Case Studies for Carol A. Rosati

970 F Supp 1197 (ED Mich 1997). The city denied a request for a special land use permit for a federal corrections treatment center. Plaintiff sued alleging violations of constitutional rights, and also argued that it was exempt from zoning because it would be operating a facility for the benefit of the federal government. The court ruled that plaintiff must comply with the zoning ordinance, and the court granted the city’s motion to dismiss.
221 Mich App 19 (1997). The property owner challenged the denial of its request to rezone property for a mobile home park, raising constitutional claims and charges of exclusionary zoning. The court of appeals affirmed the grant of summary disposition in favor of the city.
2006 WL 3103012 (Mich App 2006 unpublished), affirmed 480 Mich 1077; 744 NW2d 132 (2008). Residential landowners filed a lawsuit against the Township and the Township’s wetlands review board, saying that the Township’s wetlands ordinance was preempted under the Natural Resources Environmental Protection Act (NREPA). The Michigan Court of Appeals affirmed the circuit court’s grant of summary disposition to the Township on all of plaintiffs’ constitutional claims.
922 F2d 328 (6th Cir 1989). An applicant raised federal constitutional issues when denied a lot split. The sixth circuit court of appeals affirmed the grant of a motion to dismiss in favor of the township.
2011 WL 1982921 (ED Mich 2011). Plaintiff moved a business into a building without obtaining any site plan approval or certificate of occupancy. The township ticketed the plaintiff for failing to do so and for numerous fire code violations. The plaintiff successfully defended against the tickets in the district court with the exception of three charges. Plaintiff turned around and sued the township, alleging numerous constitutional violations as a result of the township’s tickets and its failure to issue building permits and a certificate of occupancy. The federal district court granted the township’s motion for summary judgment.
486 Mich 556; 786 NW2d 521 (2010). The owner of agricultural land in Putnam Township failed in his attempts to rezone the land residential, establish a planned unit development or obtain a use variance. He then sued the township, trying to rezone the property for a manufactured housing community, raising constitutional and exclusionary zoning claims. The fact that the owner requested rezoning for one use but sued for an entirely different use without first going through the zoning application process made the lawsuit unripe for court because plaintiff had not obtained a final decision -or any decision for that matter – regarding a potential manufactured housing community RSJA lent its expertise by filing an amicus curiae brief in the Michigan Court of Appeals, and later supporting the township’s application for leave to appeal to the Michigan Supreme Court. That supreme court agreed that the case was not ripe, supporting the application of the ripeness doctrine to exclusionary zoning claims, a decision with meaningful protection for Michigan municipalities.
196 Mich App 175; 492 NW2d 757 (1992). Land owners with disputes between themselves often try to shift the responsibility to the municipality. Such was the case when a condominium’s rain water drained onto a neighboring property, causing substantial damage. Although the township reviewed and approved the condominium site plan, the mere approval of the development plan did not confer responsibility on the township for the condominium’s private storm water drainage system. The Oakland County Drain Commission reviewed the drainage system and recommended changes, with which the private developers complied. Plaintiffs sued the township alleging trespass-nuisance on the basis that if the township had not approved the site plan, the developers could not have created the nuisance that caused damage to plaintiff’s property. The Michigan Court of Appeals held that issuing permits that enables another to create a nuisance was not enough to impose liability on the township.
486 Mich 514; 786 NW2d 543 (2010). The plaintiff sought to rezone property to mine sand and gravel. The case involved the important issue of whether the “no very serious consequences” rule established in prior mining cases had any continued viability after the Michigan Supreme Court decisions invalidating the concept of preferred uses and confirming the presumption of validity to municipal regulations. RSJA filed an amicus curiae brief in support of the township’s application for leave to appeal to the Michigan Supreme Court, and on the accepted case in the Michigan Supreme Court. The court issued a favorable ruling to municipalities on July 15, 2010, invalidated the “no very serious consequences” rule, and found that the rule had also been superseded by the exclusionary zoning statute. Unfortunately, the state legislature amended the Michigan Zoning Enabling Act after the decision to codify the “no very serious consequences” rule.
