City of Phila. sued for mistakenly demolishing home

By Jon Campisi | Jun 18, 2013

A man who claims the City of Philadelphia mistakenly demolished a property he

purchased with plans to rehabilitate the structure has filed a civil suit against the city and others over claims of negligence and due process violations.

Anthony Horton, a Philadelphia resident, filed suit on June 14 against the city, its Streets Department, USA Environmental Management Inc., and 10 unidentified John Doe defendants over allegations that a demolition crew took out a rowhome located at 5943 Belmar Street in the city’s Kingsessing section that the plaintiff had bought back in 2005.

According to the complaint, which was filed at the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, Horton purchased the property as an investment, with intentions to fix up the home before turning around and selling it to a new owner.

The plaintiff, who bought the property from its now-deceased former owner for $8,000, claims no liens existed on the home at the time of transfer, including Water Department liens, tax liens, and Department of Licenses and Inspections violations.

After purchasing the property, Horton spent $10,000 to repair a load-bearing exterior wall on the back of the home, and he subsequently received a permit from the city to perform other major alternations, including drywall upgrades.

Meanwhile, the plaintiff subsequently received a notice from the city that the property was in violation of various municipal building codes, and, in early September, 2011, a demolition crew showed up at the property with instructions to tear down the home, the complaint states.

Horton ended up calling a city inspector who assured the plaintiff that the demolition order was a mistake, and that the property was not slated to be taken down.

Nevertheless, a demolition crew was sent by the city on Sept. 14, 2011, with nobody available at the property at the time to try and prevent the demolition, according to the complaint.

The defendants on that day ended up demolishing “significant portions” of the Belmar Street home, “for no apparent reason,” the suit states.

After learning of the incident, Horton phoned the city inspector with whom he had spoken before, and the man admitted that, “I [expletive] up,” and that he didn’t check to verify that the home was not on the demolition list, according to the complaint.

As a result of the defendants’ actions, Horton sustained great economic loss, as well as pain and agony, humiliation, mental strain and emotional distress, the suit says.

The defendants are accused of negligence for failing to give a pre-demolition notice, wrongfully demolishing the plaintiff’s property, and being otherwise negligent, careless and reckless.

The defendants are also accused of violating the plaintiff’s Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights.

Horton seeks more than $75,000 in compensatory and punitive damages, in addition to attorneys’ fees, costs and interest.

The plaintiff has also demanded a jury trial.

Horton is being represented by attorney Matthew B. Weisberg, of Weisberg Law P.C.

The federal case number is 2:13-cv-03352-RB. 

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