Washington’s brick-frame industry has been the target of a wide-ranging government crackdown on the city’s booming brick industry.
But a recent federal court ruling could change that, as a new federal judge has ruled that the city can legally keep the city from turning over the rubble of more than 50 buildings that have collapsed in recent years.
The decision by U.S. District Judge John E. Bates, who is presiding over a lawsuit against the city, could be an important victory for the brick industry, which has been in the spotlight since a 2010 collapse that killed 13 people and injured dozens more.
Bates said the city should not be allowed to stop the destruction of the buildings in order to maintain public safety.
“This case is not about whether the city has a constitutional right to destroy buildings, but rather whether the government’s destruction of these buildings is consistent with the city having a legitimate interest in preserving the integrity of the city,” Bates wrote.
“I am concerned that the City of Washington, D.C., is seeking to circumvent the First Amendment’s protection of freedom of speech by denying Plaintiffs a meaningful opportunity to litigate this case.”
The lawsuit, filed in February by a coalition of groups including the American Civil Liberties Union and the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, alleges that the government destroyed more than 100 buildings from the 1950s to 1990s.
It was filed under the Federal Land Management Act, which requires that public land be used for purposes that promote the public interest and are “reasonable” under the law.
The buildings included in the lawsuit are owned by the city and some are located on public property, including the Washington Monument.
A federal judge last year blocked the city in its effort to demolish the buildings, ruling that the demolition was “irreparable harm” to the communities.
Besce’s ruling will allow the city to continue to turn over the debris to the Land Trust Corporation, a private entity that manages the land for the city.
The court’s ruling means the city will not be able to turn the rubble over to the public until the Land Corporation completes its work.
The Land Trust is still required to pay for demolition and reconstruction costs, though that will not necessarily be done before the demolition is completed.
“Today’s ruling is the first step in a long process to resolve the issue of the City’s obligations under the federal Land Use Act,” Bates said in a statement.
The lawsuit was filed in 2013 by the American Society of Civil Engineers, a nonprofit representing about 400,000 American cities.
The lawsuit was brought by a group called The American Bricklayers Association, which had challenged the city for not demolishing the buildings and for not making adequate plans for the destruction.
In February, the city of Washington agreed to pay $3.5 million to the association.
The Land Trust was formed in 1958, with a mission to manage the land.
It is currently funded by the federal government and has the authority to dispose of land and property and develop the sites for development.
The city is one of the top 10 construction contractors in the nation, according to a 2014 report by the Washington Metropolitan Area Council.