Sadly, the City that gave birth to the Constitution repeatedly runs rough shot over the liberties it affords individuals and businesses. In the latest rebuke to the City of Philadelphia’s malfeasance towards the Constitution, the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, has ruled that the City’s publicly owned gas utility, Philadelphia Gas Works, violated landlords’ due process rights by slapping liens against properties for unpaid gas service debts incurred by tenants.
In a Memorandum decision dated March 17, 2016, Judge Curtis Joyner ruled that PGW’s process of filing liens against residential and commercial properties did not afford landlords adequate process to challenge the liens before the lien was filed. As Judge Joyner rightly pointed out, it is well settled that before the government can deprive an individual or business of property, it must afford an adequate opportunity for an individual or business to challenge the proposed property deprivation. Simply put, the Court found that PGW had not done this when it placed liens on landlord’s properties.
In the past few years, the Eastern District has been a staunch defender of the Constitution from City’s assaults on it. The decision striking down PGW’s unconstitutional lien scheme follows several similar cases involving the City of Philadelphia, including:
- Bullard v. City of Philadelphia, 847 F.Supp. 711 (E.D. Pa. 2012). In a case handled by my firm, the Eastern District granted summary judgment to a real estate developer whose property was demolished without affording the developer to contest the decision to demolish the property. The Court ruled, like in the PGW case, that the City had violated the developer’s due process rights.
- Sourovelis v. City of Philadelphia, 103 F.Supp.3d 694 (E.D. Pa. 2015). In this case the Eastern District allowed to proceed a claim that the Philadelphia District Attorneys Office’s civil asset forfeiture program violated the due process rights of individual property owners.
- Cradle of Liberty Council, Inc. v. City of Philadelphia. In this highly publicized case, a federal jury returned a unanimous verdict against the City for violating the freedom of association rights of the Boy Scouts. The City was required to pay the attorneys fees that the Boy Scouts incurred and also damages to the Boy Scouts.
If violating the Constitution is not bad enough, the taxpayers of the City of Philadelphia (which is already broke) are left on the hook to pay the attorneys fees that the City incurs in defending these actions and in paying settlements. Maybe the City will eventually learn that following the Constitution is free.