Posted by: Patricia Salkin | September 26, 2019

Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals Holds Evidence Was Sufficient for a Reasonable Jury to Conclude that the Board Ratified Unlawful Initiation of Condemnation Proceedings and was Subject to §1983 Municipal Liability

This post was authored by Matthew Loeser, Esq.

Carl Young bought three empty houses on September 2, 2015, and retained a local contractor eight days later to clean and renovate them. On September 18, the County Building Inspector, Charles Edwards, posted a condemnation notice on one of the properties, declaring each of them unsafe and ordering “all persons … to keep out as long as this notice remains posted.” Young sued the Board of Supervisors of Humphreys County and its president under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, contending that they had unlawfully deprived him of the use of several of his properties. A jury returned a verdict for Young, and the district court denied the Board’s motion for judgment as a matter of law (“JMOL”).

On appeal, the Board argued it was entitled to a JMOL as Young failed to make out a §1983 claim under a theory of ratification. The testimony at trial demonstrated that Stevens had directed Edwards to post the condemnation notice, even though Young’s properties were compliant with state and county law. Additionally, the Board ratified that action at its next meeting by unanimously voting to proceed with condemnation, and the notice was not withdrawn for over two years. The court held that those facts were “sufficiently extreme” to support a finding that the Board approved both Stevens’s direction to post the condemnation notice and the underlying implication that the properties were condemnable.

Accordingly, although the Board did not specifically vote to ratify Stevens’s action or the reasons supporting it, taking the facts in the light most favorable to Young, the Board’s unanimous vote to proceed with condemnation was legally sufficient evidence for a reasonable jury to conclude that the Board ratified Stevens’s decision to have Edwards post the notice.

Young v. Board of Supervisors of Humphreys County, Mississippi, 927 F.3d 898 (2019)

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