Judge hears Freedom House restraining order arguments

by Diane Gerth
The legal fight continues in the lawsuit brought by several West 7th businesses against the City of St. Paul and Freedom House, the daytime homeless shelter opened last winter to provide a place for unsheltered people to spend time while COVID has shut public spaces.
The businesses (Tom Reid’s Hockey Pub, Art Farm, 262 Fort Road, LLC, TD Wright and others) sued in November 2021. In the complaint, they claim that the city ordinance that allowed Freedom House to operate is invalid and that the city breached its duties as owner of the property to keep the activities of its tenant in line. The plaintiffs also claim that Freedom House has negligently operated the facility, listing over a hundred the shelter.
After filing the lawsuit, the businesses immediately sought a temporary restraining order (TRO) from the court, asking that the court stop the city and Freedom House from operating the facility. Affidavits and statements from over a dozen businesses and residents describe incidents caused by the visitors to Freedom House, including public urination and defecation; intoxicated people on private property; harassment of business customers, vomit and syringes left on the sidewalks, trash and shopping carts surrounding the building; fights between Freedom House clients and threats to business owners.
Freedom House argued that the TRO would harm its unsheltered clients should the facility be closed, claiming that the plaintiffs “simply do not wish to see the poor.” 
The City of St. Paul argued that they have the power under state law to enact ordinances that allow the facility and that the businesses cannot force the city to enforce its pre-COVID zoning code. Both Freedom House and the city meanwhile stress that they have been working on solutions to the problems raised by the businesses.
The city has also asked Judge Patrick Diamond to dismiss the claims against it, claiming statutory and official immunity against the claims. The city also claims that it has no duty to control the actions of its tenant, Freedom House. The plaintiffs have opposed dismissal, arguing that it’s too early in the case and that the facts must be fully determined before a dismissal can be considered.
A hearing on the temporary restraining order was held on Dec. 28, and a hearing on the motion to dismiss was held on Feb. 17. Diamond took both matters under advisement and had not issued a decision by the time of this issue’s publication. Federal law allows up to 90 days for deliberation. 
Diane Gerth is a board member of the Community Reporter.