January 9, 2018

Foley & Mansfield recently won a victory for our client, the City of Roseville, Michigan, in a civil rights case in which Plaintiffs - an African American couple - sued both their Caucasian neighbors and the City for alleged unlawful ethnic intimidation.  The City was represented by attorney Matthew Wise of Foley & Mansfield’s Detroit office.

Plaintiffs filed the federal lawsuit in the U.S. District Court of the Eastern District of Michigan, claiming that their neighbors habitually trespassed on their property, destroyed their gas meter and committed a multitude of other violations of City ordinances and state law. Despite the City’s efforts, Plaintiffs alleged that they and the City Attorney failed to properly handle the Plaintiffs’ complaints or prosecute the Plaintiffs’ neighbors for an alleged 2+-year pattern of ethnic intimidation under MCL 750.147b and other city ordinances regarding trespass, harassment and malicious destruction of property.  Plaintiffs claimed that the City of Roseville, through their attorney, should have prosecuted the Plaintiffs’ neighbors or taken further enforcement action for the alleged wrongful acts of their neighbors.  Plaintiffs had also previously filed a complaint with the Michigan Department of Civil Rights, which our office also handled and was dismissed for lack of evidence. 

After taking the depositions of both Plaintiffs and the deposition of the City code enforcement officer assigned to handle these disputes, the defense filed a Motion to Dismiss and for Summary Judgment as to all of Plaintiffs’ claims against the City. 

We argued that Plaintiff’s had failed to properly identify an underlying basis for their 1983 constitutional claims and that the City could not be held vicariously liable as a result under Monell.  We further argued that the City did all that it could to mediate these disputes and that the City was entitled to qualified immunity. In addition, the Plaintiffs had no evidence that any of the City’s actions or alleged inactions were racially motivated.  Plaintiffs also failed to provide any basis for their equal protection claims or allege that they and their neighbors were similarly situated as required under equal protection case law.

After hearing oral argument in early December, Judge Cohn of the Eastern District granted our Motion to Dismiss as to Plaintiff’s 1983, Michigan Constitution, Equal Protection and vicarious liability claims.  The Court held that the Plaintiffs failed to show that the City’s attorney was a policymaker for the City such that his actions in responding to the Plaintiffs’ complaints could not impute vicarious liability on the City. The Court further held that the Plaintiffs failed to articulate the ordinances that the City attorney failed to enforce, and that he had no authority to enforce a state statute as a local city attorney. As a result, the Court dismissed all of Plaintiffs’ claims against the City and they have 30 days to appeal.


Read the opinion and order here.

Matthew Wise