In a ruling that declares Carmel’s noise ordinance unconstitutional, a city court judge has found in favor of two employees of the Lucas family estate who were sued by the city after it accused them of violating the ordinance.
Carmel City Court Judge Brian Poindexter ruled Thursday that Carmel failed to prove that defendants Terina Burks-Perry and Michelle McWilliams violated the noise ordinance when they helped organize events.
In his ruling, Poindexter said even if the city had met its burden of proof, the city couldn’t enforce the ordinance because it was “both facially and as applied unconstitutional.”
The lawsuit is part of an ongoing battle Carmel is having with Forrest and Charlotte Lucas—the owners of Lucas Oil Products Inc., the naming-rights sponsor of Lucas Oil Stadium—who have hosted parties and charitable events regularly since 2011 at their massive estate at 1143 W. 116th St.
The Lucases came into Carmel’s crosshairs in 2017, when neighbors complained to the city about noise and traffic generated by the events.
Forrest Lucas has argued the events the estate hosts are not commercial in nature and don’t violate the zoning ordinance. Lucas also said he and his wife have allowed the property to be used to raise millions of dollars for local charities.
Still, the estate went on to file a zoning variance—at the city’s request—that would have allowed it to host those parties, a request that was eventually denied by the Carmel Board of Zoning Appeals in September 2017.
But the Lucases continued to plan parties and other events while trying to negotiate some sort of deal with Carmel. Those efforts were unsuccessful, and last August, the city announced it would begin enforcing its zoning ordinance. The Lucases pledged to continue hosting events.
In May, the city decided to take legal action against the Lucases because it believed “the Lucases have not shown a good faith effort to comply” with the zoning ordinance, saying the estate has repeatedly violated the rules.
In addition to the suit against Burks-Perry and McWilliams, Carmel filed an injunction request with Hamilton Superior Court to prevent more events at the estate. Both sides have filed counterclaims and a ruling has yet to be reached in the second case.
It is unclear how or if the city court judgment will affect the county court case. In his ruling, Poindexter said Carmel failed to prove that either defendant was involved in making the noises that allegedly violated the ordinance.
“They were merely present at the Lucas Estate as employees and acting at the direction and behest of their employer,” Poindexter wrote. “Any activities conducted at that location on the dates (Aug. 10 and Sept. 29, 2018) in question would have been the responsibility of someone else.”
In fact, the judge said, Carmel failed to prove that the noise even originated from the estate on one of the two dates in question. Carmel also failed to prove the sounds exceeded the ordinance’s decibel limitations, he wrote, because it did not measure the sound.
The judge said Carmel’s ordinance is so vague that it could apply to almost anyone using a device that makes sounds, including a phone, air conditioner, sprinkler system, electric garage door opener, wind chimes, bell or karaoke machine.
“Carmel’s interpretation that it violates the ordinance merely to produce sound that is audible 50 feet away–no matter how loud and for how long–makes the ordinance sweep so broadly, with no discernable limits, that the ordinance would be unconstitutionally vague,” he wrote.
“A reasonable, intelligent person cannot figure out for himself or herself by reading the ordinance what the ordinance intends to prohibit.” he added.
A city spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the situation.
The Lucases, through their attorneys, said they “still hope to resolve all of their differences with the city in an amicable fashion.”