City tries to settle razorwire suit

City tries to settle razorwire suit

On Valentine’s Day, 2005, Charlottesville resident Shirley Presley filed suit in the United States District Court against the city and the Rivanna Trails Foundation (RTF) for the violation of her property rights over the previous six years, as well as for malicious prosecution by the city. For those claims, Presley asked for $1.4 million in addition to $20,000 a month from the time of the suit for the continued deprivation of her rights.

The Rivanna Trail: Use at your own risk. Shirley Presley strung up razorwire across the portion of the trail that runs across her property. And she also successfully sued the city.

Almost two years later, the suit is nearing settlement, which could end a saga that began in 1998 when Presley’s land—a single lot less than one acre and situated along the Rivanna River, opposite Darden Towe park—was listed on a map that was distributed to the public by RTF. Incorporated in 1992, RTF set about creating a system of footpaths that follows along the Rivanna and its tributaries, to date completing more than 20 miles of hiking trails. One of those trails happened to cross along the edge of Presley’s property and she was none too happy about it.

According to her suit, her land was “constantly traveled by various members of the public, with various degrees of noise, resulting litter and debris, injury to plants, and was, in addition, being used as an overnight campsite.”

In response, Presley called the police several times to eject the trespassers, and also posted over 100 “no trespassing” signs on her property, all of which were defaced and destroyed. Finally, Presley erected obstacles to prevent trespassing upon her property, at one point even installing razorwire along the perimeter of her land. In turn, the city revised an ordinance, and then brought a criminal prosecution against her in 2004 for violating that ordinance. That suit was dismissed.

In her own suit, Presley alleged that the city’s actions were “sufficiently outrageous, deliberate, and offensive to civilized society and shock the conscience of a civilized community such that they constitute abuse of governmental power.” U.S. District Court granted the city’s motion to dismiss Presley’s complaint, but the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals reinstated it, eventually leading to the current negotiations to settle.

As of press time, the agreement, which is being worked out by lawyers for the city’s insurance company, still needs the city attorney’s signature, but a monetary award is believed to be headed in Presley’s direction. It would be paid for by the city’s insurance policy.

“We are pleased that some resolution to this issue is in sight,” says Ric Barrick, city spokesman. “We would want to be clear that in this proposed settlement there is no admittance of fault. We strongly felt that it was in the best interest of the city and the citizens to put this debate behind us so that we could continue to provide the quality services that the citizens expect from us.”

RTF’s John Holden was pleased as well. “Everybody’s happy with the results,” he says.

Debbie Wyatt, Presley’s attorney in the case, concurs. “We reached an amicable resolution.”

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