The decade-long fight by a Dallas mechanic against a move by the city to replace his operation with a Starbucks or another business is reaching the state Supreme Court.
The Institute for Justice announced this week it is appealing a ruling by the Texas Court of Appeals that dismissed the property-rights claim of Hinga Mbogo, who has served customers for nearly 30 years.
In 2005, Dallas retroactively changed the zoning for the property where the mechanic’s shop has been for years, ordering him to shut it down.
IJ said the city’s motive was to “make way for the city’s preferred businesses, such as chain restaurants or coffee shops.”
The lawsuit has been going on since then.
The complaint, IJ said, “challenges a practice known as ‘amortization’ – which is a type of retroactive zoning – whereby the city unilaterally changed the zoning for Mr. Mbogo’s property, forcing him to shut down and move his long-standing, previously legal business from property he owns.”
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IJ explained the city’s maneuver is not unlike eminent-domain abuse, which is illegal in Texas.
Dallas hasn’t compensated Mbogo “a single cent for the harm it has caused him and his business,” IJ said.
“Although we’re understandably frustrated with the lower courts, we remain confident that the Texas Supreme Court will recognize the clear injustice at play in Dallas and rule that retroactive zoning is a violation of the state constitution,” said Institute for Justice Senior Attorney Bill Maurer.
“Texas prides itself on a long tradition of respecting property rights, but this case shows that municipal governments here can be as hostile to business owners as cities anywhere else in this country. What Dallas has done to Hinga is an affront to anyone that believes in private property.”
The city’s only recognition of Hinga’s rights was to give him “a certain amount of time to close up shop.”
He fought back, eventually with the help of the institute.
In denying the specific use permit, Dallas City Councilman Rickey Callahan, a real estate developer, explained his vote.
“[S]ometimes when you have a proliferation of these auto-related businesses, you’re not going to get national-accredited tenants come in like Starbucks, Macaroni Grill or nice sit-down restaurants and so forth. They’re not going to spend a million dollars or two million dollars to be next door.”
IJ Attorney Ari Bargil said: “For decades, this harmful practice has been permitted by the Texas courts. We are taking this issue to the Texas Supreme Court so that court can put an end to this abuse and give real meaning to the protections of the Texas Constitution.”
There’s an online petition supporting the mechanic, where he explains: “When I opened the shop, I thought I had it made. Owning my own business was the American Dream I’d been chasing since 1974, when I immigrated here from Kenya. I’m proud of what we do and our customers seem to agree – they have ranked us amongst the top mechanics in Dallas.
“But now Dallas is trying to shut me down. Why? Because the city thinks we need more apartment buildings, upscale coffee shops, and bars – but not my mechanic shop.”