stepped in while the homeowner was working with insurance to get repairs done after a tree fell on the home, and the intervention prevented a resolution from being reached.

Bill Maurer, a lawyer for the IJ, said at the time, “This saga demonstrates the need to have fair and accurate proceedings in the first instance. Courts should act like courts instead of forcing people to go through years-long federal litigation to rectify the fact that they did not get the fair hearing to which they are entitled under the U.S. Constitution.”

The Environmental Court doesn’t even keep records of testimony offered, making appeals very difficult.

“Anyone wishing to review what happened in a case against them is typically out of luck—the court does not create any meaningful records of their proceedings. While defendants are technically able to appeal Environmental Court decisions, there is no record, evidence or transcripts for an appellate court to examine. Put another way, defendants have the right to appeal in name only,” the IJ reported.

The targets of the court’s actions describe it as “torture,” and a deprivation of “due process.”

“The Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution requires that all courts provide meaningful procedural guardrails in cases involving occupied homes. The Environmental Court simply does not do that,” IJ lawyer Rob Peccola said.

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This article was originally published by the WND News Center.

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