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Court Fails to Hold Constables Accountable for Wrongfully Evicting Blind Man, Leaving Him Homeless During a Snowstorm

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Published on: March 24, 2024

WILMINGTON, Del. —The U.S. District Court for Delaware has refused to hold government officials accountable for knowingly enforcing an eviction order against the wrong person: a blind man, who was then left homeless with his daughters during a snowstorm.

In granting constables quasi-judicial immunity from claims of constitutional violations, the district court dismissed the lawsuit filed in Murphy v. Delaware, Justices of the Peace on behalf of William Murphy and his daughters. Attorneys with The Rutherford Institute plan to appeal the district court’s dismissal of the case, which alleges that Delaware officials violated the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments by their “evict first, ask questions later” practice.

“With every ruling handed down, it becomes more apparent that we live in an age of hollow justice,” said constitutional attorney John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute and author of Battlefield America: The War on the American People. “Increasingly, the courts have become fixated on siding with government agents rather than with safeguarding the rights enshrined in the Constitution.”

William Murphy, a blind, 52-year-old widower and his two daughters, aged 17 and 11, moved to Wilmington, Del., in order to be closer to other family members. Murphy and his daughters moved into a 775-square-foot rowhouse on Nov. 17, 2020, under a one-year rental lease for $750 per month along with rental assistance from Social Services. The landlord complained about a delay with receiving the partial rent payment from Social Services, and in Feb. 2021, the water and electricity to the home were shut off in violation of state law and the landlord allegedly made a veiled threat. Then, on the morning of Feb. 11, during a bitterly cold snowstorm, constables arrived at the Murphy home, ordered them to vacate the premises, and gave the family 30 minutes to collect their belongings and leave. Even though the person named in the eviction Order was someone other than Murphy, and despite Murphy showing proof of a signed lease in good standing, Murphy and his daughters were still ordered to leave the home, unable to take most of their personal possessions with them, and were left to challenge the wrongful eviction in court. One week later, a state magistrate judge found the Murphys had been unlawfully ousted from their home and that the landlord had weaponized a writ of eviction for a previous female tenant to wrongfully evict Murphy and his daughters.

Because the error should have been obvious to the constables, who nevertheless proceeded with enforcing the eviction, The Rutherford Institute then filed a federal civil rights complaint in Delaware district court in March 2021, demanding that Delaware officials cease their “evict first, ask questions later” practice and institute reforms to ensure that future eviction procedures respect the due process rights of those involved. The district court granted the defendants’ motion to dismiss the lawsuit, which Institute attorneys plan to appeal.

Affiliate attorneys Thomas and Stephen Neuberger and Sanjay K. Bhatnagar are assisting The Rutherford Institute with the lawsuit.

Case History

February 09, 2023 • Delaware Sidesteps Due Process, Doubles Down on ‘Evict First, Ask Questions Later’ Practice

September 17, 2021 • Under Misguided ‘Evict First, Ask Questions Later’ Policy, Delaware Police Mistakenly Evict Blind Man During a Snowstorm, Rendering Him Homeless

March 24, 2021 • Rutherford Institute Sues Delaware Over Police Enforcement of ‘Evict First, Ask Questions Later’ Policy, Demands Reforms and Due Process 

Murphy v. Delaware, Justices of the Peace: 

Amended complaint

Brief in opposition to the defendants’ motion to dismiss

District Court opinion

Article posted with permission from John Whitehead

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