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Roberts v. Girder

United States District Court, E.D. Kentucky, Southern Division, London

July 23, 2018

WILLIAM ROBERTS, as Administrator for the Estate of PAULINE ROBERTS, and JENNIFER YORK, as Administrator de bonis non for the Estate of WILLIAM EARNEST ROBERTS, Plaintiffs,
EDDIE GIRDER, [1] et al., Defendant.



         This matter is before the Court on Motion for Summary Judgment filed by Defendants Somerset City Mayor Eddie R. Girdler, Somerset City Attorney Carrie D. Wiese, Somerset City Zoning Officer Dennis Crist, Somerset City Fire Department Chief Stephan Jasper, in their individual and official capacities, and Somerset City Building Inspector Wes Finley, in his official capacity, (DE 117). For the reasons set forth below, the Defendants motion for summary judgment is granted with respect to Plaintiffs' federal-law claims and this action is dismissed.

         I. Factual Background

         The following is an account of the undisputed facts in this action. Pauline Roberts died intestate on November 17, 1989. (Compl. ¶ 8.) At the time of her death, she lived with her son, William Roberts, in a house she owned at 117 Sagasser Street in Somerset, Kentucky. (Compl. ¶¶ 9, 17.) William Roberts continued to live in the house after her passing. (Compl. ¶ 21.)

         Over the next 24 years, Robert's home fell into a state of disrepair and city officials began receiving complaints from the public about the property.[2] (DE 109-3, at 79-82.) During the summer of 2012, Somerset Police Captain Shannon Smith, at the request of City Zoning Officer Dennis Crist and Chief of Police Doug Nelson, took aerial photos of the property which revealed a tree growing from the interior of the home through the center of the roof, two holes in the roof, missing shingles, deteriorating roof joists, and moss covering the rear of the roof. (DE 117-3.)

         Somerset Building Inspector Wes Finley also visited the property multiple times, sometimes communicating with Roberts and other times just observing the home from the street, and made a request for an abatement hearing. On May 3, 2013, the City initiated abatement proceedings. Somerset City Attorney Carrie Wiese mailed a certified letter to the 117 Sagasser Street, addressed to the Estate of Pauline Roberts, alleging that the property “appears to be unfit for human habitation, occupancy or use” and setting a nuisance abatement hearing for May 23, 2013. (DE 110-1, at 24.) Roberts signed a return receipt for the letter and hired an attorney, John Prather, Jr., to represent him at the hearing. (Compl. ¶ 26.) On May 16, 2013, Prather sent a letter to Wiese informing her that he was in the process of preparing a remediation plan for the property and requested to postpone the hearing due to a scheduling conflict. (Compl. ¶ 37; DE 1-5.) The city agreed to postpone the hearing, but no new date was set (Compl. ¶¶ 38-39.) Instead, Prather met informally with Wiese, Finley, and Crist at City Hall. (Compl. ¶¶ 44.) During the meeting, Finley presented his file containing pictures and notes on the property. (DE 109-3, at 37.) Prather acknowledged that the property had problems and claimed that he was going to submit a plan to correct them. (DE 109-3, at 62.)

         Despite Prather's claim that a remediation plan would be implemented, no improvements or repairs were made to the property over the next fourteen months. On August 14, 2014, Crist sent Roberts a written notice advising him that, because the property remained a hazard and structurally unsafe for human habitation, he was ordered to repair or vacate the property within thirty days. The letter also informed Roberts that the City would offer him help in moving and storing his belongings, and would take care of the dilapidated structure, at no cost. (DE 1-7.)

         Finley visited the property again on September 16, 2014, three days before the planned demolition, to urge him to submit a remediation plan to avoid the demolition. Finley also took photos from outside the residence. (109-3 at 58.) He observed and documented issues with the chimney, the hole in the roof, and non-level cabinets and house ridgeline, suggesting issues with structural integrity. (DE 109-3, at 69.) The visit, however, turned confrontational, although Finley did not feel directly threatened, and Roberts ordered him to leave the property. (DE 109-3, at 49-51.) Finley reported his interaction with Roberts, and the warning to leave the property, to Mayor Eddie Girdler and Chief Nelson.

         On September 18, 2014, Chief Jasper, accompanied by other firefighters, went to Robert's property to offer him assistance with moving his belongings. Roberts denied the firefighters offer. While Roberts was non-threatening, one firefighter asked Roberts if he was carrying a pistol and Roberts briefly pulled the gun out of his right back pocket to display it. (DE 109-9, at 28-30.) Jasper reported the encounter to Chief Nelson. (DE 109-9, at 36.)

         Jasper returned the next day accompanied by Mark Catron, another Somerset firefighter. Catron began to engage in small talk with Roberts and asked him why he changed his mind about vacating the property. The encounter quickly turned tense. According to Jasper, Roberts told them that he intended to defend his property and that it would “not be good if you show up here, anybody that shows up here.” Jasper also testified that Roberts talked about having news cameras and media at his property “because he's gonna go down in a blaze of glory if anybody shows up and somebody's gonna get hurt.” Jasper also claimed that Roberts was laughing and crying and appeared to be in “complete mental distress” and “in the midst of a significant behavioral crisis.” (DE 109-9, at 37-38.) Roberts admitted to his own expert witness that he made a statement to the effect of “this will not end well, it won't be pretty, ” but claims it was an attempt to “buy time, ” not a direct threat. (DE 113-2, at 4.)

