Baldwin — The insurance company for the city of Baldwin has refused to pay a $35,000 claim sought by a rural Baldwin resident who maintains the city violated his constitutional rights by razing a house he owned.
Employers Mutual, the city's insurance company, ruled the claim by H.C. Shephard on his house at 404 11th wasn't covered under the city's policy, said Jack Murphy, city attorney. The company didn't attempt to decide whether the claim was valid.
"The city maintains that if it's a valid claim, which we don't think it is, insurance should cover it," he said, adding city officials will get back in touch with the insurance company to discuss the issue.
Brian Wilcox, city administrator, agreed.
"The matter is not closed," he said. "We feel like the insurance policy does cover us, but we're not suggesting the claim should be paid."
In the meantime, Shephard said he plans to meet with his attorney this weekend and likely will file a lawsuit next week.
"We gave them the opportunity to rectify the situation in that manner through the insurance company," he said. "Now we're definitely going to sue them. It's a strict rule in our constitutional rights that you cannot take action like that without due process of law."
On March 15, the city deemed that the house, which Shephard owned as a rental property, was dangerous, unsafe or unfit for human habitation. The city council set a hearing date of May 3 to meet with Shephard and discuss whether the house would be rehabilitated or demolished. However, a fire broke out at the house March 22, and the council determined the remains of the house constituted an immediate hazard and voted to tear it down.
Shephard was on vacation in Mexico at the time, and the city's attempts to reach him were unsuccessful. Upon returning to Baldwin, he was faced with the $2,764 bill for demolition of the house. His attorney, Eliehue Brunson, sent a letter to the city in June seeking $35,000 in damages.
Shephard said he would have to talk to Brunson about the specific basis of a lawsuit and the dollar figure that would be attached. He said he hopes to set a precedent to keep cities from taking similar action against other individuals in the future.
"I think a jury will sit there and say, 'We can't accept these vigilante tactics in 1993,'" he said.