Two City of Miami employees are being sued in federal court for allegedly conspiring to take a Vinita woman’s flood-damaged property without due process.
Tulsa attorney Jeff Nix, acting on behalf of Lovetta Jean Hildebrand, filed the lawsuit Dec. 11 against Miami Emergency Management Director Gary Brooks and City Engineer Jack Dalrymple asserting that his client’s civil rights were violated by the “willful, wanton and malicious” acts of the defendants.
At the heart of Nix’s allegations is a “notice of hearing findings” issued to Hildebrand from Brooks’ office in which he notes her presence during a Nov. 19 hearing, acknowledges the upcoming expiration of a June 24 building permit and advised that she has 60 days to commence rebuilding — or steps to demolish the structure would be taken.
“In reality, she was not there, and she has never applied for a permit,” Nix said.
Miami City Attorney David Anderson said this week that the city council will likely meet behind closed doors to discuss its option to provide a legal defense to Brooks and Dalrymple.
Both men are being sued individually for actions taken while demonstrating the duties of their jobs. The City of Miami has not been named in the suit.
Conflict between Hildebrand and city officials began in 2007 when she disputed then engineer Jerry Ruse’s determination that Hildebrand’s flood-damaged residential property at 23 L SE was substantially damaged in the July flood of that year and, therefore, she would not be issued a building permit.
Substantial damage, per a city ordinance and the Federal Emergency Management Agency, is established when damage to a property exceeds 50 percent of the property’s market value.
In response, Hildebrand collected documentation to prove that the cost of restoring her home did not exceed the substantial damage threshold, according to her attorney.
“My client secured an appraisal from a realtor, complete with comparables, appraising her house at $30,000 (six times the projected cost to repair the home). They (city officials) ignored it, and treated her house as totaled,” Nix said.
Hildebrand was presented with the option to appeal Ruse’s decision to the city’s board of adjustments, according to Miami Floodplain Administrator Juli Matthews, but she opted to forego the municipal-level appeal process.
“She hired me and I wrote to the city attorney telling him the appraisal he was using was bogus and my client was filing suit,” Nix said. “He agreed the tax appraisal was not a valid appraisal, and agreed, in writing, that my client could go ahead and apply for a building permit and rebuild.”
A permit was subsequently issued in June of 2008 by Ruse after he reversed his decision regarding the substantial damage ruling and released a permit.
The permit remains in Hildebrand’s file today as she has not yet picked it up.
Nix considers the permit inconsequential and said his client never applied for the permit because it would expire before she had the means to start the work. Nix said his client had planned to apply for the permit close to the end of 2008.
“She needed to get some money together to fund the re-build. So, we relied on the e-mails from the city attorney, giving her the right to apply when she was ready.”
Anderson said Thursday that the issuance of the permit was a direct response to Nix’s letter to then interim city manager Tim Wilson and Ruse in which he sought relief for his client and complained about the determination of substantial damage.
“In a follow-up conversation (e-mail) with Nix he said ‘You issue, we fold,” Anderson said. “An hour later, I told him that I was holding a permit and all (Hildebrand) had to do was sign it and pick it up.”
Since the Nov. 19 hearing date, he city’s codes enforcement and engineers departments moved forward with plans to demolish Miami’s dilapidated homes — including Hildebrand’s 23 L St. home which, as of December, has sat vacant for nearly a year and a half.
Hildebrand’s Nov. 19 hearing — which Anderson said she did not attend and that the indication of such was due to a clerical error — followed a legal posting of the plans for demolition and the certified mailing of a notice to Hildebrand’s Vinita home.
Nix said his client had no knowledge of the hearing until she was sent the “Notice of Hearing Findings” letter.
“The truth of the matter is that his client is in a far better position than many of the property owners who no longer have an opportunity to obtain a building permit,” Anderson said. “She still has an active permit. All she has to do is act on it.”
Dalrymple’s naming in the lawsuit appears to be connected to his participation in the Nov. 19 hearing.
Dalrymple, who now serves as city engineer, rendered an opinion that the 23 L SE structure had roof failure as well as a failed foundation.
“This home is not only unsafe, but is uninhabitable,” Dalrymple wrote.
Complication of crime
Hildebrand’s attorney claims that the 23 L Street property was damaged when a demolition contractor broke through the door with an axe and possibly took some items over the weekend of Dec. 6.
“Over the weekend, a crew showed up at her house (no one lives there at present), showed her neighbor a bunch of paperwork, saying the City of Miami owns the house and that they had been hired to take everything of value,” Nix said. “They took an axe to the front door, and took everything not nailed down.”
Anderson said that it is remarkable that there is no written complaint about the incident.
“If a crime was committed and there is evidence to support it, there will be a prosecution report made to the District Attorney — no matter who may be involved.”
Kamie Bolding, owner of M&S Construction and currently under contract to conduct the city demolitions, said Thursday that she is not comfortable commenting on the matter until she reviews all of the allegations.
“The only thing I can say right now is that we have done nothing wrong and we have not stepped onto any property without proper authorization,” Bolding said.
Bolding said she has not yet seen the lawsuit in which allegations are made regarding a city demolition contractor. She will be reviewing the lawsuit today.