         Jasper became worried that, if city officials returned to the home for the planned demolition, either they or Roberts might be killed. (DE 109-9, at 38.) Jasper went to City Hall to inform other officials of his public safety concerns. A meeting took place in the City Council chambers, during which Mayor Girdler, Wiese, Chief Jasper, Catron, and four police captains were present.[3] (DE 109-9, at 44-46.) The meeting was recorded by Captain Smith. (DE 109-15, at 8, 26.) During the meeting, Wiese stated that she intended to go to County Attorney Martin Hatfield and seek either a mental health warrant or a terroristic threatening warrant. (DE 109-15, at 129.) When the group arrived at the County Attorney's office, Wiese met with a female attorney from the office who recommended that Wiese go to the sheriff's office to obtain a warrant. (DE 109-9, at 50-52.)

         At the sheriff's office, Wiese, Jasper, and Catron met with Detective John Hutchinson. (DE 109-9, at 54.) Jasper recounted to Detective Hutchinson his interactions with Roberts and told him that he believed that Roberts posed a real threat if the city attempted to demolish his house. (DE 109-9, at 54.) Wiese also showed Detective Hutchinson two photos of the home: one of a chest of drawers showing the condition of the inside of the home and a dead cat and the second an aerial shot showing the hole in the roof. (109-2, at 97.) Detective Hutchinson then drafted and signed a criminal complaint stating that Roberts had:

Committed the offense of Menacing and Obstructing Governmental Operations by intentionally placing officials of the Somerset Fire Department, Somerset Police Department and Code Enforcement Officers in reasonable apprehension of imminent physical injury and intentionally obstructing the performance of a governmental function (nuisance abatement order) by making threats of physical violence towards anyone trying to remove him from his residence. . . . Members of the local fire departments, members of the local police department and the Code Enforcement Officer were present at [Robert's] residence as part of their official capacity and ask [sic] him to leave. [Robert's] said that he needed two weeks to leave and if anyone showed up tomorrow “it” would not be pretty and he would probably end of [sic] being shot because he will protect his house and it would be on the national news.

(DE 1-14.)

         A petition for involuntary hospitalization[4] was also completed. The petition was signed by Jasper, who dictated its contents. (DE 109-9, at 82-83.) In the petition, Jasper averred that he believed Roberts had a mental illness because:

[Roberts] refuses to leave a condemned property that is an imminent danger to himself, emergency services, or/and the public at large. [Roberts] is carrying a concealed weapon & indicated that if city officials and/or law enforcement attempted to remove him, he would “get shot and it wouldn't be pretty and it would be on the local & national news.”

(DE 110-1, at 82.)

         He also stated that he believed Roberts to be a danger or threat of danger to self, family or others because he was “unstable emotionally & physically, repeated threatening statements to city officials, specifically the Somerset Fire Chief & Somerset Battalion Chief.” (DE 110-1, at 82.)

         The warrants were submitted to Pulaski District Court Chief Judge Jeffery Scott Lawless. Before approving the warrant and mental health petition, Judge Lawless called Detective Hutchinson's office and asked whether the complaint should say “court order” or “abatement order.” Wiese took the phone and told him that it should say abatement order and explained to him an abatement order is issued by the city, not a judge, and gives a resident 30 days to vacate a property. (109-2, at 99.) Judge Lawless then signed both the arrest warrant and mental health petition.

         Chief Nelson, and his command staff, Captains Goff, Phillippi, Hunt, and Correll, went to arrest Roberts based on the warrant. Chief Nelson anticipated a volatile situation but, when he arrived, Roberts was sitting in his vehicle. Chief Nelson was able to grab him, put him in a wrist lock to prevent him from getting his gun, and place him in custody. (DE 109-11, at 71-72.) Roberts was taken to a psychiatric facility where he was evaluated and released; he was then immediately taken to jail on the arrest warrant. (Compl. ¶¶ 111-113.)

         While Roberts was in jail, the demolition process on his home began. Finley completed a walkthrough of the home prior to the demolition in order to remove any valuable items belonging to Roberts. (DE 109-3, at 64-65.) After observing the state of the chimney, however, Finley instructed members of the City Sanitation Department who were present not to enter the house because of the risk of collapse. Instead, he removed any accessible items himself. (DE 109-3, at 65.) Finley fell through the floor while walking through the home and stepped in human defecation; Roberts had been using a bucket for a toilet and throwing the use bags into a corner. (DE 109-3, at 66.) After stepping in the defecation, Finley was forced to work in a protective Tyvek suit. (DE 109-3, at 63-64.) Finley also observed an emaciated cat and described the odor of the resident as being like a “dumpster” or “decomposition.” (DE 109-3, at 56.) Finley removed a number of guns from the property and gave them to police. (DE 109-3, at 65-68.) Chief Jasper also entered the home and observed holes in the floor and roof. He described the home as the “worst ...

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