Suit claims family home “sold out from under” local woman

By Elizabeth Young | Apr 9, 2013

NEW ORLEANS – A New Orleans woman is accusing the City of New Orleans of illegally seizing her property.

NEW ORLEANS – A New Orleans woman is accusing the City of New Orleans of illegally seizing her property.

Valerie Harris filed suit against Linda Watson, the New Orleans Redevelopment Authority and the City of New Orleans in the Orleans Parish Civil District Court on Jan. 30.

The suit claims that Watson, Harris’s neighbor, purchased the property fraudulently from the New Orleans Redevelopment Authority (NORA). The property in question is the former site of the Harris family home located at 1902 Congress St. in New Orleans. The original house was destroyed in Hurricane Katrina and Harris wanted to rebuild it as a double. With this in mind, she began taking the appropriate steps to discover any liens or judgments affecting the property.

There was one judgment related to a case which found Lynda Harris Dyer (the plaintiff’s sister) guilty of allowing a blighted property and public nuisance. Harris paid the lien and obtained a certificate of cancellation from the city on July 17, 2009. Harris proceeded to purchase the property from her sister and began maintaining it. She paid property taxes on the land in 2010, 2011 and 2012.

Linda Watson wanted the property so she could increase the size of her own yard although she knew that Harris owned the land. The suit claims that the sole basis for NORA’s expropriation of the property was the unpaid fine and cost of judgement. Because Harris paid these before she purchased the property, its seizure and sale were unlawful, the suit claims.

Harris maintains that NORA had a legal duty to check public records, run a title search and to provide the legal owner (Harris) with notice and opportunity to be heard prior to the government taking her property.

Watson is accused of fraudulently and deceptively maintaining her silence and participating in the transaction with NORA although she routinely saw Harris exercise acts of ownership over the property. NORA is accused of negligence for selling a property without a merchantable, clear title and of acting with bad faith, fraud and deception. The city is accused of negligence for failing to provide a procedure or policy to notify NORA to cease and desist from the expropriation of property after the fine had been satisfied and cancelled.

An unspecified amount of damages is sought for the cost to purchase Harris’s home, attorney’s fees, recording and transfer fees, property taxes, maintenance costs, legal and court costs, mental stress, anxiety, depression, humiliation, embarrassment, harassment and inconvenience.

Harris is also seeking a declaratory judgement that rules the sale of the land invalid and returns the physical possession of the property to her.

The plaintiff is represented by Bridgette M Piattoly of the Piattoly Law Firm.

The case has been assigned to Division A Judge Tiffany G. Chase.

Case No. 2013-00970.

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