Indy considering outside counsel to test public nuisance law

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Indianapolis fought a nine-year legal battle against troubled housing complex owner Towne & Terrace Corp. On the heels of a settlement reached in late September, a City-County Council proposal aims to give the city more fuel in the future against similar properties causing a public nuisance.

During the Towne & Terrace case, the Indiana Court of Appeals ruled that a law passed by the General Assembly prevented the city from using emergency calls as proof of a public nuisance, said Anne O’Connor, corporate counsel for Indianapolis, who called the situation a “fiasco.” According to a 2019 IndyStar investigation, police were dispatched to Towne & Terrace, near East 42nd Street and Post Road on the northeast side of Indianapolis, 3,500 times between 2008 and 2018.

In order to use the calls as proof of a public nuisance and sue property owners for the cost of constantly sending out emergency responders, the city intends to bring a test case forward with a different “problem property” to challenge the ruling.

The proposal allocates $55,000 toward legal counsel and was passed unanimously last week by the City-County Council’s Administration and Finance Committee. A public hearing regarding the proposal was scheduled for the full City-County Council meeting at 7 p.m. Monday.

A trial court decision wouldn’t be binding, but the city would take the case through the appeals process to hopefully get it to the state Supreme Court, O’Connor said. It might also prompt a clarification in the law — 2020’s controversial tenant-landlord relationship legislation.

“We spend a lot of money responding to calls at these properties and we want to make sure that we can enforce the law,” O’Connor said. “And even the General Assembly thinks we should, but this Court of Appeals decision is standing in our way.”

The city would likely hire attorney Donald Morgan from the local law office of Taft Stettinius & Hollister LLP for the role, according to O’Connor. Morgan is the former chief counsel of the city and served as legal counsel throughout the Towne & Terrace legal fight.

The city is currently working with the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department, the Marion County Public Health Department and other agencies to identify the best property for the trial case.

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