Legal Issues and Local Government and Sewer and Indiana Supreme Court and Courts and Utilities and Government & Economic Development and Government and Law

U.S. high court takes Indianapolis sewer case

November 15, 2011

The Supreme Court of the United States agreed Monday to review a case that questions whether the city of Indianapolis violated the U.S. Constitution in how it handled refunds for residents who paid assessments on local sewer projects.

The case, Christine Armour v. City of Indianapolis, led to a divided Indiana Supreme Court decision in May.

The case involves 45 homeowners in an Indianapolis subdivision who sued the city when they didn’t receive refunds of sewer assessments they paid. The case was named for Armour, one of the homeowners, because her name is listed first in the lawsuit.

In 2004, the city assessed each property $9,278 for a sanitary sewer project in the Northern Estates subdivision on the northwest side.  Homeowners were given the option to pay the fee in full or installments.

The next year, the Indianapolis Board of Public Works changed the way it financed sewer projects and adopted a policy that forgave 90 percent or more of the sewer assessments to Northern Estates residents who had elected to pay in installments.

The homeowners who paid the assessments in one lump sum prior to Nov. 1, 2005, were denied a refund by the city.

In 2009, the Indiana Court of Appeals concluded that the differing treatment of identically situated homeowners violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution. The city was ordered to pay back $8,968 to the homeowners, plus interest and attorney fees.

However, in a 3-2 decision, the Indiana Supreme Court reversed the appeals court judgment and found no constitutional violation under the 14th Amendment had occurred.

Justice Frank Sullivan wrote the majority opinion and was joined by Chief Justice Randall T. Shepard and Justice Steven David, while Justices Robert Rucker and Brent Dickson dissented.

The majority found that the city’s rationale was that low- and middle-class families were more likely to have been paying gradually and those who paid in full up front were more capable of affording the assessment.  

Plaintiffs will be represented at the U.S. Supreme Court by Roy Englert and Mark Stancil of Washington, D.C.-based law firm Robbins, Russell, Englert, Orseck, Untereiner & Sauber LLP.
 

ADVERTISEMENT

Recent Articles by Michael W. Hoskins

Comments powered by Disqus