Posted by: Patricia Salkin | April 24, 2015

Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals Finds Takings Claim was Barred by Claim Preclusion and the Statute of Limitations

Leonard Dewitt sued the City of Greendale, Indiana, and ten City officials under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, principally claiming that his home and land were taken without just compensation in violation of the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments. In 1999, Dewitt purchased a modular home on the land had been vacant and neglected for some time. Over the next five years, Dewitt made substantial repairs, including replacing the roof, rebuilding the foundation, and installing pipe for connection to the City’s sewer system. The work stopped in 2004 when Dewitt was arrested and detained in the county jail, and in June 2005, he leased the vacant property to Jeanne Akeman, who hoped to continue making repairs. Two months later the City, through its Department of Unsafe Buildings, notified Dewitt that within 90 days he must remedy the ordinance violations or else remove his modular home. After repeated extensions for repairs to be made, the City demolished the home. The City obtained a judgment against Dewitt for the demolition costs and later foreclosed on the land (valued by Dewitt at $25,000) to satisfy that $2,892 judgment.

Dewitt first brought his claims in federal court, which were dismissed. He then brought his claim to the district court, which granted summary judgment for the defendants on the ground that the suit was barred by claim preclusion and the statute of limitations. Dewitt tried again in state court in January 2011; this time the court, although dismissing the suit with prejudice, explained that it lacked “jurisdiction to hear” the case because Dewitt had not sought timely judicial review of the Hearing Authority’s order, and the appellate court affirmed. This court found that Dewitt’s equal-protection claim is precluded by his first federal lawsuit, since under federal law a second suit is barred by a previous action if there is “(1) an identity of the causes of actions; (2) an identity of the parties or their privies; and (3) a final judgment on the merits.” Here, the first two conditions were clearly satisfied, as was the third because the dismissal of Dewitt’s equal-protection claim at screening was a judgment on the merits for purposes of federal claim preclusion. Additionally, by failing to seek review of the Hearing Authority’s order in a timely fashion, Dewitt forfeited his related due-process and takings claims. Thus, the dismissal of Dewitt’s claims was affirmed.

DeWitt v City of Greendale, 2015 WL 1534483 (7th Cir. 4/7/2015)

The opinion can be accessed at:

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