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Magistrate recommends dismissal of landowner's lawsuit

By Joe Beck

A federal magistrate judge has ruled against a Warren County landowner who has been resisting a years-long effort by county officials to force her to clean up a yard they deem excessively cluttered.

U.S. Magistrate Judge James G. Welsh delivered a written opinion that recommended dismissal of the lawsuit filed by Julia E. Souter.

Souter represented herself in the case, and Welsh made clear he was unimpressed by her arguments that the county's actions against her were unconstitutional.

"The plaintiff's existing claims are futile, totally lacking in legal sufficiency and there is no suggested basis in law or logic to grant any application by the plaintiff for leave further to amend," Welsh wrote in his proposed findings of fact.

Welsh's decision must still be reviewed and approved by U.S. District Michael F. Urbanski before the case is officially scrapped.

Souter, 51, of 471 Apple Jack Circle, Linden, has been involved in what Welsh described "as a five-year struggle by Warren County to effect a cleanup" of her property that has twice landed her in jail for several months at a time.

Most recently, she was released from Shenandoah County Jail on Feb. 9 after completing a six-month sentence. Welsh issued his ruling a few days later.

Souter was transferred to the Shenandoah County Jail from Warren County in October to relieve overcrowding.

Judge Dennis L. Hupp sentenced her on Aug. 10 after a hearing in which county officials detailed the condition of her yard and why it violated county zoning standards. It was the second time Souter had been jailed since the county first obtained a court order in 2008 that she clean up her property.

Assistant County Attorney Dan Whitten said Tuesday that Souter's confrontation with the county is far from over.

Whitten said he has received no information that anything has been done to clean up Souter's yard while she was in jail or since her release.

"Basically, we're going to go ahead and proceed with the cleanup of her property," Whitten said. "We would basically a hire contractor to clean up the property."

Much of the debris accumulated in her yard, which has included inoperable vehicles, refrigerators and other appliances, will be sold at a public auction and liens will be placed on her land to pay for whatever costs of the cleanup remain unpaid, Whitten said.

Souter will still be expected to keep her property in compliance after the cleanup, Whitten said.

"If she doesn't, we do the process all over again," he said.

Souter is also facing a charge of assault and battery stemming from a Jan. 8 incident in the Shenandoah County Jail. Authorities accuse her of striking another inmate in the chest with an open hand during a dispute over a spot on a bench.

Souter appeared in general district court Friday and has another court date scheduled for 10:15 a.m. May 16.

Contact staff writer Joe Beck at 540-465-5137 ext. 142, or jbeck@nvdaily.com

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