Heather Macre Represents Domestic Violence Victim in Successful Challenge to “Nuisance” Ordinance
Federal lawsuit against the City of Surprise challenged the constitutionality of forced evictions of persons who make multiple calls to police.
Latest update: May 15, 2017
At its March 15 meeting, the Surprise City Council nullified two sections of a nuisance ordinance that sparked a 2015 federal lawsuit against the City.
Repeal of the ordinance sections was related to the settlement of the lawsuit (see the settlement agreement), which was filed by Aiken Schenk attorney Heather Macre, with The American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Arizona, on behalf of Nancy Markham, a survivor of domestic violence.
“We’re thrilled," said Ms. Macre after the City Council's vote. "We think the City Council did the right thing tonight, expending protections not just to victims of domestic violence but to all crime victims in the city,” Macre said.
The suit challenged the constitutionality of the Surprise city ordinance that called for landlords to evict a tenant if more than four calls to police are placed in 30 days, or for crimes occurring at the property even when the tenant is the victim.
“Laws like the Surprise nuisance ordinance unfairly impact victims of domestic violence," Ms. Macre noted, "and force them to choose between stable housing and protecting themselves and their families from their abusers. This is a choice no one should have to make.”
On multiple occasions between March and September 2014, Ms. Markham’s ex-boyfriend entered her Surprise home, choked and punched her, and threatened her with weapons, prompting Ms. Markham to call the police.
A Surprise police officer then enforced the “nuisance” ordinance by notifying her landlord about the police calls and encouraging Ms. Markham’s eviction.
The landlord was warned that, if Ms. Markham was not evicted, the property would be labeled a “criminal nuisance” and the landlord would “not be considered an innocent owner/agent’” if any crimes were committed in the future.
In September 2014, Markham’s apartment manager notified her that she would be evicted for having violated the law, even though the police never mentioned the law to Markham during any of her calls.
The lawsuit, backed by the American Civil Liberties Union's Women's Rights Project as part of the ACLU's nationwide “I Am Not a Nuisance” campaign to aid nuisance-law victims, claimed that enforcement of the ordinance violated Ms. Markham’s First Amendment right to seek police assistance, disregarded the Fair Housing Act’s prohibition on gender discrimination, and disregarded constitutional due-process and equal-protection guarantees.
The suit, which seeks unspecified money damages, also claimed that the ordinance violated an Arizona housing law that says rental agreements cannot limit tenants’ rights to call police in emergencies.