Case Results for Zoning and Land Use
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.
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2010 WL 866133 (Mich App 2010 unpublished).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.
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.
2016 WL 1533562 (Mich App 2016 unpublished). Plaintiff operated a bar, restaurant, banquet center, and nightclub out of a structure that it had illegally expanded over a period of 20 years. Fire and construction code inspections led to an occupancy reduction from 2000 to 175 and multiple violation notices by the township and a lawsuit by the owner. The township won in circuit court, but the court denied the township’s request for sanctions based on a frivolous filing. Both sides appealed and the court confirmed the finding of a dangerous building. RSJA also appealed the denial of its request for sanctions and was eventually awarded $103,000 for the township in sanctions in addition to almost $30,000 in costs.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
2019 WL 5092617 (Mich Ct App, October 10, 2019). We have successfully handled many cases brought by property owners and others challenging the decisions of zoning administrators, zoning boards, and planning commissions. In this case, two neighboring associations were locked in a dispute over whether one association could use its lakefront property to provide docking and overnight boating privileges to its non-lakefront association members. During the litigation, RSJA successfully defended the township’s interpretation and application of several ordinances. RSJA obtained a circuit court judgment affirming a decision of the township zoning board of appeals, which recognized certain nonconforming rights of the association seeking to dock the boats. We also successfully defended the decision of the township planning commission to approve a special land use permit to allow certain docking activities. Additionally, RSJA won an appeal filed in the Michigan Court of Appeals challenging the planning commission’s approval of the special land use permit.
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.
2020 WL 1487708 (Mich Ct App, March 24, 2020). This case involved allegations of trespass and negligent construction of a bike path in the public right-of-way. RSJA filed an early motion for summary disposition based on governmental immunity and secured a circuit court judgment dismissing the allegations with prejudice. Plaintiff moved for reconsideration and filed an appeal, raising new and different claims with each filing, including due process and First Amendment violations, takings, gross negligence, and challenges to the highway by user statute. We secured a favorable judgment from the Michigan Court of Appeals affirming the dismissal of all claims against the township with prejudice.
Oakland County Circuit Court Case No. 2015-147320-AA. Plaintiff filed an appeal in circuit court from the zoning board’s denial of a variance from the City’s off-street parking ordinance. A variance was required in order for plaintiff to use a concrete parking slab she installed in the road right-of-way. RSJA defended against the claims and obtained a judgment affirming the zoning board’s decision denying the variance.
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.”
Hometown Village of Marion Association v. Marion Township et. al., ---F.Supp.3d--- (E.D. Mich. 2021)
The plaintiff homeowner association sued a township, water authority, and electrical company, alleging constitutional violations and seeking to quiet title to a piece of property it alleged was improperly foreclosed upon and deeded to the Township, which the Township granted an easement upon to the water authority and electric company nearly a decade earlier to construct a water tower. Representing the water authority, RSJA moved for dismissal on grounds including that the lawsuit improperly collaterally attacked the state foreclosure judgment. In a published opinion, the District Court ruled that it lacked jurisdiction over the quiet title and declaratory judgment acts under the Tax Injunction Act since the relief requested would require the Court to question and vacate the state foreclosure judgment and to enjoin the collection of taxes in violation of that Act where state law provided adequate remedies.
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.