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Decherd sued over Drug Court housing dispute

Posted on Tuesday, April 15, 2014 at 9:15 am

Azoning dispute over a Franklin County Drug Court program building’s use has escalated into two lawsuits against Decherd and two municipal employees on grounds they didn’t have the authority to terminate water services to force tenants to vacate.

The lawsuits were filed in Franklin County Circuit Court on March 27.

The first lawsuit was filed by Russell L. Leonard and wife Kirkland W. Leonard against the City of Decherd and also lists City Administrator Mike Foster and Building Inspector Dennis Doney as defendants.

The Leonard lawsuit says: “As a result of the defendants’ unlawful actions, the plaintiffs have experienced frustration and mental and emotional distress.”

It also says: “The plaintiffs aver that the conduct of the nation person defendants was motivated by evil motive or intent to harm the plaintiffs.

The lawsuit by the Leonards does not list a specific damage amount. However, it asks the court award the plaintiffs damages “in an amount appropriate according to the proof in this cause.”

The second lawsuit was filed on behalf of Jessica Stewart, Stephanie Dooley and Kayla McHone — who had resided in the Drug Court building — against Decherd, Foster and Doney.

The plaintiffs are seeking $100,000 in compensatory damages and $300,000 in punitive damages against Foster and Doney, “sued in their individual capacities for their intentional acts resulting in your plaintiffs suffering emotional distress/ mental anguish.”

The lawsuit says that, “in addition to/or in the alternative,” the plaintiffs be awarded $300,000 in damages from Decherd, Foster and Doney.

Foster said Thursday that the city had acted properly within its rights to turn the water off because the plaintiffs had not responded to the city’s mandate to take corrective action to have the building rezoned for its intended multi-family use.

“That’s not a single family dwelling, and the other residents there — the neighbors — had a problem with it,” Foster said. “People were upset, and they wanted the city to do something about it.”

Foster said other multifamily facilities were available on Joyce Lane that the drug court could have used but took no initiative to do so. He added that steps were taken to make the drug court administrators aware of the other options, but no effort was made to take a different approach.

“We as a city have an obligation to look out for the best interests of our citizens,” Foster said.

He referred to the plaintiffs, “We gave them an option to rezone.”

However, he said that option wasn’t pursued.

The drug court program focuses on giving convicted drug offenders a second chance to stay out of jail by agreeing to take necessary steps to change their lives through a rehabilitation process.

The 12th Judicial Drug Court leased a two-story, four bedroom house at 202 W. Market St. in Decherd on Feb. 1 that was occupied by Stewart, Dooley and McHone and their children.

The tenants’ lawsuit says that Doney had sent a letter to Russell Leonard advising him that as lessor, how the building was being used did not fit the designation of a single family unit, and the premises would have to be vacated.

The lawsuit also says Foster had a March 20 letter delivered to Ron Baily, the drug court’s director, stating that if the premises were not vacated in 10 days, Decherd water and sewer services would be discontinued.

The lawsuit says that with no alternate housing immediately available, the drug court staff delivered a large container to have water since services had been terminated.

“Plaintiffs and their minor children were forced to live under such conditions for approximately five days until alternate housing could be located and arranged for,” the lawsuit says. “Defendant Foster was advised by the lessor and the lessor’s counsel that if such action was taken as threatened, said action would be taken in violation and abrogation of the City of Decherd’s own ordinances.”

The lawsuit says that Foster was warned that the building met the city’s definition of a family unit, but in spite of the warnings, “defendant Foster took the threatened action and discontinued the utility and sewage services.”

The lawsuit says the plaintiffs suffered as a result of the city’s “intentional infliction of emotional distress.”