A lawsuit against the city of Hannibal is challenging the validity of municipal ordinances that allow city officials to condemn and lock up structures where methamphetamine is believed to be used or manufactured.

A lawsuit against the city of Hannibal is challenging the validity of municipal ordinances that allow city officials to condemn and lock up structures where methamphetamine is believed to be used or manufactured.

Filed this year, the lawsuit is being heard in federal court.

The plaintiff, identified in court documents only as “MH”, alleges two Hannibal ordinances permitting the closure of her residence are unconstitutional because it deprives property owners of due process. She says that violates the fourth, fifth, and fourteenth amendments.

The lawsuit stems from an incident that took place in Jan. 6, 2017.

The plaintiff alleges that Hannibal authorities locked up the plaintiff’s home — an apartment — and changed the locks on her residence without warning. Since that date at least until the filing of the complaint on Jan. 11, the plaintiff allegedly had no opportunity to retrieve any personal belongings, including clothing, from the premises.

Court documents focus on the application of two Hannibal ordinances — Sec. 7-246 and Sec. 7-343.

Sec. 7-246 outlines when a building is considered dangerous due to the presence of methamphetamine. City Council adopted the ordinance in late 2014.

Verbiage of the ordinance allows the city to seize and close a property if it has been determined a location at which methamphetamine was used or produced:

“When law enforcement reports to the department that a structure in the City of Hannibal, has been used for the use or production of methamphetamine or as a storage facility for chemicals used in the manufacturing of methamphetamine, the department may order that structure closed pursuant to section 7-343 of the Property Maintenance Code of the City of Hannibal.”

Additionally, the ordinance outlines what procedures a property owner must follow to abate any potential danger and reopen the property.

Section 7-343 says it “shall be unlawful to maintain or permit the existence of any dangerous building in the city. It shall be unlawful for the owner, occupant or person in custody of any dangerous building to permit the same to remain in a dangerous condition or to occupy such building or permit it to be occupied while it is or remains in a dangerous condition.”

On Jan. 6, the Northeast Missouri Drug Task Force intervened in this case, citing methamphetamine use or production at the property. Subsequently, the city closed the property.

The plaintiff denies the city or the drug task force had any reason to believe that methamphetamine contaminated the apartment or that the property posed a public or private health risk.

In a response filed, the city of Hannibal does not deny that it closed the plaintiff’s property, but disagree with the plaintiff’s allegation that the property did not contain methamphetamine.

Because the city changed the locks on the property, the plaintiff says the city unconstitutionally took the property.

The city, though, says “upon a finding that the methamphetamine found fell just under the level of contamination set by the Ordinance,” the condemnation order was lifted. The condemnation order was lifted sometime before Hannibal’s response to the complaint, which defense attorneys filed on Feb. 21.

The city defends its ordinances, saying they were drafted to protect community safety and health. In its argument, the city says the plaintiff isn’t entitled to relief because she allegedly participated in a crime or condoned an environment in which criminal activity took place.

Hannibal is asking the court to dismiss the complaint or take it to a jury trial.

The case was originally filed in the 10th Circuit Court of Marion County. It was subsequently forwarded to the U.S. District Court of Eastern Missouri.

Hannibal attorney Branson Wood represents the plaintiff in this case.

Timothy Reichardt, a St. Louis-area attorney, represents Hannibal.

Reach editor Eric Dundon at eric.dundon@courierpost.com .