The Descendants Project v. St. John the Baptist Parish

At a Glance

Date Filed: 

November 9, 2021

Current Status 

On June 24, 2022, Plaintiffs file an oppostion to Greenfield's writ application.

Co-Counsel 

Bill Quigley

Client(s) 

Jo Banner, Joy Banner

Case Description 

On November 9, 2021, the Center for Constitutional Rights and the Descendants Project, an organization founded to advocate for descendants of people once enslaved in Louisiana’s river parishes, filed a writ of mandamus to declare a decades-old rezoning ordinance null and void and order St. John the Baptist Parish to remove it from all of its maps and records. 

Their suit stems from the 1990 corrupt rezoning of a large tract of rural land to industrial use in Wallace, La. In 1996, Lester Millet Jr., former council president of St. John the Baptist Parish, was sentenced to nearly five years in prison for his role in trying to aid Formosa, a Taiwanese corporation, build a rayon pulp factory next to Wallace. Millet engaged in money laundering and extortion and issued threats of expropriation to residents to coerce them into selling their land to Formosa. Millet abused his official position to push through the new zoning ordinance. 

The Banners grew up in Wallace, and now own and operate a cafe that sells goods made from the recipes of their ancestors and presents the Afro-Creole history of the region through the lens of their own family oral histories. Now, they are fighting to save their community from a proposed grain terminal that would bring more grain, dust, and pollution to their neighborhood. The residents of Wallace, a small town 40 miles west of New Orleans, point to the illegality of the corruption and scandal that surrounded the rezoning in urging the court to nullify the ordinance and thus prohibit heavy industrial development.

On April 28, 2022, a district court judge refused to dismiss this case on procedural grounds and cleared the way to rule on its merits. Less than three weeks after this hearing, people who live next to the site received notices warning of “pre-construction activity” that would produce “hammering noise.” Greenfield did not notify the Descendants Project of its decision to begin operations on the land, which abuts two landmarked former plantations.  

On May 20, 2022, lawyers from the Center for Constitutional Rights and local counsel Bill Quigley filed a temporary restraining order under Louisiana's cemetery dedication law, an article in the state constitution that protects the right to “preserve, foster, and promote” one’s cultural and historic origins, and the First Amendment, which guarantees the free exercise of religion. A preliminary injuction hearing is set on June 3, 2022. 

 

Case Timeline

June 24, 2022
Plaintiffs file opposition to Greenfield's writ application
June 24, 2022
Plaintiffs file opposition to Greenfield's writ application
June 10, 2022
Greenfield files an application for interlocutory review with the Louisiana Fifth Circuit Court of Appeal
June 10, 2022
Greenfield files an application for interlocutory review with the Louisiana Fifth Circuit Court of Appeal
June 1, 2022
Plaintiffs file their opposition to Greenfield's request to stay the proceedings in trial court
June 1, 2022
Plaintiffs file their opposition to Greenfield's request to stay the proceedings in trial court
June 1, 2022
Plaintiffs file their reply in support of their request for a Preliminary Injunction
June 1, 2022
Plaintiffs file their reply in support of their request for a Preliminary Injunction
Plaintiffs file their reply in support of their request for a Preliminary Injunction to protect burial grounds of enslaved people
May 31, 2022
Greenfield files notice of its intent to appeal
May 31, 2022
Greenfield files notice of its intent to appeal
Greenfield files notice of its intent to appeal court's ruling denying its motion to dismiss and a request to stay the proceedings in the trial court.
May 26, 2022
Greenfield files its Opposition to Preliminary Injunction
May 26, 2022
Greenfield files its Opposition to Preliminary Injunction
May 20, 2022
CCR files motion to supplement Motion for Temporary Restraining Order
May 20, 2022
CCR files motion to supplement Motion for Temporary Restraining Order
After revelations about whistleblower concerns for sacred Black history, CCR files a motion to supplement its motion for a temporary restraining order with the newly reported information on behalf of the Descendants Project.
May 18, 2022
Emergency request for temporary restraining order filed
May 18, 2022
Emergency request for temporary restraining order filed
Center for Constitutional Rights files an emergency request for a temporary restraining order (TRO) on behalf of the Descendant's Project to prevent the grain elevator company from conducting ground-disturbing construction activity on the project site in order to protect burial grounds of people once enslaved there. Attached are the Motion for TRO, Memorandum of Law, and relevant declarations and exhibits.
April 20, 2022
CCR files opposition to the Exceptions filed by Defendants seeking to have the case dismissed.
April 20, 2022
CCR files opposition to the Exceptions filed by Defendants seeking to have the case dismissed.
On behalf of Descendants Project and Petitioners Jo and Joy Banner, CCR files their opposition to the Exceptions filed by Defendants seeking to have the case dismissed.
February 28, 2022
Greenfield Louisiana files motion seeking to have Descendant's Project's claims dismissed
February 28, 2022
Greenfield Louisiana files motion seeking to have Descendant's Project's claims dismissed
Defendant Greenfield Louisiana, a grain elevator company, files motions seeking to have Descendants Project claims dismissed. The Parish defendants joined in the motions
2/14/2022
Second Amended Petition
2/14/2022
Second Amended Petition
Descendants Project files Second Amended Petition after finding maps which show that in 2006, Formosa sold the land with a residential zoning designation - the same land that had been purportedly rezoned to I-3 industrial in 1990 amid scandal and controversy. This comes on the heels of discovering that an official map of the land that accompanied the 1990 rezoning ordinance had been torn from the official records in the clerk's office.
01/17/2022
On behalf of the Descendants Project, CCR files Amended Petition
01/17/2022
On behalf of the Descendants Project, CCR files Amended Petition
After court converted the original mandamus proceeding into an ordinary proceeding, CCR filed an Amended Petition.
December 16, 2021
Court rules lawsuit may proceed
December 14, 2021
The Center for Constitutional Rights and the Descendant's Project file reply motion
December 14, 2021
The Center for Constitutional Rights and the Descendant's Project file reply motion
CCR and Descendant's Project respond to Parish Council and Greenfield's exceptions
December 10, 2021
Greenfield Louisiana, LLC joins lawsuit
December 10, 2021
Greenfield Louisiana, LLC joins lawsuit
Greenfield intervenes in case filing a memorandum in opposition to Descendant Project's mandamus and in support of Parish's exceptions.
December 9, 2021
Parish Council replies to writ of mandamus
December 9, 2021
Parish Council replies to writ of mandamus
Defendants oppose memorandum and claim exceptions for an unauthorized use of Summary Proceedings.
November 9, 2021
The Center for Constitutional Rights and the Descendant's Project file writ of mandamus
November 9, 2021
The Center for Constitutional Rights and the Descendant's Project file writ of mandamus
The following documents were filed in court. Read the affidavits of Harriet Banner, Jo Banner, and Joy Banner to learn how industrial industries have affected the Banner family.