Weeks before a scheduled trial, a Kansas City couple settled their civil conspiracy and due-process claims against Clay County Collector of Revenue Lydia McAvoy.
According to the settlement agreement, which was obtained through a public-records request, the county on Dec. 19 agreed to pay $300,000 to settle a suit brought by Dawn and Joel Yoest and their various business entities.
Their businesses purchase distressed homes to rehab and then flip or rent the properties.
In 2018, they and their businesses filed suit against Clay County and McAvoy in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Missouri, as well as Ray and Pettis counties and their collectors, Julie Chowning and Marsha Boeschen.
The dispute dates back to 2016, when McAvoy — who is also a lawyer — first blocked the Yoests from participating in the 2016 tax sale in Clay County. According to their federal suit, McAvoy informed them via email that she was banning them permanently from participating in the 2016 tax sale and any future tax sales in the county.
She said the ban was the result of an “ongoing” investigation of the Yoests that she was conducting, according to the Yoests’ suit. Although she forwarded information about the Yoests to law enforcement, the Clay County prosecutor declined to bring charges against the couple, according to their federal suit.
A Clay County judge denied the Yoests’ request for a preliminary injunction in response to the ban, prompting them to appeal to the Missouri Court of Appeals Western District. The Western District overturned the ruling, holding the Yoests “had a clear and unequivocal right to participate in the tax sale.”
The Yoests alleged in their federal suit that McAvoy sent emails to other collectors with a warning about the Yoests and also sent emails specifically about the couple to Chowning and Boeschen. As a result, the Yoests also were banned from sales in Ray and Pettis counties, the couple alleged.
They alleged in their suit that the collector defendants violated their rights to free speech, due process and equal protection and brought a claim of civil conspiracy against them.
They also brought a claim of municipal liability for Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment violations and tortious interference against the counties, as well as a claim of defamation/slander against McAvoy.
Last August, the Yoests settled their claims against Ray and Pettis counties for $25,000, according to the settlement agreement.
The Yoests’ claims against Clay County and McAvoy were set to go to trial later in January. Judge Stephen R. Bough approved the dismissal of the case Dec. 19.
Todd M. Johnson of Votava Nantz & Johnson in Kansas City represented the Yoests. He said he was happy for his clients, noting that they were able to participate in Clay County’s 2019 tax sale for the first time since 2016.
“My hope is that it’s over and that Ms. McAvoy doesn’t want to play the role of law enforcement and prosecutor and she would rather occupy the role of collector,” he said.
Ken Berra of Fisher Patterson Sayler & Smith in Overland Park, Kansas represented Clay County. He could not be reached for comment.
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Venue: U.S. District Court for the Western District of Missouri Case Number/Date: 4:18-cv-00611/Dec. 19, 2019 Judge: Stephen R. Bough Caption: Dawn Yoest, Joel Yoest, Liberty Assets LLC, Liberty Asset Holdings LLC, Jupiter Group LLC, Castle Associates LLC, Five Star Investors v. Lydia McAvoy and Clay County, Missouri Insurer: Travelers Insurance Company Plaintiffs’ Attorneys: Todd M. Johnson, Votava Nantz & Johnson, Kansas City Defendants’ Attorneys: Ken Berra, Fisher Patterson Sayler & Smith, Overland Park, Kansas
Venue: U.S. District Court for the Western District of Missouri
Case Number/Date: 4:18-cv-00611/Dec. 19, 2019
Judge: Stephen R. Bough
Caption: Dawn Yoest, Joel Yoest, Liberty Assets LLC, Liberty Asset Holdings LLC, Jupiter Group LLC, Castle Associates LLC, Five Star Investors v. Lydia McAvoy and Clay County, Missouri
Insurer: Travelers Insurance Company
Plaintiffs’ Attorneys: Todd M. Johnson, Votava Nantz & Johnson, Kansas City
Defendants’ Attorneys: Ken Berra, Fisher Patterson Sayler & Smith, Overland Park, Kansas