published : 2023-10-14

Lawsuit Alleges Mississippi City Withheld Information on Eminent Domain Threat to Black Neighborhood

Property owners argue the city did not provide them with proper opportunity to challenge plan

A photo of Ocean Springs, the coastal city in Mississippi where the lawsuit was filed, taken with a Sony Alpha a7R III camera.

A federal lawsuit filed on Thursday claims that a Mississippi city failed to inform property owners in a majority-Black neighborhood that their homes could be targeted for eminent domain under a redevelopment plan.

The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. Southern District of Mississippi, alleges that the coastal city of Ocean Springs created an 'urban renewal' proposal in an area that includes the properties of four residents and a local Baptist church. By declaring parts of the area blighted, the city could potentially exercise eminent domain, which involves the government taking over private property.

According to the property owners, the city did not provide them with a sufficient opportunity to challenge the plan. The Institute for Justice, a public interest law firm representing the property owners, argues that branding neighborhoods as slums without due process violates the U.S. Constitution.

A picture of a diverse group of property owners from the majority-Black neighborhood, standing united in their fight for their rights, taken with a Nikon D850 camera.

The lawsuit seeks to declare the state urban renewal codes that the city followed as unconstitutional.

Ocean Springs Mayor Kenny Holloway responded to the lawsuit by stating that the city's proposed plan adheres to Mississippi statute and that the Mississippi Attorney General will address the claims of unconstitutionality.

The ongoing redevelopment plan in Ocean Springs has designated some properties in the city's Railroad District as blighted. Property owners had 10 days to challenge the proposal under Mississippi law, but the city failed to inform them about the blight designations and the deadline passed.

An image of the historic Railroad District in Ocean Springs, where the properties are located, showcasing the architecture and charm of the neighborhood, taken with a Canon EOS 5D Mark IV camera.

Cynthia Fisher, one of the plaintiffs, expressed concern that her property, which she has no intention of selling, might be forced to be sold due to the blight designation. She emphasized the pride she and her neighbors have in their neighborhood and criticized the city for labeling it a slum without their knowledge.

This lawsuit highlights the importance of property rights and due process in the face of urban redevelopment plans. It raises questions about how cities should inform and involve property owners in decision-making processes that could significantly impact their lives.

The outcome of this case will be closely watched as it has potential implications for similar situations in other cities, and the rights of property owners across the country.