Arkansas Fire Suit Headed for Trial

A lawsuit filed by property owners whose building in Nashville, Arkansas was demolished in 2010 after fire destroyed a neighboring building, will finally be making its way to trial.

Carl and Justin Johnson, who owned “Collectible Corner”, filed suit back in 2011 claiming city and fire department officials were responsible for the unnecessary destruction of their building along with its inventory. The defendants include the city, the mayor, the fire chief/fire marshal, and city councilmembers.

The facts as explained in a district court ruling from November 23, 2016:

Plaintiffs are co-owners of a business formerly located at 216 N. Main Street in Nashville, Arkansas. Plaintiff Carl Johnson has operated a business at that location since 2008. On the afternoon of August 26, 2010, a fire started in a neighboring store and spread to the building owned by Plaintiffs. Numerous fire departments responded and eventually extinguished the fire. Plaintiffs allege that once Carl Johnson was given notice of the fire, he called the Nashville Fire Department and was told his building would not be demolished. After the fire was extinguished, Defendant Jerry Harwell, in his role as Fire Chief and Fire Marshal for the City of Nashville, ordered that Plaintiffs’ building be demolished. Plaintiffs’ building was subsequently demolished and the inventory located inside was destroyed or damaged. Plaintiffs were in San Antonio, Texas, at the time of the fire and demolition and were neither given notice of the decision nor provided an opportunity to respond.

Plaintiffs allege and have provided supporting evidence that multiple individuals questioned and protested the necessity of demolishing 216 N. Main Street and that at least one person was prepared to board up the doors and windows of the premises after the fire was extinguished. Plaintiffs have also provided supporting affidavits for their argument that it was not necessary to demolish 216 N. Main Street as a means of protecting public safety, health, or welfare. Plaintiffs allege that the demolition of 216 N. Main Street constitutes a violation of “Plaintiffs’ due process and equal protection rights, in accordance with the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution, and to Plaintiffs’ right against ‘unreasonable searches and seizure [sic]’ under the Fourth Amendment.”

The case has been bouncing around the court system since 2011, having been dismissed, appealed, dismissed again and refiled. According to the court file, the case has been scheduled for trial on June 26, 2017 in the United States District Court Western Division of Arkansas.

The Johnson’s are seeking $224,985 for the replacement cost of their building and $927,320 as the fair market value of their inventory. They are also seeking attorney fees.

Here is a copy of the complaint: Johnson v Nashville

More on the story.

About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 45 years of fire service experience and 35 as a practicing attorney licensed in both Rhode Island and Maine. His background includes 29 years as a career firefighter in Providence (retiring as a Deputy Assistant Chief), as well as volunteer and paid on call experience. He is the author of two books: Legal Considerations for Fire and Emergency Services, (2006, 2nd ed. 2011, 3rd ed. 2014, 4th ed. 2022) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.

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