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For purposes of conjecture, say some nameless online troll decides that they hate you. Perhaps you said you don't worship the members of a K-Pop band they like. As a result, they do some research and find your address. They then proceed to call your local police department, reporting a (fictional) hostage situation / homicide in progress / etc. at your address. The police department's SWAT team busts down your door and trashes your house. This is a "prank" called swatting. As is the troll's intention, it causes a lot of damage to your property, damage you can't afford to get repaired.

Is there any way to get the police department to pay for the damage? After all, they did just come and trash your house despite you having done nothing wrong (besides the horrendous crime of not worshiping the troll's favorite band).

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  • 4
    Related: Can I claim recompense if a government action destroys my house?
    – sleske
    Commented Mar 31, 2023 at 7:34
  • 3
    Would the troll not be guilty of wasting police time and resources? I'm sure they would have the resources to uncover his/her anonymity and get a conviction.
    – Stewart
    Commented Mar 31, 2023 at 10:37
  • 16
    @Stewart In theory yes, but in the internet age the troll could live on the other side of the world and be completely unprosecutable.
    – David K
    Commented Mar 31, 2023 at 11:50
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    @Stewart This is my personal opinion and may sound harsh, but to me the troll is guilty of attempted murder: The pointed a loaded SWAT team at an innocent individual. This weapon has a hair trigger and the SWAT team doesn't know what the true situation is.
    – Peter M
    Commented Mar 31, 2023 at 13:18
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    @Harper-ReinstateMonica That presupposes two things. First, that you or the police are able to figure out who it was in the first place (often difficult, due to them being an anonymous online troll). Second, that you can sue them; since they're an anonymous online troll, there's a non-zero chance they're from another country, and therefore outside the law's reach. Commented Mar 31, 2023 at 21:24

3 Answers 3

32

There is a police power exception to the 5th and 14th Amendment rights to not taking property without due process of law and just compensation.

In a similar case arising in Greenwood Village, Colorado, an innocent homeowner was denied any relief at trial in the U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado, or on appeal to the 10th Circuit, after his house was trashed by SWAT teams trying to catch a guy accused of mere theft and fleeing police officers. (The U.S. Supreme Court declined to review the case sometime after the linked article was written.)

But, there does appear to be a circuit split on the issue. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit in a case appealed from a U.S. District Court decision in Texas reached a contrary conclusion in a case between Vicki Baker and the City of McKinney, Texas decided earlier this month in March of 2023 in which it affirmed a U.S. District Court ruling in favor of the homewoner.

The fact that there is now a circuit split on the issue increases the likelihood that the U.S. Supreme Court would consider a Petition for Certiorari from the 5th Circuit decision in the Texas case, although it is far from a sure thing as only about 1% of Petitions for Certiorari presented to the U.S. Supreme Court (about 80 out of 7,000 to 8,000 per year) are granted.

The key issue distinguishing these two rulings is the question of whether the police power exception to the eminent domain obligation of a government applies to cases in which the person whose property is taken is innocent of any wrongdoing and any legally relevant connection to a wrongdoer. Both circuits would agree that a government does not have eminent domain liability under the constitution if, for example, the property destroyed belongs to someone who committed a crime and has their house destroyed in the process of trying to arrest the criminal.

Also, neither of the decisions disputes that police may, under the police power exception, destroy property in connection with efforts to apprehend a criminal or to prevent a crime, without seeking court approval in the usual situation where there are exigent circumstances that can't wait for the slow process of conducting a court hearing on the question. The question, instead, is whether an innocent property owner has a right to bring an "inverse condemnation" lawsuit to remedy the damage that the innocent property owner has experienced.

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    A recent case actually was won by the homeowner using eminent domain arguments.
    – Tiger Guy
    Commented Mar 31, 2023 at 6:03
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    The Colorado case was also covered by LegalEagle on YouTube: The Police Blew Up The House! (The Case Of)
    – Andrew T.
    Commented Mar 31, 2023 at 9:14
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    @TigerGuy only saw your comment after I posted my own answer. Yeah. Commented Mar 31, 2023 at 11:52
  • 1
    @TigerGuy I have updated my answer to reflect this case.
    – ohwilleke
    Commented Mar 31, 2023 at 18:51
  • There have been several conflicting decisions in similar cases over the past ~10-15 years. I think there is some video floating around of the Colorado incident. Commented Apr 1, 2023 at 3:08
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If the police received a 911 call which was designed to make it appear as if there was a huge danger at your home, and the police act accordingly, that’s bad luck. You should get compensation from the troll if they can be found, but not from the police.

If “trashing your house” was done deliberately to cause damage, and not because police expected a dangerous situation. Then you will have a hard time proving it.

I suspect your home insurance might have to pay for the damage, at least it would be worth checking. They are more likely to pay than the police.

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    In the McKinney, TX case (eminent domain argument mentioned in a comment on another answer), the home insurance refused to "pay for an act of government," according to homeowner Vicki Baker.
    – stannius
    Commented Mar 31, 2023 at 14:42
  • 2
    @stannius Quote from a newspaper: "As is common practice, Vicki’s homeowners’ insurance policy didn’t cover any damage caused directly by police." But she managed to make the police pay, because she wasn't in her home, and the police caused $50,000 damage to remove someone totally unrelated to her from her home. And the insurance paid some damage that wasn't caused directly by the police. Which wasn't much but better than nothing.
    – gnasher729
    Commented Mar 31, 2023 at 22:27
  • This answer is out of date. Please fix or delete.
    – Yakk
    Commented Apr 2, 2023 at 23:27
  • 2
    @Yakk Not necessarily. Depends on the jurisdiction. As ohwileke's answer discusses, there currently appears to be a circuit split on this issue. Updating the answer to mention that this currently varies on jurisdiction would be helpful, though.
    – reirab
    Commented Apr 3, 2023 at 2:24
  • @Yakk, what you write is quite pointless without giving any sources why that would be the case. As it stands, you are just exceedingly rude.
    – gnasher729
    Commented Aug 2, 2023 at 14:08
19

In one particular recent (at the time of this posting) case [ref1] [ref2] [ref3], the homeowner sued not for damages but under 5th amendment's Eminent Domain doctrine.

The Federal Judge ruled that “the destruction to [Plaintiff]’s home was intentional and foreseeable.”

In this case, a fugitive was sheltered inside the plaintiff's house and had no hostage. The plaintiff claimed the defendants (law enforcement) seized the plaintiff's house to capture the fugitive.

The homeowner legal counsel, in a statement, declared it doesn't matter "whether the government official destroying your home has a business card from the Roads Department or the Police Department."

While the damage was caused by the SWAT pursuing a fugitive and not from a prank phone call, it still bears enough similarities.

The case could still go on appeal and be reversed, though.

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