Lawler explains vote to settle Delaune Estates lawsuit

District 7 Councilman Aaron Lawler

NOTE:  In the wake of his vote to “settle the lawsuit” filed by the Delaune family after denial of Antebellum Pointe subdivision (subsequently rebranded, Delaune Estates) Councilman Aaron Lawler took to social media to explain.

Why did I vote to settle the lawsuit with the Delaune family? The first time I voted no because the traffic study confirmed that the proposed development did not meet our requirements. As a fellow councilman said during the first hearing “in a few months when school opens back up and this third lane on I-10 is up we do a TIA (traffic impact study) and if these numbers are accurate (meaning a TIA that meets our requirements) at that point if anybody has a concern at the point they just don’t want anyone living by them”. A new study was done. In fact, the new study assumed 250 houses, not the 227 agreed to during discussions. Even with the higher number of houses, the new TIA passed Parish requirements. This was confirmed by the third party engineering firm retained by the Parish.

Why not send this back to PnZ? Sending this back to PnZ, where it would likely pass since it now meets all requirements, would not result in the dismissal of the lawsuit. This would likely result in the subdivision being approved, but the parish still being sued and therefore having to incur the costs of litigation and the associated risks.

What will likely happen next? 1. The President will veto this. We knew this when we voted. 2. The lawsuit will be removed to Federal Court. This is important because, contrary to what many have been mislead to believe, a Federal Court judgment on this issue can be satisfied without approval of the parish council, meaning that the winning party could seize tax dollars that could be used for infrastructure improvements to satisfy the judgment. The process in Federal Court is fast, but costly. The parish will spend valuable dollars, likely over 100k, defending this. Personally, I don’t think our chances for success are overwhelming, so we may be stuck with a 237 lot subdivision (not 227), legal bills and payment of damages that could be any where from $1.00 to around $8,000,000.00. (Our annual transportation budget is about 8 million). I thought, in light of the fact of the new TIA, it was more prudent approve a settlement for fewer houses, no risk and no more lawsuit.

Finally, it is sickening to see the insults, allegations of bribery and corruption and other awful behavior coming from those against this subdivision. Many of you forget that we on the council are your neighbors and friends. We go to the same stores, see each other at church and school, drive the same roads, watch our kids at the same parks. We help you on issues when we can.

When I voted against the Delaune’s the first time, I did not receive a single hateful or angry call or message. None of them questioned my integrity or that of the council. Sadly, many of those that are against this subdivision seem to lack that decency.

What is the likelihood that the Delaunes will prevail in federal court?  One of Lawler’s colleagues expressed the hope they would “get a boatload of damages” from Ascension Parish and the taxpayers they are both supposed to represent.  Lawler, engaging a thoughtful citizen, analyzed the merits of the non-existent federal suit.

According to the Fifth Circuit, “federal courts are not reduced to issuing (judgments) against state officers and hoping for compliance.” Freeman Decorating Co. v. Eucuentro Las Americas Trade Corp., 352 F. App’x 921, 925 (5th Cir.2009) (quoting Gates v. Collier, 616 F.2d 1268, 1271 (5th Cir. 1980)). Indeed, the Fifth Circuit has held that “when there is a federal interest in the remedy,” i.e. constitutional rights to property, federal courts “may trump a state’s anti-seizure provision and enforce a money judgment against a public entity.” Id. at 923 (citing Specialty Healthcare Mgmt., Inc. v. St. Mary Parish Hosp., 220 F.3d 650, 653 (5th Cir.2000)).

The response from that thoughtful citizen:

I understand in the context of civil rights suits. In a property suit where the litigant would have the alternate means of seeking redress again through the typical means, and approval is likely, it would be difficult to support a true taking. There’s no permanent conversion, there’s no removal/loss of all viable economic benefit, and there’s a legitimate governmental interest in safety. Plus the federal courts, as the Fifth Circuit said, will only intervene when there’s a federal interest in the remedy. Restricting one potential use of property because of legitimate health, safety, and welfare concerns would be a hard sell to rise to the level of a taking triggering federal interest. That being said, these are the productive conversations more people should be engaging in with you and others.