Snow and Judge Roberto Lange have delayed the demolition of the incomplete and code-violating Sioux Falls mansion of online separator of fools and money Vitaliy Strizheus and his wife Nataliya. At yesterday’s hearing in the United States District Court in Sioux Falls, the City of Sioux Falls agreed to restrain their wrecking ball for 28 days “because of the volume of snow on the ground and because the parties and Court need additional time to brief and rule” on the lawsuit the Strizheuses filed on February 17. Judge Lange advised the city and the Strizheuses to use the delay to “explore settlement by use of a magistrate judge if they wish.”
This order came a day after the city filed a pretty strong response to the Strizheuses’ outlandish claim that enforcing city code on a building project that has lingered unfinished and unsightly in violation of plain city ordinance for years represents unfair taking of property, cruel and unusual punishment, and discrimination against Ukrainians. The city contends that the Strizheuses are lodging new Constitutional claims that could have been made at any point in over seven years of conflict over their code violations. If the Strizheuses really believed that the city was violating their Fifth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights, they should have raised those concerns earlier, during the litigation that has already been adjudicated all the way to the South Dakota Supreme Court. The city says res judicata, the doctrine that “a final judgment on the merits of an action precludes the parties or their privies from relitigating issues that were or could have been raised in that action,” bars the federal court from reversing what the state court has decided on any of the claims that the Strizheuses now raise.
And if the Strizheuses really want to overturn the state court’s decision, the City of Sioux Falls says the Rooker-Feldman doctrine prohibits federal district courts from overturning state court rulings. Judge Lange and the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals above him can’t undo a ruling of the South Dakota Supreme Court; the Strizheuses, argues the city, have to take their gripe to the United States Supreme Court.
If res judicata and Rooker-Feldman aren’t enough to stay Judge Lange’s hand, the flimsiness of the Strizheuses’ argument should. The city contends the Eighth Amendment is irrelevant here. The Strizheuses complain that the city is imposing an “excessive fine”, but (1) a fine is a payment to the government, and demolishing a house doesn’t put any money in the city’s purse; (2) demolishing a code-delinquent house is not “punishment” within the scope of the Eighth Amendment; and (3) the loss the Strizheuses claim they will suffer “is wholly self-imposed by the Strizheuses”, who put their own assets at risk by sinking more money into construction while appealing to the South Dakota Supreme Court.
The city reminds the court that the Strizheuses are arguing the wrong part of the ordinance providing for demolition. While the plaintiffs cry that their house does not meet the ordinance’s criterion for a building too dangerously dilapidated to be left standing, the city notes that they and the courts have applied the other criterion in that ordinance allowing for demolition of projects where normal construction has simply stopped for more than 18 months, regardless of the condition of the idled project.
The Strizheuses did attempt to subpoena Sioux Falls mayor Paul TenHaken and city attorney Ryan Sage to produce documents by close of business Thursday and appear at Friday’s hearing. However, the plaintiffs served those subpoenas during this week’s snowstorm and before the plaintiffs had even filed their brief supporting their complaint to give the city any idea of what specific issues the subpoenaed witnesses would need to address. Judge Lange agreed those subpoenas were “unduly burdensome”.
In the supporting brief that they finally filed on Thursday, the Strizheuses imply that the city is demolishing their home because two of the people who actually live near their vacant structure, Cresten Capital honcho Kevin Tupy and lawyer and KOA campground franchisee Kent Cutler, have donated to TenHaken’s political campaigns. I would love for the Strizheuses to lay bare any political cronyism and skullduggery that may be taking place in Sioux Falls, but the proper place for that is probably a good blog post, not federal litigation over black-and-white city ordinances. Mayor TenHaken is most surely in bed with a clique of skeezy capitalist bastards, but skeezy capitalist bastardry does not change the facts and law in a case already decided by the South Dakota Supreme Court.
Nonetheless, snow and Judge Lange have given the Strizheuses 28 more days to come up with some better legal arguments to preserve their boondoggle building.
Money talks…the homeless walk.
