Peace in Polk County
When he first spoke with Mr. Morgan, LSLA Staff Attorney Velamir Rasic's sense of justice was deeply offended. "It was appalling, to say the least. He was being evicted because he apparently lived too long."
Morgan has amyotrophic lateral schlerosis ("ALS"), popularly known as "Lou Gehrig's Disease." He was already relying on a wheelchair due to his weak legs and could not work. A few months earlier, a local grocery store owner heard about his situation and offered a place on her land, rent free, for him and his son to live in their small trailer. She also offered to host a garage sale at her store to help them financially, and placed an ad in the local paper to promote it.
A local radio station promoted the event, which is how a couple in Lumberton heard about Morgan decided to donate a manufactured home they had with minor damage from Hurricane Ike. A church group stepped up to make the repairs and the grocer paid to move the home onto her land for them. The May 2010 garage sale generated hundreds of dollars.
Within a month, however, Mr. Morgan discovered that his new landlord was not as generous as she appeared. "I knew something was up when she never gave me any of the money from the sale," he said. "She kept telling me that she needed to deduct costs for barbecue sandwiches they sold during the fundraising and to pay for moving the trailer. Then I got served with eviction papers. That's when I called Lone Star Legal Aid."
Because eviction cases move so quickly, Rasic did not have much time to prepare for the trial. "I don't think I could have predicted what happened at that hearing," he recalls. "The lady was unbelievable."
The grocer called witnesses who said that Mr. Morgan was faking his ALS and that the manufactured home donors actually gave the home to the grocer's daughter. She testified on her own behalf that she did not believe Morgan had ALS and she still had all of the garage sale proceeds in her purse, "except for the money I took to cover expenses." Her official reason for evicting Mr. Morgan was "he said he only had six months to live." But she claimed the mobile home was to stay on her land.
Mr. Morgan's attorneys at LSLA, Rasic and Lewis Kinard, filed an appeal right away. They also reviewed Morgan's medical records and confirmed that he was severely disabled as a result of progressing ALS. While Rasic was preparing the appeal, Kinard found the manufactured home donors who were outraged that the grocer was trying to take the home they donated to Morgan and his disabled son. They agreed to sign whatever paperwork Morgan needed to keep that home and signed an affidavit stating that the home was a gift and that it was not intended for anyone else.
While the county court at law appeal was pending, Morgan located land that he could afford to buy and, with the donors' affidavit, Rasic was able to get title to the home changed to Morgan so he could get a permit to move it. The grocer threatened to call the police to stop the move, but Morgan moved the home anyway. Once Morgan had removed all of his property from her land, the grocer's lawyer offered to nonsuit the case.
The grocery store has since gone out of business, but no one knows what happened to the donated cash. Morgan and his son now enjoy the peace and quiet at their new home. "Ya'll did a lot for me,"he said recently. "I don't know how to thank you enough."