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Young v. Board of Supervisors of Humphreys County

United States Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit

June 21, 2019

CARL YOUNG, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
BOARD OF SUPERVISORS OF HUMPHREYS COUNTY, MISSISSIPPI, Defendant-Appellant.

          Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Mississippi

          Before SMITH, WIENER, and ELROD, Circuit Judges.

          Jerry E. Smith, Circuit Judge.

         Carl Young sued the Board of Supervisors of Humphreys County, Mississippi ("the Board"), and its president under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, contending that they had unlawfully deprived him of the use of several of his properties. A jury returned a verdict for Young, and the district court denied the Board's motion for judgment as a matter of law ("JMOL") or a new trial. Finding no reversible error, we affirm.

         I.

         Young bought three empty houses on September 2, 2015, and retained a local contractor eight days later to clean and renovate them. On September 18, Charles Edwards, the County Building Inspector, posted a condemnation notice on one of the properties, declaring each of them unsafe and ordering "[a]ll persons . . . to keep out as long as this notice remains posted." Nonetheless, according to Edwards, Young's properties complied with county rules and ordinances and state law at the time he posted the notice. In fact, Edwards testified that he would not have posted the condemnation notice except that R.D. "Dickie" Stevens-the president of the Board[1]-had instructed him to do so.[2]

         On October 5, the Board met and unanimously voted to hold a hearing on November 17 for the condemnation of Young's properties.[3] The Board maintains that the term "condemnation" in its October meeting minutes was "a clerical error." It further avers that it was not trying to condemn Young's properties but was attempting to give Young notice that he needed to clean them up. The Board separately stipulated, however, that it "speaks through its Minutes." In any event, the Board instructed its attorney to send Young a letter telling him to remove, by November 17, debris left by the previous owners. Willie Bailey, the Board's attorney, sent Young a letter on October 13, explaining that the Board had voted to hold a hearing on November 17 "to determine whether the property . . . [was] in such a state of uncleanliness as to be a menace to the public health, safety and welfare of the community."

         Young appeared at the November meeting and asked for a continuance to obtain counsel. The parties continued the hearing until December 7. Young obtained counsel, who informed the Board a few days before the rescheduled hearing of Young's intent to sue the Board. The Board, in turn, told Young that it would not hold the hearing and was turning the situation over to its insurance company.

         The Board never conducted a condemnation hearing, and neither Stevens nor any other Board member instructed Edwards to remove the condemnation notice from Young's property. The notice remained in effect for over two years until the Board sent Young a letter on February 12, 2018, telling him that he could enter his properties and start repairs.

         II.

         Young sued the Board and Stevens, in his individual and official capacities, in state court, seeking civil damages under § 1983. Young alleged that Stevens, acting under color of state law, had violated his Fifth and Fourteenth Amendment rights by instructing Edwards to post the condemnation notice without a legal basis. Young averred that the Board was liable also because it had ratified Stevens's actions during the October 2015 meeting by unanimously voting to continue condemnation proceedings.

         Defendants removed, and the district court dismissed the claims against Stevens but allowed the claims against the Board to proceed to trial. The sole issue was whether the Board had ratified Stevens's actions, meaning that it could be held liable under § 1983. The Board unsuccessfully moved for JMOL at the end of Young's case-in-chief. The Board renewed its motion after its case-in-chief, and the court again denied it. The jury returned a verdict for Young, awarding $25, 000 in damages. The court entered a final judgment for $43, 261.57 in damages, taxes, fees, and litigation expenses. The Board timely moved for a JMOL under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 50(b) or, in the alternative, a new trial. The court denied the motion, and the Board appealed.

         III.

...


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