That’s about right, Arlo. This kerfuffle is something that rich, white people have. They get 28-day delays, or top of the years they’ve had to “…explore settlement by use of a magistrate judge if they wish.” My Goodness. You think anyone with very little in the bank gets such consideration?
My ex and I lived in substandard housing in Sioux Falls when we were poor students. We moved from one substandard house to another, paying $25 more per month to not have to breathe mold. The second house had a shower in the basement, which was pretty cold in wintertime. We joked that it built character. It turned out that second house was not connected to city water, but had a shallow well. We had periodic digestive system issues (don’t ask), and found out we had E.coli in the well water we were showering with and drinking. We were advised to dump some bleach down the well from time to time, and not to drink the water for a week until the bleach stink left. This happened a few times. Eventually, the landlord (Augustana College) paid to tie the house into the city system by which time we had moved to go to graduate school.
You know we never bellyached as much as these rich, white folks did. It took a few iterations of diarrhea, but Augie eventually did the right thing. We never had the money to bellyache and whine as much as these rich, wypippo. We did hear that the city bulldozed our first substandard house a few years later. Augie tore down the other house.
If judge Lange and the City want to do a public service they will take that mansion away, turn it over to trade school students or apprentices and let them redesign the place for student housing.
It does seem a nice house. A shame to do a Kurtz to it.
It’s interesting, a crook among crooks and yet they don’t want that particular crook amongst them. They don’t seem to have the money for the pay-off. I guess that’s why our new neighbors chose to overbuild in our neighborhood.
Ukranians aren’t all good, but it is a sympathetic ploy.
Hmm Dakota News Now said it was 10,000 sq feet. Just a curious detail. It looks enormous.
With things like this maybe seizure is better than demolition, would taking it by eminent domain and selling it to someone who will finish it be a better solution? we could discuss that for hours, so many issues.
One thing I have never understood about the builders of these mansions is why would anybody spend that much money to build that big a house on anything less than 5 acres? I grew up in a town outside of Boston where the minimum lot size was two acres..When my parents bought in 1948 it was a rural community, and the residents wanted it to remain a rural community, and affordable for young families. The 2 acre lot size was intended to allow everybody to have vegetable gardens, horses, sheep, goats and chickens. There were no ordinances governing the type or number of animals allowed.
As time passed, what was intended as rural zoning became known as “snob zoning.” The plus-sized lots attracted people who wanted to build big houses, and after many decades nearly every residence there was realizing a resale price over one million. (Zillow says the median home price in Lincoln MA is now $1,245,632) The town became an enclave for the wealthy, all thanks to the zoning, the 2-acre minimum, imposed decades earlier, in an effort to preserve it as a rural community.
An investment in real estate only works if you have a lot of land. I don’t get this business of building gigantic houses within city limits at all. That was the mistake the Sapienzas made, I just don’t get it.
Arlo gets me thinking that if a homeless guy stacked a few pallets in an alley off Phillips to shelter from the cold, the city cops wouldn’t give him seven years or 28 days to clean the place up. They’d knock down those pallets on sight and tell Homeless Joe to move along.
Here’s what really puzzles me: the money the Strizheuses are spending on their lawyers could pay for rendering enough of the house habitable to move into.Yeah, they have seven kids, so they need a lot of space, but they could spend their lawyer’s fees finishing the kitchen, a couple bathrooms, and four bedrooms and move in. Google tells me the current house they are in only has four bedrooms, so the kids are used to bunking together. Move into the partially completed fancy house, sell the old house on the other side of town, make at least $100K on that sale, and use that cash to finish another three or four rooms.
Instead of spending cash on lawyers to further delay having to finish the house, why not spend that same cash on finishing the house? What game is he playing? Is there any way he profits from having this unfinished second house on the books? Or is he just a knucklehead, blinded by outrage or selfish pride and unable to see his way toward the simpler, cheaper, practical path to making this house habitable and unloading his current smaller home?
Well Ann Beal, you could check with DeSantis on the seizure thing. All in the name of freedom of course.