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Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Peachtree-Pine shelter eviction order granted

Yes, people, you read that right: The Atlanta Task Force for the Homeless needs to start packing. By the end of the month, it is under court order to leave its longtime home at the corner of Peachtree and Pine streets.

In the Task Force's second major setback in recent weeks, a Fulton Superior Court judge ruled this past Monday that the owners of the shelter building could put its occupants out on the street as soon as Oct. 27. Previously, a federal judge had ruled that the city has sovereign immunity against the Task Force's complaints and could thus proceed in collecting unpaid water bills for the property. Last week, in light of the federal ruling, city attorneys issued another ultimatum: Hand over a cool $237,600 by the end of the month or no more wa-wa.

Either of these rulings represents an existential crisis for the Task Force.

If the shelter doesn't pay the three-year-old delinquent bill and the city shuts off the water, the building would likely be condemned by the Fulton County Health Department and the occupants will be turned out by county marshals.

If, however, an eviction notice is served on Oct. 27, then the occupants could be tossed out by Fulton Sheriff's deputies.

For those of you just joining us, a few highlights to bring you up to speed: The city first turned off the shelter's water in December 2008, when the unpaid bill tallied some $147K. After the Task Force filed suit — claiming it couldn't pay the bill because the city had illegally conspired to cause the shelter to lose its funding — the city was ordered to switch back on the smaller of two water lines while the case was being heard. Last month, Federal Judge Thomas Thrash finally ruled on summary judgment, ordering the shelter to pay its bills. This past Tuesday, he rejected a motion by the Task Force to stay his order.

Meanwhile, the Task Force also had filed a lawsuit last year with the county accusing businessman Manny Fialkow —who'd bought the building after it'd been foreclosed on — of conspiring with Central Atlanta Progress, the United Way and other evil entities to force the Task Force into foreclosure in order to snag a valuable downtown property. At a hearing last June, Judge Craig Schwall seemed quite sympathetic to the Task Force's claims and put a halt on an eviction order.

Perhaps influenced by the federal decision, Schwall did a 180 this past Monday and issued an out-of-the-blue ruling that not only granted the eviction order, but set a date for the Task Force to get its collective butt out the door. And to show he was serious, Schwall pre-emptively rejected any request for a stay on his order. In layman's terms, this is equivalent to saying, "Talk to the hand."

As if all that weren't enough, Schwall even bad-mouthed the shelter he had previously given a generous benefit of a doubt.

The record is replete with evidence that the Property is in deplorable physical condition and cannot offer adequate benefit to the less fortunate members of society, the very persons whom the property is mandated to serve. The Court is not assured that Plaintiffs have the best interest of those community members in mind.

Indeed, given Plaintiff's allegations and conduct, one could determine that Plaintiffs are less concerned about the plight of their community and more concerned with embarrassing Defendants and tarnishing reputations.

And, in a direct slap at Task Force head Anita Beaty, Schwall wrote:

Moreover, the Court finds no support in the record that Plaintiffs can obtain the funding to repair and operate the Property in a productive way with the current management in place.

Ouch!

Steven Hall, the Task Force's pro bono attorney, tells CL he plans to appeal the federal ruling and he undoubtedly will do the same in Superior Court. But the one-two punch of these rulings looks to me like endgame.

Check and mate.

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