883 F Supp 172 (ED Mich 1994). The city followed state law in denying a license for a foster care home due to its proximity to an existing home and the court dismissed the plaintiff’s suit. The case continued against the state, and the court eventually invalidated certain state statutes (notice and distancing requirements for placement of foster care homes) as being violations of the Fair Housing Amendments Act.
858 F3d 996 (6th Cir. 2017), cert. denied, 138 S Ct 1696, 200 L Ed 2d 952, 86 USLW 3553 (2018). RSJA was a successful co-counsel in the first published decision under RLUIPA, setting a precedent for analysis of RLUIPA claims within the Sixth Circuit. A Christian school applied to Genoa Charter Township for a special land use permit to move its K-12 school from another community into an existing church in the township that was adding onto facility. Although the township planning commission recommended approval of the special land use the township board denied the permit. The school sued the township, alleging violation of the First Amendment and RLUIPA. The township obtained summary judgment on all claims and the Sixth Circuit upheld the ruling. The U.S. Supreme Court denied the plaintiff’s petition for writ of certiorari, leaving the circuit court’s decision as a precedent.
629 F3d 533 (6th Cir 2010), cert denied 131 S Ct 3071 (2011). RLUIP does not mean that churches can ignore zoning ordinances and building codes. A religious group began holding services and meetings in a five-bedroom house on a one-acre plot in a residential neighborhood of the Charter Township of Northville. Township officials told the church to request a variance from the ZBA to allow parking in the front yard and submit a site plan to the planning commission detailing parking and screening. The church did not comply and it was ticketed. Even though the ticket was subsequently dismissed the church filed a RLUIPA suit against the township in federal court. The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals found in favor of the township because the church had not made application for the establishment of its religious use through the zoning procedures available at the township.
219 Mich App 611 (1997). Plaintiff, which had entered a contract to purchase property from MDOT located within the city of Royal Oak, sued the city alleging that it lacked authority to rezone property while MDOT (e.g., State of Michigan) still owned it. In 1991, while still owned by MDOT, the city rezoned the property from industrial to multiple-family residential in accordance with its master plan. In 1993, plaintiff entered into a contract with MDOT for the property with the intention of constructing a mini-warehouse facility, which was not a permissible use under the zoning ordinance. Plaintiff sought rezoning in 1993 and 1994 but was denied each time. A request for a use variance was also denied. Plaintiff thereafter sued the city, alleging that the city lacked jurisdiction to apply its zoning ordinance to state-owned land and its actions constituted an unlawful taking and violation of other constitutional rights. The Michigan Court of Appeals held that because there was no evidence that the legislature intended to preempt MDOT from the application of the zoning ordinance, particularly where MDOT had sold the land to a private party.
647 F3d 606 (6th Cir 2011). When Northridge Church wanted to relocate its expanding membership in a rural part of the Charter Township of Plymouth, it entered into a 1995 consent agreement with the township to limit its seating, services, parking, traffic patterns and outdoor activities to address negative impacts on the surrounding residents. By 2008, weekly attendance had grown from 1,100 to 14,000. The church wanted to void the consent agreement, using multiple arguments including the assertion that the agreement violated the Religious Land Use and Institutional Persons Act (RLUIPA) (which was not established until 2000). RSJA successfully defended the township through the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, which upheld the consent judgment.
452 Mich 568 (1996). Plaintiff owned vacant property in the city of Novi that was zoned for large-lot, single-family residential use. The planning commission recommended against their request to rezone the property to a mobile home district. The plaintiff did not seek a use variance from the ZBA, but immediately sued the city claiming that the denial was an unconstitutional taking of property. The case was appealed to the Michigan Supreme Court which ruled that plaintiff’s claims were not ripe because plaintiff had not obtained a final decision from the city on the use of the land due to the failure to seek a use variance before filing suit. The case was significant as, for the first time, the Michigan Supreme Court adopted the ripeness doctrine established by the federal courts. RSJA filed an amicus curiae brief on behalf of the Michigan Municipal League in this case.
