A federal judge has ruled in favor of a Florida man whose home was demolished by Miami-Dade County workers while we was deployed to California for training with the U.S. Army.
The Associated Press reports Judge Robert Scola Jr. sided with Army Staff Sergeant Jesus Jimenez last week when he said the county should have delayed demolition of the man’s home.
The county claims it was forced to raze the home in 2011 after Jimenez ignored numerous requests to fix building code violations.
Jimenez had known about the violations for four years, county officials claimed in court.
According to court documents cited by the Miami Herald, the county said it gave the soldier every opportunity over those four years to make the needed repairs or demolish the home on his own.
“It is my duty to remove individuals from structures which may cause a potential hazard to the safety and welfare of this family,” building chief Charlie Danger, who has since retired, wrote in a November 2007 memo. “This is why I cannot find a reasonable justification to allow the Jimenez family to continue to reside under these severe circumstances.”
At one point Jimenez’s commanding officer even wrote the county asking to stay a hearing for 90 days while Jimenez was away for training.
Scola’s ruling relied on a World War II-era law, reinstated in 2003, known as the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act, that allows for temporary suspension of legal proceedings involving active duty military personnel.
The county argued that the law didn’t apply because the violations were recorded while Jimenez was in the Army Reserves. But Scola said the soldier was protected because he requested the delay while he was on active duty.
“While it is possible that the Jimenezes employed dilatory tactics to avoid remedying the violations on their property and complying with the applicable building ordinances, their behavior does not negate the [county's] failure to stay the proceedings for the requisite 90 days,” Scola wrote.
“Plaintiffs’ behavior was by no means perfect,” he added. “But by enforcing the [servicemembers act], this Court has vindicated a national policy of high priority.”
The county has a lien on the property, where the house stood, for the cost of the demolition.
Scola urged the two sides to reach a settlement for the demolished property out of court.
Jimenez’s attorney has asked that the county drop all liens on the property, suspend code enforcement and pay the family $395,000 in damages. In exchange, he said, Jimenez would sell the property where the house stood as well as two adjacent homes.
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