Class Action Federal Lawsuit Filed in Budgetel Evictions

EAST RIDGE, Tenn. (WDEF)- Yesterday, Hamilton County Judge Boyd Patterson issued a court order giving the Budgetel in East Ridge a path to reopening.

Now a class action federal lawsuit has been filed on behalf of some of the residents who were evicted on November 16th. Attorney Robin Flores has filed the federal lawsuit on behalf of Charles Franklin Burkhalter.

Burkhalter is a disabled veteran which the lawsuit claims he was thrown out of his room with only the clothes on his back. He was later able to retrieve his items through a separate lawsuit back in November.

The defendants listed are numerous but include District Attorney Coty Wamp, the City of East Ridge, Hamilton County government, and numerous business owners who neighbor the motel.

The lawsuit claims that Burkhalter and other residents’ constitutional right to due process was violated. Due process guarantees the right for citizens to have a day in court before any life, liberty, or property is taken away from them.

Flores argues that the Tennessee State Code that allows for District Attorneys to prosecute these nuisance cases is too vague and doesn’t allow for due process to occur.

He said that, “Here we didn’t have that. What are the remedies that are left? Well, these individuals when you look at the statute and when you look at the constitution and its requirements, what remedies do these folks have? In essence they have nothing.”

Also of note in the lawsuit is a section concerning Coty Wamp’s comments following the evictions. During the morning of the evictions Wamp issued comments such as calling the Budgetel a cesspool and that children quote “were better off anywhere else than the Budgetel.” She also mentioned being sued by Barkhalter previously was quote, “A Badge of Honor”. These comments according to Flores heighten the need for a class action lawsuit.

Flores argues that, “My client is not a criminal. My client is not living in a cesspool. My client is not a sex offender, none of that. Yet he’s painted with that broad brush… I can imagine many of the individuals there who didn’t fall into those categories being embarrassed, and that’s what we’re claiming in our complaint as to the need for this to be served by its class.”

News 12 did reach out to District Attorney Wamp’s office to see if they wanted to comment on the lawsuit, and they declined to do so. The current court order paints a path to reopening which includes allowing residents to receive refunds and retrieve their belongings. The next date for Budgetel in county court is in January.

Categories: Chattanooga, Featured, Hamilton County, Local News