In the Yu v. City of Ann Arbor footing drain disconnection lawsuit, judge Donald Shelton has denied a motion for a preliminary injunction against the city.
Had it been granted, the motion would have prevented the city of Ann Arbor from enforcing its footing drain disconnection (FDD) ordinance. Shelton’s ruling came from the bench after a roughly 25-minute hearing held on July 2, 2014 at Washtenaw County’s 22nd circuit court at Huron and Main in downtown Ann Arbor.
Shelton appeared to reach his conclusion on the injunction fairly easily. But more than once during the hearing, he indicated that he had questions about the city’s legal position, reserving the possibility that the plaintiffs in the case could ultimately prevail after a full trial, which he expected would take place.
That has implications for the city’s motion for a summary disposition – a request for a decision from Shelton without a full trial. That motion was filed on June 9 and is on Shelton’s calendar for July 30. But at the conclusion of the July 2 hearing, after he’d ruled, Shelton told assistant city attorney Abigail Elias he’d begun a review of that motion for summary disposition and said, “I’ll just tell you that I think it is premature.” But he told Elias she could proceed as she liked.
Under the ordinance, property owners can be required to disconnect their footing drains from the city’s sanitary sewer system. The city has a program under which pre-approved contractors do the disconnection work and install the equipment, with the initial costs borne by the city.
Plaintiffs in the lawsuit contend that the city’s FDD ordinance amounts to inverse condemnation, a taking of property through physical occupation. They rely on the Loretto v. Teleprompter Supreme Court decision, which found that the required installation of a bracket for a cable television can be analyzed as an unconstitutional taking through physical occupation.
The criteria to be weighed in granting a preliminary injunction can include the merit of the actual case – the likelihood that the plaintiff will prevail. And Shelton did touch on one aspect of the merits of the case, as he expressed skepticism about the public health, safety and welfare argument for the FDD ordinance. That skepticism was based on the fact that the city gives homeowners the option of making a $100 per month payment in lieu of a required footing drain disconnection. If it’s important to public health, safety and welfare, Shelton could not imagine that the city would say: Well, just give us some money and that will satisfy it.
But Shelton reserved most of his skepticism on July 2 for the idea that the plaintiffs would suffer irreparable harm in the absence of a preliminary injunction now. That’s because the plaintiffs in the case had their drains disconnected in 2002. If the plaintiffs had brought an action back in 2002, based on a desire not to comply, then that would have been a different situation, Shelton said. At that time, a motion for a preliminary injunction would have been to preserve the status quo – of not being yet disconnected from the sanitary sewer. “But now, more than a decade later, you come in and say: Undo the status quo while we have a trial!” He allowed the plaintiffs might well win at trial, adding that he didn’t know.
In ruling from the bench, Shelton reviewed the fact that the only question before him that day was the question of issuing a preliminary injunction. Circumstances under which the court can grant a preliminary injunction are limited, he said. “I’m going to deny the motion for a preliminary injunction.” He said he believed that the status quo would be disrupted by such an order, and he did not believe any significant irreparable harm would result from waiting until a full trial is held on the merits of the case.