City, MADC files counterclaim against former business owners suing for civil rights violations
The city of Mitchell has requested Janice and Ronald Christensen's complaints be dismissed and now wants a jury to award damages for the Christensens allegedly failing to uphold their side of a settlement agreement.
The city of Mitchell on Monday countersued a couple it alleges violated its end of an agreement to transfer ownership of a Main Street building.
The city, along with the Mitchell Area Development Corporation, argues in its answer to the federal complaint that it did not violate the civil rights of Janice and Ronald Christensen when it took ownership of the building that formerly housed the Crafty Fox, an arts and crafts store, and has requested damages allegedly caused by the Christensens failing to uphold their side of the contract.
The Christensens filed their lawsuit on Nov. 14, alleging the city used threats and conspired with the MADC to take ownership of the 223 N. Main St. building.
The city acquired the building after agreeing to pay the Christensens $1 and cover an estimated $150,000 in repairs before selling the building. Ownership of the building was transferred to the MADC in October when the Christensens had not identified another buyer by an agreed-upon deadline.
Asserting the building's windows and roof constituted a public nuisance, the city filed a nuisance enforcement action against the Christensens' company, Western on Main LLC, in March.
The Christensens' original complaint argues that the city used the threat of jail time or fines from the nuisance complaint to push them to sell the building for $1, which they argue was not sufficient compensation, and close their business. They're requesting damages in excess of $500,000 for seven claims against the city, two of which also name the MADC as a defendant.
In its answer to the Christensens' complaint, the city denied that the nuisance enforcement action was used as a threat to the Christensens to leverage them into selling the building for $1, that that agreement was made as part of a conspiracy with the MADC to get ownership of the building and that the events of this year that ended with the Craft Fox going out of business and the Christensens losing ownership of the building violated their Fifth and Fourteenth Amendment rights.
The answer asserts that any injury and damages suffered by the Christensens were instead "caused or contributed to by their own negligence to an extent sufficient to bar any recovery against these Defendants."
The counterclaim states the Christensens have failed to provide free and clear title to the property, which is under mortgages of over $100,000; that Western on Main has failed to pay $7,125.99 in past due and accruing property and Business Improvement District taxes; and that the Christensens have failed to remove personal property from the building but did remove air conditioning units and heating pumps in which the city had an interest after acquiring the building.
As part of its counterclaim, the city alleged that the Main Street building had been in a state of disrepair since January 2009, with orders to correct issued to Western on Main on Aug. 24, 2012, and Aug. 15, 2018, before the nuisance action was filed in March.
The city and MADC's counterclaim requests both dismissal of the claims brought by Western on Main and a jury trial for breach of contract by the Christensens, alleging the couple as Western on Main has failed to uphold its end of the settlement agreement.
At a Nov. 4 meeting, the Mitchell City Council discussed filing a lawsuit against the Christensens. After the couple filed their federal case, city attorney Justin Johnson told The Daily Republic the counterclaim would serve in place of a separate lawsuit filed by the city.