105 F Supp 724 (ED Mich 2000). The city took action to keep the plaintiff from demolishing a historical structure. Plaintiff claimed this violated his constitutional rights and “took” his property. The court granted the city’s motion to dismiss.
116 F3d 180 (6th Cir 1997). The plaintiff, a waste disposal company, wanted to build a commercial hazardous liquid waste injection well in the city of Romulus. After obtaining various work-related permits for the well, none of which concerned zoning, they began construction. The city then filed suit to stop it because it violated local zoning ordinances. The plaintiffs took action on multiple fronts, contesting the city’s action in Wayne County Circuit Court; seeking, without success, zoning variances; filing claims of constitutional violations in federal court while simultaneously filing a complaint in state circuit court, and appealing the unfavorable lower court decision to the Michigan Court of Appeals. RSJA attorneys with expertise in these multiple disciplines and jurisdictions coordinated to successfully defend the city against all the constitutional claims at both the state and federal level.
965 F2d 584 (6th Cir 1992). The plaintiff challenged a rezoning decision on constitutional grounds. The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the grant of a motion to dismiss in favor of the city.
2010 WL 866133 (Mich App 2010 unpublished). The plaintiff wanted to convert an existing donut and coffee shop into a gas station and convenience store. The property had a triangular shape and was bordered by roads on each side. The township denied the request, which the plaintiff alleged was a taking and a violation of due process. The lower court summarily dismissed the claims which was later upheld by the court of appeals.
863 F Supp 504 (1993). The city denied an application for a special use permit for a group for up to 12 individuals. The applicant built its case on constitutional issues as well as specific claims under the Federal Fair Housing Amendments Act. The court granted dismissal in favor of the city.
159 F Supp 2d 608 (2001). The township denied a special land use permit for a daycare center, which alleged religious discrimination. The court granted summary judgment in favor of the township.
Oakland County Case No. 2018-164868-CH (Dec. 2018). Plaintiffs sought to hold a City and its Building Official liable for approving site plan modifications for their neighbors’ house without first submitting them for the plaintiffs’ approval pursuant to private deed restrictions between plaintiffs and the neighbors. Plaintiffs also alleged that a retaining wall on the neighbors’ property was a nuisance per se that should be abated by the City. The Court agreed with the City that the plaintiffs lacked standing, and granted the City’s motion for summary disposition.
Oakland County Circuit Court Case No. 18-169647-CK (May 2019). Plaintiffs operated a business that had been the subject of complaints and code enforcement actions, leading the City to impose restrictions on its hours of operation at the time its business license was up for renewal. Plaintiffs sued alleging a taking, tortious interference with contracts, and other claims. The Court granted the City’s pre-answer motion to dismiss on the basis that the plaintiffs’ historical claims were barred for failure to exhaust administrative remedies, and claims regarding a pending license renewal were not ripe. Other claims were also barred by governmental immunity. This case exemplifies RSJA’s commitment to defending municipalities’ control over their own affairs, and holding plaintiffs accountable when they try to use courts as a substitute for local administrative procedures.
Hillsdale County Circuit Court Case No. 18-863-AW (March 2019). Plaintiff was an unsuccessful candidate in a city council election who sought leave to file a post-election petition for writ of quo warranto to declare him the winner of the election. He contended that the County Board of Elections and County Clerk should have disqualified his opponent from appearing on the general election ballot because his opponent allegedly did not satisfy the City’s residency requirement. The County successfully opposed the application. The Court held that the application was barred by the doctrine of latches since the plaintiff could have challenged his opponent’s affidavit before the primary election, or between the primary and general election before ballots were printed. In addition, the City Council had already determined not to seat the election winner and to schedule a special election, which mooted the plaintiff’s request for relief.