Sis­ters sue Scran­ton over de­mo­li­tion of fam­ily home

The Times-Tribune - - LOCAL - BY TERRIE MOR­GAN-BESECKER STAFF WRITER Con­tact the writer: tbesecker@timessham­rock.com; 570-348-9137; @tmbeseck­ertt on Twit­ter

Two women who in­her­ited a con­demned Scran­ton home filed a fed­eral law­suit against the city, al­leg­ing its code en­force­ment of­fice de­mol­ished the prop­erty with­out ad­vis­ing them it would be torn down.

Kelly Klee-medici and Kim­berly Klee-ro­drigues, the chil­dren of the late James and Winifred Klee, claim the city vi­o­lated their due process rights when it de­mol­ished the home at rear 823 Moosic St., caus­ing them fi­nan­cial and emo­tional harm.

The suit, filed by Moosic at­tor­ney Joseph Mar­i­otti, hinges on a dis­pute over whether the city was re­quired to no­tify the women that the home was sched­uled for de­mo­li­tion af­ter they in­her­ited it from their mother, who died in Oc­to­ber 2017. It names the city and Patrick Hin­ton, direc­tor of the De­part­ment of Li­cens­ing, In­spec­tions and Per­mits, as de­fen­dants.

Hin­ton re­ferred ques­tions to the city so­lic­i­tor, Jes­sica Eskra, who de­clined to com­ment, cit­ing the pend­ing lit­i­ga­tion.

In a prior in­ter­view, Hin­ton said the home was con­demned in 2011, while it was still owned by James and Winifred Klee. The city fol­lowed re­quired pro­ce­dures lead­ing up to the de­mo­li­tion, in­clud­ing post­ing the build­ing with con­demned signs in 2011 and 2016, and mail­ing no­tices of code vi­o­la­tions, he said.

The home sat va­cant for years be­fore the city de­mol­ished it in July. Mar­i­otti said the Klee sis­ters were pub­licly iden­ti­fied as heirs to their mother’s es­tate in Oc­to­ber 2017. He con­tends the city had a duty to con­duct a pub­lic records search, which would have iden­ti­fied the sis­ters as the new own­ers of the home, and no­tify them it planned to tear it down.

“The es­tate had plans to clear it up,” Mar­i­otti said. “To come in 10 months later and knock it down with­out telling the new own­ers and giv­ing them a chance to rem­edy things does not seem right.”

The law­suit notes the city faced a sim­i­lar sit­u­a­tion in 2009, when it was sued for de­mol­ish­ing a prop­erty that had been pur­chased in a tax sale with­out no­ti­fy­ing the new owner it was tak­ing the ac­tion. That suit was dis­missed in 2013, af­ter a fed­eral judge ruled city of­fi­cials had gov­ern­men­tal im­mu­nity.

Although the city pre­vailed in that case, Mar­i­otti said he be­lieves it re­sulted in a new pol­icy to search pub­lic records be­fore de­mol­ish­ing a struc­ture. The city failed to do that in this case.

The law­suit says the city de­prived the Klees of the value of the prop­erty and caused them em­bar­rass­ment, hu­mil­i­a­tion and emo­tional dis­tress. It seeks un­spec­i­fied com­pen­satory and puni­tive dam­ages.

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