Case Results for Constitutional Law and Civil Rights
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.
2010 WL 866133 (Mich App 2010 unpublished).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.
717 Fed. Appx. 555 (6th Cir 2017): Sheriff’s deputies used a confidential informant to conduct drug buys and identify the participants, one of whom was bound over for trial at a preliminary exam. The charges were subsequently dismissed based on contradictory testimony from another participant and the fact that the plaintiff passed a polygraph test. He then sued Huron County and several deputies, claiming that his Fourth Amendment rights were violated in the drug buys. The trial court granted summary judgement to dismiss the case against the county and deputies, because the bind-over conclusively established that there was probable cause to arrest plaintiff on the charges. The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the lower court’s dismissal of all claims against Defendants.
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.
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.
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.
United States District Court, Western District, Southern Division Case No. 1:14-cv-1285. When the city of Grand Rapids terminated the city clerk she sued, alleging race and gender discrimination. Because she was a political appointee the plaintiff was not entitled to Title VII protection, as RSJA successfully asserted in its motion to dismiss. Plaintiff’s discrimination claims were also dismissed because she was replaced by someone in the same protected classes.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
677 Fed. Appx. 232 (6th Cir. 2017). Anne McClorey McLaughlin defended the Village, its manager and ordinance officer in a federal lawsuit claiming the defendants treated plaintiffs differently than their neighbors in ordinance enforcement because of religious discrimination. The U.S. District Court granted summary judgment to the defendants, and the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed.
556 Fed Appx 416 (6th Cir 2014 unpublished). The plaintiff claimed that the city’s blanket ban on billboards violated its First Amendment and other constitutional rights. The city said that the proposed billboard did not meet other reasonable time, place and manner regulations in the city’s sign ordinance. The lower court granted the city’s motion to dismiss for lack of a redressible injury. The dismissal and the city’s ordinance were upheld on appeal.
Case No. 16-00702 (W.D. Mich. Dec. 13, 2016); Case No. 16-2741 (6th Cir. Jan. 5, 2018). The action involved allegations of First Amendment retaliation arising out of an email sent by a former City Attorney from her city email account to a non-city employee. The case revolved around differing interpretations of whether the city attorney’s actions constituted an official act which set policy for the City. Plaintiff said that, because the city attorney had “ultimate authority” in her position to respond to citizen emails, the city was liable. RSJA attorneys filed an early Motion to Dismiss, and the Court found that the City was not liable because the acts of the City Attorney were not within the scope of her authorized duties. The City prevailed and the decision was upheld by the Sixth Circuit.
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.
2012 WL 3289922 (6th Cir 2012 unpublished). RSJA’s experience in civil rights cases and in the federal courts protected Gladwin County in a complex case involving a man with dual American and Jordanian citizenship. Sheriff’s deputies arrested the plaintiff after he threatened his daughter in a long-simmering family dispute. With multiple sources reporting the plaintiff’s anger and threats, detectives arrested him. After a mistrial, the prosecutors dropped the charges and the plaintiff filed a section 1983 civil rights lawsuit against the officers and county prosecutors. The federal trial court summarily dismissed plaintiff’s federal civil rights claims, finding that the police officer and prosecutor defendants were entitled to immunity because plaintiff’s constitutional rights were not violated. The Sixth Circuit Court affirmed the trial court’s decision, holding that ample probable cause existed to investigate and prosecute Plaintiff for the crime of extortion, despite the mistrial in the state criminal case.
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.
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.
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.
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.
881 F3d 432 (6th Cir 2018) (briefed and argued on appeal). When the City of Riverview denied a radio broadcaster’s request to modify its equipment on a city-owned telecommunications tower, the broadcaster filed suit. The broadcaster’s proposed equipment modifications would have increased the number of antenna on the tower and occupied ten times more tower space in order to increase the broadcast power from 700 watts to 50,000 watts. The complaint alleged due process and equal protection violations, breach of a license agreement, and violation of the Telecommunications Act. RSJA attorneys obtained an order from the federal district court granting summary judgment and dismissal of all claims. In a published opinion on a matter of first impression, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the grant of summary judgment for the City, finding that no private cause of action was available under §253(a) of the Telecommunications Act and holding that the City’s denial of the equipment modification under the License Agreement was not a regulatory action that had the effect of prohibiting telecommunications services within the meaning of the Telecommunications Act.
2018 WL 4478821 (E.D. Mich., Sept. 19, 2018). After the township issued building permits, it discovered that the plaintiff intended to build a nightclub-like swingers club, complete with a sports bar and state-of-the-art dance club, which were not the uses represented to the township in the permit applications and were not permitted uses in the C-2 general commercial zoning district. Plaintiff sued after the township issued a stop work order and revoked its building permits. RSJA successfully defended the township and township officials against claims brought under 42 U.S.C. §1983 for alleged due process, equal protection, and First Amendment violations, conspiracy, and state law claims, securing dismissal of all claims against all defendants with prejudice.
