A federal judge has ruled the North Carolina Department of Transportation illegally seized and destroyed private property in Concord. The judge ordered the agency to pay more than $20,000 in fines.
It’s not often a Federal Bankruptcy Judge makes a reference to "I Love Lucy" during arguments. But that's just what Judge Stephani Humrickhouse did when she told Attorney Hilda Burnett-Backer that "she had some 'splaining to do."
Back in 2012 the D.O.T. condemned a vacant building that once was a small general store. That building and the surrounding half acre lot stood in the way of the ongoing extension of the George Liles Parkway in Concord. So the state paid a little over $40,000 to the owners of the property in question. Then they tore it down.
Problem is, that store and the land it sat on were owned in part by the American Lung Association of North Carolina. The Lung Association had filed for bankruptcy protection two years earlier. And under bankruptcy law the property was protected from creditors and could not be seized by the state.
During the court proceedings, the state claimed initially to have not known about the bankruptcy. But emails and that 40,000 dollar payment quickly showed that wasn’t the case.
The D.O.T. soon admitted it had made a serious mistake.
In the ruling judge Humrickhouse called the actions of the DOT a “willful violation” and “blatant disregard” for the law. DOT must pay $10,000 in punitive damages and roughly $10,000 more in legal fees.
The plaintiffs in this case say they have now filed a new lawsuit allowing them to seek additional damages.