United States District Court, D. Delaware
appears pro se. She began this lawsuit to protect
her private property and preserve her right to restore her
home located in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, which she owns with
"Leroy William Harmon Heirs" and Lefton Harmon, Sr.
(D.I. 1; D.I. 1-1 at p.8). Plaintiff alleges violations of
her rights under the First and Fourteenth Amendments to
peaceful enjoyment of the property, and unlawful tactics by
Sussex County government officials. On June 9, 2018,
Plaintiff filed a motion for emergency and preliminary
injunction to prevent a Sheriff's sale scheduled for June
19, 2018, in Sussex County, Delaware. (D.I. 27). Defendants
responded. (D.I. 32).
began this action in the United States District Court for the
District of South Carolina. The case was transferred to this
Court on December 19, 2017. (D.I. 13, 14). Before beginning
this action, on June 27, 2017, Plaintiff filed a case in the
Superior Court of the State of Delaware in and for Sussex
County against Sussex County and Mike Castello. Harmon v.
Sussex County, Civ. A. No. S17C-06-035 ESB (Del.
Super.). Plaintiff sought an injunction against a demolition
order for property located on Oyster House Road in Rehoboth,
Delaware. The property, which had been destroyed by fire, had
been determined to be dangerous, unsafe and unfit for human
occupation, occupancy or use and was a public nuisance under
common law. (D.I. 1-1 at p.6).
became aware of the demolition order on June 23, 2017. The
demolition order provided that the owners were to raze the
structure by June 24, 2017 and, if they failed to comply with
the demolition order, the Sussex County Code Office would
have the structure razed and removed and the costs of razing
and removing would be charged against the real estate upon
which the structure was located, and a lien would be placed
upon the real estate as provided in the Sussex County Code.
(Id.). The parties agreed that no action would be
taken to demolish the property until disposition of the
matter by the Sussex County Board of Appeals.
Harmon, Civ. A. No. S17C-06-035 ESB, at Sept. 6,
meantime, on July 25, 2017, Plaintiff and the other owners
received a violation notice regarding a shed on the property
deemed an "illegally placed structure, " and they
were given until August 18, 2017 to correct the
violation. (D.I. 1-1 at p.8). On August 31, 2017,
Plaintiff was notified by email that the demolition appeal
hearing was set for September 20, 2017. (Id. at
p.1). As part of the process, Plaintiff was required to pay a
$600 application fee. (Id. at p.1). Plaintiff sought
a fee waiver due to financial hardship and was told the
County had no process to waive the fee and, if not received
by September 13, 2017, the hearing would be canceled.
(Id. at pp. 2-3). Plaintiff did not pay the fee and
was notified on September 14, 2017 that the hearing was
canceled. (Id. at p.5). She alleges demolition of
the home began the same day. (D.I. 1 at p.4). She further
alleges Defendants took steps beyond demolition when they
filled the basement with fill dirt and covered the water well
with fill dirt. (Id.) The Complaint seeks
compensatory damages and injunctive relief.
January 12, 2018, a little over three weeks after this case
was transferred from South Carolina to here, the Department
of Finance of Sussex County filed a monitions suit against
Plaintiff and the other owners for delinquent sewer and water
bills and the demolition lien. Department of Finance of
Sussex County v. Harmon Heirs, Civ. A. No. S18T-01-002
(Del. Super.) The total arrearages amount to $14, 063.10.
Monition was entered on January 18, 2018, and posted on the
property on January 23, 2018. Department of Finance of
Sussex County, Civ. A. No. S18T-01 -002 at Jan. 24, 2018
return of writ. On May 30, 2018, a notice of the
Sheriff's sale was posted at the physical entrance of the
property and, on May 31, 2018, Plaintiff and the other
property owners were notified by certified mail of a
Sheriff's sale of the real estate to take place on June
19, 2018, at 9:30 a.m. See Department of Finance of
Sussex County, Civ. A. No. S18T-01-002 at June 13, 2018
Ex. A, Affidavit of Proof of Mailing; Ex. B, Notice to
Lienholders; Ex. C Affidavit of Posting The notice states
that it "does not constitute a representation that the
public sale will be held, which sale is subject to possible
stay, redemption, continuance or
dismissal." (D.I. 27-2 at p.3).
8, 2018, Plaintiff filed a motion to dismiss and motion for
injunctive relief in Civ. A. No. S18T-01-002. She filed an
identical motion for injunctive relief in this case. (D.I.