Officers conducted a Terry stop of a speeding vehicle registered to an unlicensed driver. The driver lacked a driver’s license but was not the registered owner. Because allowing an unlicensed person to drive a vehicle violates Michigan law, officers sought to discover whether the owner was among the three remaining passengers. The plaintiff refused to identify himself and was taken into custody. Illegal drugs were subsequently found on him. The state court of appeals reversed his drug conviction, and the plaintiff sued claiming he was unlawfully arrested. The federal Court of Appeals observed that an officer may request a detained person to identify himself, so long as the request amounts to one “reasonably related in scope to the circumstances which justified the stop.” Officers were entitled to qualified immunity under both prongs where it was reasonable to believe that the plaintiff’s refusal to identify himself violated Michigan’s obstruction statute and that such an interpretation of state law did not violate the Fourth Amendment.
The plaintiff, father of a middle school student, sued a police officer alleging that she violated his and his daughter’s constitutional rights by, over his objection, taking her to the hospital for a mental health evaluation and authorizing a blood draw for harmful substances after the principal told the officer that the student advised she had been contemplating suicide. The federal district court denied summary judgment, but the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit reversed finding that the officer had probable cause to believe that the student was dangerous to herself, for purposes of a Fourth Amendment seizure and detention for a mental health evaluation and blood draw, and that the officer had qualified immunity from father and student’s substantive due process claims.
Plaintiffs filed a putative class action alleging that the City’s rental property inspection and pre-sale inspection ordinances 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. In a published opinion, the Court granted the City’s motion to dismiss, finding that plaintiffs lacked standing because plaintiffs had not suffered any injury, as they validly consented to inspections, the ordinances provided opportunities for pre-compliance review and for appeals, and the ordinance’s requirement of an inspection and payment of a fee as a condition of obtaining a certificate of occupancy was a “run-of-the-mine exercise of the city’s police power.”
Outdoor One Communications, LLC v. Charter Township of Canton, Docket No. 21-1323, 2021 WL 5974157 (6th Cir. 2021)
The Township’s sign ordinance allowed for billboards, but Plaintiff wanted to construct one that was far larger than allowed under the ordinance, and its permit was denied based on its dimensions. Plaintiff filed a First Amendment lawsuit, alleging that the entire sign ordinance was unconstitutional based on the existence of allegedly content-based distinctions and that its permitting and variance procedures constituted a prior restraint. RSJA filed a motion to dismiss on behalf of the Township, while Plaintiff filed a cross-pre-discovery motion for summary judgment. The District Court denied Plaintiff’s motion and granted summary judgment to the Township on the basis that Plaintiff lacked standing for its challenge since its only alleged injury flowed from content-neutral constitutional dimensional requirements, and no other sign was treated more favorably based on its content. In addition to lacking an injury under other challenged ordinance provisions, those provisions were severable, such that Plaintiff still would not be allowed to construct its oversized sign even if it was correct that the other provisions were unconstitutional. The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals panel unanimously affirmed the District Court for the same reasons, and because Plaintiff stated no injury relative to variance procedures since it did not use them. In so doing, the Sixth Circuit reaffirmed its commitment to following its precedent on constitutional standing for sign ordinance challengers that disfavors the type of broad attack that the plaintiff attempted to pursue in this case.
Plaintiff-Appellant was incarcerated when he was assaulted by a fellow inmate, whom he had verbally accused of cheating during a card game. Claims were brought against the inmate who assaulted him, the two deputies involved in classifying/maintaining the classification of the inmate who assaulted him, and the County. RSJA was initially successful in obtaining a full dismissal of this case by way of a motion in lieu of an answer. Following briefing, the Sixth Circuit upheld the district court’s opinion. Notably, despite Plaintiff-Appellant’s argument that qualified immunity is not properly decided in a motion to dismiss under Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6), the Sixth Circuit agreed with Defendants’ position that questions of qualified immunity should be resolved at the earliest possible stage of litigation.
LaFave v. Northern Lakes Community Mental Health Association, et al Case No. 22-36138-NO (13th Circuit Court for the County of Grand Traverse)
Plaintiff was the guardian of a developmentally disabled individual who was hospitalized following an acute medical event suffered at his group home. It was alleged that Defendants acted with gross negligence by not timely placing the disabled individual at an appropriate facility after the hospital was ready to discharge him. As a result of their extensive review of medical records and other client documentation, RSJA was able to “demonstrate that the named Defendants acted reasonably given the facts of the case.” Based on the evidence cited in Defendants’ motion to dismiss in lieu of an answer, the Court found no reasonable trier of fact could conclude that the individuals acted with gross negligence or that their conduct was the proximate cause of injury. RSJA also successfully argued that Plaintiff failed to plead in avoidance of governmental immunity as to the Community Mental Health Authority. Ultimately, all claims were dismissed by the Court with no appeal filed.
In a case that initially made the national news when it was filed, RSJA successfully argued that Plaintiff’s claims lacked subject matter jurisdiction and dismissal of the defendant officer was thus appropriate. Plaintiff was suspected of vehicle theft and fled on foot when officers approached. One officer accidentally discharged his firearm during the foot chase, though Plaintiff was not hit. RSJA’s extensive knowledge and familiarity with these types of cases and with the federal courts, in general, resulted in an early dismissal without the need to engage in costly discovery.