LCG resumes fighting its junk vehicle ordinance

by Heather Miller

A civil lawsuit questioning the constitutionality of an almost 15-year-old junked vehicle ordinance' enacted in 1997 is returning to court after a five-year hiatus.

An LCG ordinance that declares "junked vehicles" as public nuisances and subject to removal, fines and potential criminal charges is heading back to court for a civil lawsuit that challenges whether the law is constitutional.

According to a Nov. 26 report published online in The Advocate, George Phillips Jr. sued LCG in 2007 after four of his vehicles, a 1985 Lincoln Town Car, a 1995 Dodge pickup, a 1986 Plymouth Voyager and a 1988 Plymouth Grand Fury, were seized by a Lafayette police officer for not complying with LCG's orders that the cars be removed from Phillips rental property within 15 days.

"Junked vehicles" under the LCG ordinance, according to Louisiana Supreme Court documents, are "wrecked, dismantled, partially dismantled, or lawfully inoperable on public streets under the provisions of the various statutes and ordinances applicable in this jurisdiction as a result of significant damage, decay or destruction."

Vehicles being stored in garages or buildings are exempt from the law, according to court documents.

LCG's own arguments prompted the court to hold off on hearing the civil case until Phillips' criminal charges pertaining to the ordinance were resolved. The Advocate reports that Phillips' four misdemeanor criminal charges for noncompliance of vehicle abatement orders were dismissed about a year ago, leaving the door open for the case to return to court.

A state district court ruled partially in favor of Phillips' civil lawsuit in 2007, but in early 2008 the Louisiana Supreme Court reversed the trial court's ruling on a procedural error and sent it back to district court for a rehearing. The district court judge wrote in his 2007 ruling that "sections of the ordinance at issue were subjective and lent themselves to arbitrary enforcement."

"Second, the trial court had a problem with the hearing procedure, noting that Mr. Phillips was directed to request a hearing from the chief of police but, after doing so, was informed by Lafayette that he was supposed to contact a different department to request a hearing," according to Louisiana Supreme Court documents.

A city attorney is slated to take a deposition Dec. 8 from former LCG Criminal Justice Support Services administrator Marcus Bruno, who headed the public nuisance enforcement division until LCG shuttered the department in 2009.

LCG CAO Dee Stanley tells The Advocate that LCG is not enforcing the ordinance until litigation is resolved.

Read more from The Advocate here.