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

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Published on: February 11, 2023

WILMINGTON, Del. — Delaware officials are doubling down on defending their misguided practice of “evict first, ask questions later” that resulted in constables mistakenly evicting a blind man and his family during a snowstorm, leaving the family homeless.

In coming to the aid of William Murphy and his two teenaged daughters, The Rutherford Institute is challenging the “evict first, ask questions later” practice by which constables acted on obviously incorrect information to force the Murphy family out of their home without due process. The lawsuit in Murphy v. Delaware, Justices of the Peace alleges that Delaware officials violated the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments.

“With every ruling handed down, it becomes more apparent that we live in an age of hollow justice, with courts rendering narrow rulings focused on the letter of the law,” said constitutional attorney John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute and author of Battlefield America: The War on the American People. “This is true at all levels of the judiciary, where 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. Soon thereafter, the landlord complained about a delay with receiving the partial rent payment from Social Services. In early Feb. 2021, after veiled threats from the landlord, the water and electricity to the home were shut off in violation of state law. 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 showing proof of a signed lease in good standing, Murphy and his daughters were 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 wrongful 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.

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

Case History

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

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

Murphy v. Delaware, Justices of the Peace:

Amended complaint

Brief in opposition to the defendants’ motion to dismiss

Article posted with permission from John Whitehead

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