Miami-Dade County

Miami-Dade pays to settle legal case over soldier’s demolished home

A sign stands at 1488 NW 103rd St. in Miami to let passers-by know the government demolished the house even though the owner was on active military duty.
A sign stands at 1488 NW 103rd St. in Miami to let passers-by know the government demolished the house even though the owner was on active military duty. MIAMI HERALD STAFF

Miami-Dade County, which bulldozed the home of an American soldier as he trained to go to war for the third time, has paid up: Army Sgt. First Class Jesus Jimenez and his family just got a check for $350,000.

After fighting with Jimenez for four years over what it said were dangerous building conditions, the county tore down his home — ordering his pregnant wife, daughter, brother and mother-in-law to move out.

Three years later, a federal judge ruled that the county should have delayed any penalties when Jimenez asked for an extension while he was serving in Iraq.

As part of a settlement, the county must also wipe the hefty liens and fines against Jimenez’s three properties, hold off on any new code enforcement for 180 days, and ask Florida Power & Light to restore electric power on two of the properties where it had been cut off.

Jimenez and his wife, Laura, must sell the two built properties and remove a protest sign that has stood on the third, vacant property at 1488 NW 103rd St. since their house was demolished. The sign has incurred county fines for being too big.

“Our home was here,” the sign says in English and Spanish. “This is how the U.S. government thanks the service of an active Army soldier who gives his life for his country. Leaving his family HOMELESS.”

Though the county sent the Jimenezes a $350,000 check on Oct. 30, it has yet to meet the other settlement conditions, the family’s defense attorney, Brad Winston, said Thursday. He had originally asked Miami-Dade to pay $395,000.

“This has been a seven-year ordeal for the Jimenez family,” Winston said in an email. “They will be very happy to put this matter behind them. They live on a U.S. Army base for now, and look forward to selling off the properties once the county eventually honors the terms of the settlement.”

County attorneys said in a legal filing Wednesday that the release of the liens against the Jimenezes is “in motion and will be accomplished within several days.” Among the penalties to be waived is a demolition-cost lien for $13,713.93 and a fine for the too-large sign that was $10,510 as of July.

A federal judge in Miami ruled this summer that the county violated U.S. law by failing to delay an unsafe-structures hearing on Jimenez’s case in November 2007.

His home had been cited for a slew of problems before Jimenez was on active duty. The county argued that Jimenez tried to ignore fixing serious structural violations that posed a danger to his family and neighbors by taking advantage of his status as a soldier. Miami-Dade put off knocking down the house for four years.

But because Jimenez properly requested an extension when he was summoned to war, the federal law protecting soldiers should have been followed, U.S. District Judge Robert N. Scola Jr. opined. The Servicemembers Civil Relief Act requires the temporary suspension of judicial and administrative proceedings, if requested by a soldier on active duty to allow him or her to focus on the mission.

The house was razed in June 2011 while Jimenez, who is now stationed in Fort Bliss, Texas, was out of reach and training for his second deployment to Afghanistan. His family members were kicked out and lost most of their belongings, including their upright piano, after ignoring repeated orders to leave. Jimenez, a father of four, eventually sued the county and two building officials, one of whom has since retired.

After ruling in the family’s favor, Scola ordered a jury trial to award damages, but he asked the county and soldier to try to negotiate a settlement first. The two sides reached agreement on a poignant date, Sept. 11.

The county had 30 days to cut the Jimenez family a check. It didn’t, so Winston filed a legal motion on Oct. 13 asking the court to reopen the case and compel Miami-Dade to act.

“At this point, plaintiffs’ justice has been delayed far too long, and the defendants choose to delay it again,” the defense attorney wrote.

The county responded Wednesday noting that the most important step — paying the family — had already taken place. More time was required to meet the other conditions because of “various levels of administrative review and approval of the settlement documents.”

“Specifically, the process whereby the liens will be lifted on the properties has been initiated and will be completed within 3-5 business days, and the County will execute the release of Plaintiff within the same time frame,” Assistant County Attorney James Allen wrote on behalf of County Attorney Robert Cuevas.

The Jimenezes released the county of any further liability Oct. 21, contingent on all settlement conditions being met.

Each side will bear its own costs for attorneys’ fees.

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