Case Studies for Matthew J. Zalewski

2019 WL 4017142 (E.D. Mich. 2019). Plaintiffs filed a putative class action alleging that the City’s rental property inspection ordinance authorized warrantless inspections in violation of the 4th amendment, and that fees collected under the inspection program constituted an unconstitutional condition for obtaining a rental certificate of occupancy. Plaintiffs also challenged the City’s tall grass abatement ordinance as imposing excessive fees without proper notice. The Court granted the City’s motion to dismiss and for judgment on the pleadings, finding that the plaintiff challenging the rental property ordinance lacked standing because the ordinance did not facially authorize warrantless searches, and plaintiff had not shown that it had suffered a warrantless search. In addition, the plaintiff challenging the grass abatement fee lacked standing because the abatement fee accrued before the plaintiff took ownership of the property. The rental property ordinance challenge in this case resembled numerous others that had been decided by the Eastern District of Michigan, but this was the first to acknowledge the facial constitutionality of an ordinance and result in an unqualified full grant of a municipality’s dispositive motion.
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.
Wayne County Circuit Court Case No. 18-012968-CK (Feb. 2019). Plaintiff sought to hold the City, its Building Official, and inspectors liable for a partial taking and for negligent inspection, where an unlicensed contractor fraudulently procured a homeowner’s permit and had concealed defects in his construction of a home addition. The Court granted the City’s pre-answer motion to dismiss on grounds of governmental immunity, lack of duty, and upon finding that no City actions could be considered the cause of any harm plaintiffs alleged to have suffered.
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.