Man’s suit to save house from demolition untimely, appeals court affirms

A Huntington man who sued the city in an effort to block the demolition of his dilapidated property went to court too late, the Indiana Court of Appeals ruled Thursday in upholding the dismissal of his lawsuit.

Alan Van Meter didn’t appear at a public hearing of the Huntington Board of Public Works and Safety in August 2019 after being notified that a property he owned on Court Street had fallen into significant disrepair. Van Meter had been given an enforcement order listing 29 ordinance or code violations and giving him one month to fix them.

The board found the property unfit for human habitation after a hearing on Aug. 19, 2019, and an inspection a couple of days before the deadline for repairs found only one violation had been corrected. Van Meter likewise didn’t attend a Sept. 16 hearing despite having notice. At that meeting, the board awarded a contract for the demolition of the property.

Van Meter appeared at the board’s regular Oct. 7 meeting and asked the city when it called for new business to stop the planned demolition. The city attorney told the board the deadline for Van Meter to seek judicial review of the demolition order had passed, but the board could modify the order. The board declined, and Van Meter filed this lawsuit in Huntington Circuit Court, which was dismissed as untimely.

The COA agreed in Alan Van Meter v. Community Development & Redevelopment, et al., 20A-MI-566.

“Van Meter’s impromptu appearance at the October 7, 2019 regular meeting of the Board, essentially on the eve of demolition and more than a month after the deadline in the Order, did not constitute a hearing or action by the Board pursuant to I.C. § 36-7-9-7(d) and did not even result in an order and findings being issued by the Board,” Judge Robert Altice wrote for the panel. “The Board’s affirmance of the Order was already final at that point, and the Board’s cursory reaffirmance of the Order did not give him a new ten-day clock to appeal the Order.

“We agree with the trial court that Van Meter had until ten days after the Board’s affirmance of the Order on August 19, 2019 to seek judicial review under I.C. § 36-7-9-8. As he did not file until October 8, 2019, his untimely complaint was properly dismissed by the trial court.”

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