Ann Arbor residents Anita Yu, John Boyer and Mary Raab sued the city last year over the legality of a program requiring homeowners install sump pumps in private residences.
In the original complaint, filed in February 2014 as Yu v. City of Ann Arbor, the plaintiffs alleged that the program inflicted uncompensated burdens and monetary costs. The plaintiffs are seeking monetary compensation, as well as injunctive relief and a statement that the drainage program violates their right to due process.
Though a Washtenaw County Circuit Court judge ruled last week not to sanction the city after the plaintiffs alleged court proceedings were drawn out unnecessarily, the legal battle over the policy is far from finished.
Launched in 2001, the city’s footing drain disconnection program was intended to reduce stormwater flow to the sanitary sewer system, which had caused sewage backup problems in homes throughout the city. To divert water from the sanitary sewer system to the stormwater drainage system, the program mandated that the footing drains in residents’ homes be disconnected and replaced with sump pumps.
The suit implies that the city engaged in questionable practices in adopting and executing the program. Among other complaints, the plaintiff claims the city gave favorable treatment to certain private contractors by granting them the exclusive right to install the required footing drains on private properties.
On Feb. 12, the court heard the plaintiffs’ oral argument in which they called on the judge to sanction the city for unreasonably drawn out legal proceedings. The plaintiffs sought monetary sanctions for “the fees and costs occasioned by the continued burden in this case of protecting themselves from a seeming attack by the City.”
In an interview with The Michigan Daily, Anne Warrow, the city’s project manager, maintained that the footing drain disconnection program was based on legitimate studies that considered the welfare of Ann Arbor residents.
The plaintiff’s attorney Irvin Mermelstein said in an interview that this was not the case.
“These people didn’t study anything,” he said. “They knew exactly what they were doing.”
The two plaintiff parties — Boyer and Raab, who live together, and Yu — said they did not experience sewer-related problems before pumps were installed in their homes under the program. The lawsuit’s key complaint is that due to a disability, Yu cannot maintain a sump pump without a contractor, and the city has not compensated her for this burden. Likewise, Boyer and Raab cited uncompensated burdens, including recurring flooding and the necessary installation of a $600 backup hydraulic pump.
When the case was first filed in the Washtenaw County Circuit Court, the city attempted to remove the case to federal court. However, the plaintiff countered with a motion to send it back to state court, which was granted. A series of motions followed, including unsuccessful motions to reassign the case to another judge and to disqualify the city’s legal counsel, Abigail Elias.
Last Thursday, Elias argued the city acted reasonably in its defense and that the plaintiffs did not show sanctions were warranted.
In an interview with The Michigan Daily, Elias would not speak to specific allegations the plaintiffs have made against the footing drain disconnection program, but said, “We’re confident in the legality of the program.”
Preluding his ruling, Judge Timothy Connors, the Washtenaw County Circuit judge, said he respects the parties’ use of the available legal tools to pursue their goals. Connors highlighted two fundamental principles of the court — protecting witnesses from undue harassment or embarrassment, and ascertaining truth. Connors said he took those principles into account, and exercised judicial restraint in his decision to deny the plaintiffs’ motion for sanctions.
Mermelstein said he believes the circuitous nature of this case goes against the principle to ascertain truth.
“The big problem is that we’re supposed to have all kinds of protections that we have in federal court that we don’t have here,” Mermelstein said.
Mermelstein said depositions in the case are scheduled to begin in March.