After a Columbus woman’s lawsuit, federal judge rules Mississippi eviction law unconstitutional

After woman’s lawsuit, federal judge rules Mississippi eviction law unconstitutional
After woman’s lawsuit, federal judge rules Mississippi eviction law unconstitutional(WLBT)
Published: Dec. 9, 2021 at 10:49 PM CST
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JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - Whether the state’s eviction law is constitutional is at the center of a federal lawsuit.

Earlier this month, U.S. District Judge Michael P. Mills declared the law, which allows landlords to seize tenants’ belongings during the eviction process, unconstitutional.

This after a North Mississippi woman filed a federal lawsuit challenging that law.

A year ago, we told you about Samantha Conner of Columbus. In her lawsuit, she’s looking to get her items back and hundreds of thousands of dollars in damages.

“He just literally, treated me and my belongings like we were trash,” said Conner. “This man was laughing; he was mocking me. One of the worst days of my life, and he was mocking me. He was deriving extreme joy from causing me extreme pain. That’s something that I cannot forget.”

It all dates back to 2019 when Conner was living at the Chateaux Hills Apartments in Columbus.

She was evicted from her home. According to Conner, her landlord, Kevin Casteel, seized everything in her apartment and either sold, donated, or threw the items away.

Under state law, Casteel did nothing wrong because once a tenant is evicted, state law considers their property abandoned. However, Conner believes that law and Casteel’s actions are unconstitutional, leading to the 19-page lawsuit against Casteel, the property manager James Brooks, and Lowndes County constable Willie “Sonny " Sanders.

Judge Mills heard the case and issued a ruling siding with Conner, putting some of the blame on state lawmakers, insisting they revise this law.

”The State of Mississippi can do better than the current eviction statutes, it concludes that the statutes in question violate the Fourteenth Amendment, and that, therefore, the Legislature must do better,” the lawsuit stated.

”When you do something like that to someone, you shatter their world,” said Conner. “Hearing this ruling, it kind of gave me something that, although I don’t have the physical things to pass along to my kids, my grandbabies or anything like that, it’s like they can look back on it and say my mother, my Mant Mant, because I’m not called grandma, my Mant Mant, she did this.”

The Columbus woman said she hopes the legislature will be able to craft legislation that gives better protection to tenants being evicted.

“Giving us an allotted amount of time to gather our belongings, even if that is the ruling against us, that could’ve changed the whole narrative of this situation,” said Conner.

When it comes to what’s next, The Attorney General’s Office has less than a month to decide if it wants to issue an appeal.

If an appeal is not issued, the judge’s ruling goes into effect. Which means: “Well we enter no man’s land, none of us are really sure what happens next,” said Jordan Hughes, who’s representing Conner.

“The statutes that we challenged, the three that have been declared unconstitutional govern the eviction process in Mississippi. If those laws are unconstitutional, well, there’s no mechanism to evict tenants.”

Hughes is with the Low-Income Housing Clinic at the University of Mississippi School of Law.

She said they are working with the legislature, as well as tenant and landlord advocates across the state to come up with a comprehensive reform to the state’s landlord tenants law.

“That the laws are clear, they are fair, and that the landlords and tenants are protected, they know what their rights are, and that something like this doesn’t happen to anybody else,” said Hughes.

Three On Your Side reached out to Jack Hayes, who’s representing the landlord and property manager. However, he declined to give a comment at this time.

If the parties are not able to reach a settlement, this case will head to trial.

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