Municipal

This summary also appears under Litigation

 

Issues: Actions to compel the defendants-property owners to connect to the plaintiffs-townships' sewer system; MCL 333.12752; MCL 333.12753(1); MCL 691.1417; Invoking "equity"; Eastbrook Homes Inc. v. Treasury Dep't; Edsell v. Briggs; Detroit Trust Co. v. Old Nat'l Bank of Grand Rapids; Whether plaintiffs could compel defendants to sign contracts; The "preexisting duty rule"; Yerkovich v. AAA; Attorney fees, costs, and civil penalties pursuant to plaintiffs' ordinances; Klooster v. City of Charlevoix; Freeman v. Wozniak; The general "American rule"; Nemeth v. Abonmarche Dev., Inc.; General power to decline to award costs due to the involvement of a question of public concern; Polania v. State Employees' Ret. Sys.; Effect of mandatory cost-shifting provisions; Kitchen v. Ferndale City Council; Applicability of the general rules of MCR 2.625 to cases in which fees or costs are governed by a more specific provision; Lavene v. Winnebago Indus.; Claim that defendants did not receive proper statutory notice; MCL 333.12754; Bingham Farms v. Ferris; Burden of proof on defendants as to an affirmative defense; Rasheed v. Chrysler Corp.; Limitation on discovery; Chain of Lakes Utility Authority (COLA)

Court: Michigan Court of Appeals (Unpublished)

Case Name: Township of Brooks v. Hadley

e-Journal Number: 57996

Judge(s): Per Curiam – Hoekstra and Markey; Concurring in part, Dissenting in part – Ronayne Krause

 

The court reversed the trial court to the extent that it ruled the defendants-property owners must enter into contracts related to connecting to the plaintiffs-townships' sewer system, but affirmed to the extent the trial court required defendants to connect to the system. It also reversed the trial court's refusal to impose civil penalties, costs, and reasonable attorney fees on defendants pursuant to applicable ordinance provisions, and remanded for further proceedings. Plaintiffs, with another township, the county Board of Public Works, and the COLA, constructed a joint sanitary sewer system. "Pursuant to MCL 333.12753, each of the townships adopted an accompanying, identical, ordinance requiring, inter alia, connection to the sewer system by property owners who met certain criteria." In these consolidated cases, plaintiffs sought declaratory and injunctive relief to compel defendants to immediately connect to the sewer system, and recovery of expenses and attorney fees. The court noted that "there is a fundamental and critical difference between the undoubted power to compel people and entities to do things or abstain from things, and a power to compel people and entities to agree to things." To the "extent the forms at issue constitute contracts for defendants to do what they were already required to do by law, in exchange for services mandated by law, any argued consideration is illusory." Thus, the court held that while "plaintiffs can compel defendants to connect to the sewer system," they could not compel them "to sign any contracts that would have the effect of giving up any legal rights or remedies in exchange for that connection." Plaintiffs conceded at oral argument that the contracts were "not of any great importance to them." Defendants essentially argued that "equity should exempt them from any requirement to connect to the COLA sewer system because of the incompetent installation of the system and the fact that their septic systems are perfectly functional as found by the trial court." However, the "Legislature has determined in absolute terms that converting from septic systems to sanitary sewer systems is in the public interest, MCL 333.12752, and it is not the role of the courts to interfere with policy set by the Legislature." Further, "plaintiffs will be responsible for all future repairs, and defendants have remedies at law to compensate them for any damage" - MCL 691.1417 provides for a damages claim for a sewage disposal system event.

 

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