Indy looking for a few (really) good nuisance lawsuit targets

INDIANAPOLIS — The city of Indianapolis is looking for a few good test cases to take to court with the goal being to use lawsuits to redefine “nuisance” in the eyes of state law.

Indiana law says a nuisance is something “injurious to health,” “indecent,” “offensive,” or obstructs property or people’s lives.

Many things could fit that broad definition, and often municipalities use costs that occurred in dealing with a property as legal proof it was a nuisance. Those costs could include police responses, EMT runs, and other city services required to address problems at an address.

But a Court of Appeals ruling essentially took cost off the table as proof of nuisance making it much harder for local governments to access the courts to get a problem property to comply with local ordinances.

Now, the city’s Problem Properties Task Force is examining data on crimes, fires, and health department cases against properties to identify potential nuisance lawsuit targets.

“We’re already looking at potentials. We just want to make sure our choice is informed by the data criteria,” explained Aryn Schounce, director of Government Affairs & Strategic Initiatives for Indianapolis.

The examination of data by the City Prosecutor’s Office, IMPD, the Marion County Public Health Department and the Alcohol Compliance Task Force is expected to develop a list of problem properties. Schounce says that process will likely conclude by the end of summer.

Test nuisance lawsuits may be filed shortly afterward.

“There’s going to be one than one lawsuit. The first one, we’re looking for one that’s kind of open and shut on the facts,” said Matt Giffin with the City Corporation Counsel.

Giffin points out the city’s legal strategy is not merely to win the nuisance suit, but also to prompt the Court of Appeals and the Indiana Supreme Court, if necessary, to rewrite what a nuisance is and to give municipal governments stronger legal tools to deal with problem properties.

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