Czech court rules activists did not enrich themselves by using abandoned building, state may go to Supreme Court
The Autonomous Social Center "Klinika" and its representative, Tereza Virtová, do not have to pay the state CZK 360 000 [EUR 14 000] for using real estate in Prague 3 during 2016 for several months without authorization. On 20 June the appeals venue, the Prague Municipal Court, upheld the previous verdict from the first-instance District Court, which rejected a lawsuit against her filed by the state and found that no "unjust enrichment" had occurred.
The verdict has now taken effect. The state body that owned the property sought the money for the period from March 2016, when the activists' contract to borrow the building for one year came to an end, until the beginning of October 2017, when the property was bought by the Railway Administration.
The attorney representing the state alleged that the activists had enriched themselves unjustly at the state's cost by using the building and the land. The "Klinika" group did not pay rent during that time.
The group has paid a fine of CZK 1 000 [EUR 40] for every day they were in breach of the contract. Speaking on behalf of the Office for Government Representation in Property Affairs (Úřad pro zastupování státu ve věcech majetkových - ÚZSVM), its attorney told journalists after the appeals court handed down its ruling that the state is considering asking the Supreme Court for its opinion.
"The defendants are in those spaces without any legal basis for being there, without a rental contract. They used the spaces during the period concerned and for that reason we were obliged, under the law on the property of the Czech Republic, to seek what we believe to be justified compensation for their using it without a contract," he said.
Pavel Uhl, the attorney for Virtová, welcomed the 20 June decision. "I believe this is in order because the court has established certain guidelines for the ÚZSVM so that it will no longer be able to bully our clients without grounds," he told journalists.
The Center, in Uhl's view, is serving the public interest and is not creating any monetary profit for anybody. There was no way it could have been engaged in enriching itself through this activity.
According to Jakub Ort, a member of the board of Klinika, the court has now confirmed that the state's demands were absurd and that their aim was not justice, but intimidation of the activists so they would abandon their activity. "This makes me even more glad that the activists did not allow themselves to be intimidated, that the court has stood up for us, and that the ÚZSVM is now paying the fees of the lawyers we will use in our future activism. We thank the state for this and we will continue in this activity," Ort said.
Prague 3 District Court Judge Jitka Stibralová decided last November that the activists had not enriched themselves by using the building and called the approach taken by the state toward Klinika "internally contradictory". The first-instance ruling recapitulated the fact that the building had not been used by anybody at all from 2012 until 2015 and had been falling into disrepair.
The fact that the state first loaned the facility to the activists for one year without charging them rent instead of concluding a rental contract with them, according to the judge, "was apparently no accident". As to why the state then attempted to apply its right to seek a finding of "unjust enrichment" regarding the use of the property when it remained dilapidated, the judge could only express amazement.
A separate proceeding last year ruled that the activists had to clear out of the building and release it back to its owner. The enforceability of that decision, however was subsequently temporarily postponed by the Czech Supreme Court, so Klinika continues to function in the building today.
The organizers hold concerts, language courses, lectures and workshops there and also focus on aid to immigrants. Previously Klinika was targeted for arson attacks, apparently by extremists, but the Czech Police did not pursue prosecution of that case because there was allegedly not enough evidence to do so.
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- † 17. 5. 1998, Orlová, Czech Republic: Milan Lacko