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Suit about destruction of historic house dismissed

Where plaintiffs sued the City of Norfolk for approving the demolition of a house located in a historic district, but they lacked any property interest in the house, they lacked standing to sue the city for inverse condemnation and gross negligence.

Background

Plaintiffs are upset that the City of Norfolk allowed a house located in a historic district to be demolished following a fire that left it structurally unsound. In this lawsuit, plaintiffs allege that they had a negative easement and protective covenant over Grandy House that the City of Norfolk extinguished by failing to notify plaintiffs of a right to appeal the city’s decision to approve the demolishment of Grandy House. They allege further that the city’s actions constituted a taking without just compensation and gross negligence. Norfolk has filed a motion to dismiss.

Standing

Prior to filing the instant action, the Freemason Street Area Association, or FSAA, filed a petition for a temporary injunction against Dr. Sinesi, the owner of the house, asking the circuit court to enjoin Dr. Sinesi from demolishing Grandy House. The circuit court ultimately denied the petition for a temporary injunction. Dr. Sinesi then demolished Grandy House.

With leave of court, the FSAA filed an amended complaint and homeowners in the historic district filed virtually identical complaints, all of which were consolidated with FSAA action. On Oct. 21, 2019, the circuit court issued a 14-page opinion that analyzed whether the plaintiffs had a property interest in Grandy House and concluded that they did not. Accordingly, the circuit court found that without having a property interest in Grandy House, the plaintiffs failed to state a claim upon which relief could be granted.

Turning to this case, the court concludes that plaintiffs lack standing to bring the inverse condemnation claims in Counts One and Two and the gross negligence claim in Count Three because they do not have a property interest in Grandy House. Plaintiffs allege facts that are virtually identical to those alleged in the previous state action.

Accordingly, plaintiffs have failed to allege “an invasion of a legally protected interest which is (a) concrete and particularized, and (b) actual or imminent.” Plaintiffs did not have a property interest in Grandy House that could have been “taken” by the city for public use (Counts One and Two), and defendants did not have a duty to notify plaintiffs regarding the emergency or hazardous demolition procedures at Grandy House (Count Three).

Even if Plaintiffs could mount the first prong of the standing analysis, they have also failed to show that their alleged injury is fairly traceable to the challenged action of defendants, and not the result of the independent action of some third party not before the court. Regarding the inverse condemnation claims, Dr. Sinesi, the owner of Grandy House and a non-party, demolished his own property, and plaintiffs do not allege any facts to support that the City took Grandy House for public use.

Regarding the gross negligence claim, the record reflects that under state and local law, Dr. Sinesi had the right as the owner of Grandy House to demolish the building if it was in hazardous condition without any input from plaintiffs. For these reasons, plaintiffs have failed to establish standing in the instant action against defendants.

Plaintiffs’ and putative class members’ claims dismissed with prejudice for lack of standing.

Albert L. Roper II Revocable Trust v. City of Norfolk, Case No. 2:21-cv-596, Aug. 9, 2022. EDVA at Norfolk (Jackson). VLW 022-3-346. 7 pp.