27). Plaintiff contends the Sheriff's sale is
retaliatory. The motion states that on May 27, 2018,
Plaintiff declined an offer of sale of the property initiated
by West Rehoboth Community Land Trust, that Defendants were
upset by her refusal and are "unlawfully . . . using
their political influence seeking to unlawfully strip [her]
of her private property, " "for their own private
use, " when, through their attorney, they "drafted
a plan with less than [thirty] day[s'] notice, and
without any warning to . . . Plaintiff -- to place [the]
property up for Sheriff sale on [June 19, ] 2018."
(Id. at ¶¶ 1 -2). The motion states that
West Rehoboth Community Land Trust and its registered agent
David J. Weidman disguised themselves as Partnerships for
Development, Inc. (Id. at ¶ 1). The agreement
of sale names Plaintiff and Lefton Harmon, Sr. as the
sellers, Partnerships for Development Inc. as the buyer, and
provides for a $300, 000 purchase price. (D.I. 27-1 at p.1).
Plaintiff asserts that Hudson & Downs Corporation, with
West Rehoboth Community Land Trust, have been working
together to strip African American residents of their beach
property in the name of the land trust. (D.I. 27 at ¶
to Plaintiff, she has made multiple payments on the water and
sewer bill, noting that one check was returned, and stating
the bill will be paid in full the month of June 2018.
(Id. at ¶¶ 10-14). She states that Sussex
County never attempted to arrange for payments on the
demolition and she "just began to pay monthly on the
outstanding cost of demolition until the balance is paid in
full." (Id. at ¶¶ 15-17) Plaintiff is
currently challenging the demolition cost in this action.
(Id. at ¶ 16).
asks the Court to issue an emergency injunction to the
Superior Court of the State of Delaware in and for Sussex
County to prevent: (1) immediate and irreparable injury,
loss, and damage; (2) the Sheriff's sale of the property
located on Oyster House Road in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware; (3)
Defendants and their associates from further retaliatory and
harassing conduct; and (4) Sussex County Administration
Department of Finance from having the property disposed of
without due process of law.
oppose the motion on the grounds Plaintiff has failed to meet
the requisites for injunctive relief. (D.I. 32). They note
that the arrearages, not retaliation, are the actual cause of
the Sheriff's sale. In addition, they note that West
Rehoboth, Partners for Development, Inc., and Hudson &
Downs Corporations are not defendants in this action, and
they are not affiliated with Defendants in this action. (D.I.
32 at ¶¶ 10, 11). Defendants contend that they did
not offer to purchase the property at issue and have no
reason to retaliate, noting that as a government entity and
public servants, they would gain no right to use the subject
property under the offer of sale.
Standards of Law
preliminary injunction is "an extraordinary remedy that
should be granted only if (1) the plaintiff is likely to
succeed on the merits; (2) denial will result in irreparable
harm to the plaintiff; (3) granting the injunction will not
result in irreparable harm to the defendant; and (4) granting
the injunction is in the public interest."
NutraSweet Co. v. Vit-Mar Enterprises, Inc., 176
F.3d 151, 153 (3d Cir. 1999). "[F]ailure to establish
any element in [a plaintiff's] favor renders a
preliminary injunction inappropriate." Id.
Plaintiff, as the movant, bears the burden of showing that
these four factors weigh in favor of granting the injunction.
See Ferring Pharms., Inc. v. Watson Pharms., Inc.,
765 F.3d 205, 210 (3d Cir. 2014).
Under the Younger abstention doctrine, a federal
district court must abstain from hearing a federal case which
interferes with certain state proceedings. See Younger v.
Harris,401 U.S. 37 (1971). The Court may raise the
issue of Younger abstention sua sponte.
O'Neill v. City of Philadelphia,32 F.3d 785, 786
n.1 (3d Cir. 1994). Under Younger, federal courts
are prevented from enjoining pending state proceedings absent
extraordinary circumstances.Middlesex Cnty. Ethics Comm.
v. Garden State BarAss'n,457 U.S. 423, 437 (1982).
Abstention is appropriate only when: (1) there are ongoing
state proceedings that are judicial in nature; (2) the state
proceedings implicate important state interests; and (3) the
state proceedings provide an adequate opportunity to raise
the federal claims. Lazaridis v. Wehmer, 591 F.3d