Judge dismisses suit against Delaware court officials filed by blind man who was wrongfully evicted

DOVER, Del. (AP) — A federal judge on Tuesday dismissed a lawsuit against Delaware court officials and constables filed by a legally blind man who was wrongfully evicted from a Wilmington apartment along with two of his daughters.

Chief U.S. District Judge Colm Connolly ruled that William Murphy’s claim that officials violated the Americans with Disabilities Act in ousting him must be dismissed because he failed to provide any facts to show he was evicted because of his disability.

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Connolly also dismissed claims that constables who evicted Murphy in 2021 pursuant to a writ from Justice of the Peace Court violated his constitutional and civil rights and those of his daughters. As officers of the court acting upon a facially valid court order, the constables are entitled to “quasi-judicial immunity” from liability, he said. Connolly also tossed claims against the JP Court system, noting that, as an arm of the state, it cannot be sued under the Civil Right Act.

“Plaintiffs state in conclusory fashion that defendants have an “evict first, ask questions later policy,” but they do not allege any facts to support this assertion,” Connolly wrote.

U.S. District Judge rules that blind man failed to prove his eviction was due to disability.

“On the contrary, the events alleged to have led to and followed the Murphys’ eviction undermine plaintiffs’ claim that such a policy exists,” he noted. “The allegations in the amended complaint make clear that what happened to the Murphys was an aberration brought about by a private actor’s abuse of the law.”

Connolly was referring to the actions of landlord Kenneth Stanford, who had obtained a writ of possession against a woman who lived in the apartment before the Murphys moved in.

According to court records, Murphy moved into the apartment in November 2020, a month before a court hearing was held in Stanford’s legal action against the previous tenant. Stanford claimed the previous tenant owed him rent and water bills from April 2020 to mid-December 2020, and he testified that he believed the apartment was still under her control. At the same time, however, Stanford filed a court action against the Murphys alleging that they had failed to pay December’s rent.

Murphy was evicted in February 2021 pursuant to a writ issued against the previous tenant, even though he showed constables a copy of his lease. They told him he nevertheless needed to vacate the premises and suggested that he file a complaint in JP Court for wrongful eviction.

During an emergency hearing one week after the eviction, a deputy magistrate wondered how Stanford could be seeking December rent from both Murphy and the previous tenant, even as he denied that Murphy was his tenant. The magistrate concluded that it was “very clear” that Stanford had misrepresented himself to the court and possibly perjured himself. According to court records, Stanford refused to answer questions posed by the magistrate and said he wanted to consult an attorney.

Given that Stanford’s case against the Murphys had not been scheduled, much less resolved, in February 20201, the magistrate determined that Murphy and his daughters has been unlawfully ousted. He also said it seemed that Stanford had “weaponized” a writ against the previous tenant in order to get out of his lease with Murphy. Murphy settled claims against Stanford in the federal lawsuit in 2021.

Thomas Neuberger, an attorney representing Murphy, said he plans to appeal Connolly’s ruling.

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