Federal judge finds lawsuit against Portland for breaking up Black neighborhood can proceed

By Kyra Buckley (OPB)
Dec. 4, 2023 10:35 p.m.

The city, Prosper Portland and Emanuel Legacy Hospital asked the court to dismiss the case from descendants of Central Albina

A federal lawsuit that accuses the city of Portland, Emanuel Legacy Hospital and Prosper Portland of conspiring to destroy a previously thriving Black neighborhood can move forward.

Last year, more than 20 descendants of former Central Albina residents filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the city, the hospital and the Portland Development Commission (now called Prosper Portland) alleging the three organizations destroyed their family homes and businesses in the 1960s and 70s.


In the 1940s, the Central Albina neighborhood in North Portland was a bustling hub for the city’s Black-owned businesses. The following decade, the city displaced hundreds of residents in the majority Black neighborhood to make way for Interstate 5. In the 1960s, the city, Portland Development Commission and Emanuel Legacy Hospital garnered federal urban renewal grants to expand the hospital and “remove blight” from the area, resulting in the displacement of more than 150 residents.


The three organizations defending against the lawsuit argued the case should be dismissed because the statute of limitations has expired and the descendants lack standing.

In a 27-page opinion on Friday, U.S. District Court Judge Michael H. Simon disagreed with the city, Prosper Portland and the hospital, denying their request to toss the case.

“Plaintiffs contend that recently discovered information, concealed by Defendants, shows that urban renewal and blight were mere pretexts for Defendants’ real motive — a desire to remove Black people from the economically valuable neighborhood of Central Albina,” Simon wrote. “According to Plaintiffs, the City, PDC, and Emanuel profited from their actions,” and instead of expanding the hospital, left land parcels undeveloped that are now causing a public nuisance.

For those reasons, Simon wrote, Central Albina descendants have alleged that the trio of organizations violated their civil rights under federal law and violated Oregon state laws regarding unjust enrichment and public nuisance. He ruled that new evidence could override the statute of limitations and that the plaintiffs meet the requirements to bring a case.

The descendants are seeking restitution in an amount to be determined in a potential future trial.