ACLU & ACLJ Sue Holmes County After Government Unlawfully Takes Resident's Property
BONIFAY, Fla. – The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Florida and the American Center for Law & Justice (ACLJ) served a complaint yesterday against Holmes County on behalf of their client Daniel Stone, alleging that county officials abused their power by destroying and taking part of Stone's property in an act of retribution. The lawsuit was filed in state circuit court.
Stone v. Holmes County marks the first time the ACLU and the ACLJ – often battling each other in court – are working together, jointly representing the same client.
What began as a dispute between neighbors ended with one neighbor calling in a favor to Jim King, a friendly commissioner, to exact revenge on Mr. Stone by widening the neighbor's private access on his property into what the County now claims is a county road, the ACLU & ACLJ suit alleges. "The government cannot just take someone's property without a good reason and compensation – that's why we have eminent domain laws in Florida," said Benjamin James Stevenson, ACLU staff attorney based in Pensacola.
In 2006, Mr. Stone's fiancée Rebecca Hagan called in a complaint about someone driving at a reckless speed on the easement at the north end of his property – near where his children were playing – that leads to the neighbor's property. Later that same month, the county road department began grading the easement and eventually widened the two-tire track to a 30, and in some cases 40-foot-wide dirt road.
"The county's widening of the private access on Mr. Stone's property not only unlawfully took away property for which he has not been compensated, but they destroyed natural and landscaped trees, and crushed parts of the septic system. These are all real damages, and the county should reimburse Mr. Stone for the loss, stop grading the access, and return it to how it was before," Stevenson continued.
Through numerous encounters with Commissioner King and the county, the Stone family repeatedly asked that grading of the easement cease, and they were told that not only did he have no intention of stopping the construction, but that it was indeed being done as a person favor to the adjacent property owner, Mr. Harris.
"The government officials overstep their bounds when they improve private property with county funds as a favor for one citizen and to spite another," said Larry Crain, ACLJ senior attorney and lead litigator. "That is an abuse of an official position and against the basic tenets we hold as Americans."
The county claims that it has maintained the easement located on Mr. Stone's property, when in fact photos show that the access was unmaintained prior to the grading that began in November 2006. "Without exercising eminent domain, the county simply can't just take someone's property like this – it's just plain illegal," said Stevenson.
Attorneys for Mr. Stone in Stone v. Holmes County are Benjamin James Stevenson, staff attorney with the ACLU of Florida, based in Pensacola; and Larry Crain, senior attorney and lead litigator with the ACLJ, based in Tennessee. A PDF copy of the complaint is available online: www.aclufl.org/pdfs/StoneVHolmesCounty.pdf