A Missouri appeals court upheld a $65,000 verdict against the city of St. Louis on a wrongful demolition claim filed by two south St. Louis property owners.
Millard Arbogast and Zoie Helms lived at 210-212 Quincy St. until a fire damaged the property in May 2001. A few days after they fire, they moved into an apartment at 3404 Cherokee and filled out a change-of-address form for the U.S. Post Office.
In October 2001 the city’s Building Division served notice of condemnation and potential demolition by posting it on the property and by mailing it to the Quincy address. The property was demolished in February 2002, and the property owners sued.
Judge Michael B. Calvin, who has since retired from the St. Louis Circuit Court, denied the city’s motion to dismiss, finding that the city didn’t give the plaintiffs proper notice of its plans. Had proper notice been given, the plaintiffs would have had to appeal to the city’s Board of Building Appeals. Their failure to exhaust their administrative remedies, despite proper notice, would have been grounds for Calvin to dismiss their lawsuit.
In a 16-page opinion handed down this morning, the Missouri Court of Appeals Eastern District said the city didn’t give Arbogast and Helms proper notice.
Posting the notice on the Quincy proper wasn’t sufficient, the court said, because even the city inspector testified that “it was ‘quite common’ for squatters or vandals to take down condemnation notices from the outside of properties immediately after she posted them as she was walking back to her car,” the court said.
In addition, the city knew Arbogast and Helms no longer lived at the 210-212 Quincy but still mailed the notice to that address. From July 2001 through July 2002, the plaintiffs received at their Cherokee address several pieces of mail originally addressed to them at the Quincy address. This includes mail sent by the city, although not from the Building Division, the court said.
The Building Division itself was put on notice of the plaintiffs’ correct address when the Post Office returned the notice of condemnation with the Cherokee address on the envelope, the court said.
The case is Millard Arbogast and Zoie Helms v. City of St. Louis, ED90137.