Lake access provided through plat not interpreted to include boat docks

by Victoria Heldt

John J. Banacki v. David W. Howe and Jamie C. Howe, et al.
(Michigan Court of Appeals, March 20, 2012)

John Banacki, the Howes, and the remaining defendants are all residents of the Gilmore Lake Subdivision.  It consists of 62 lots, a street, a park, and two courts (East Court and West Court).  Lots 1-36 have water frontage on Magician Lake while the remaining 26 lots have frontage along Gilbert Street.  East Court is a 25-foot wide strip of waterfront land in between lots 12 and 13 and West Court is a similar strip of land between lots 29 and 30.  Banacki owns lot 13, while the defendants are the owners of lots 47, 48, 49, and 50.  When the property was platted in 1941, the dedication stated that “the park, street, and courts, as shown on said plat are hereby dedicated to the use of persons owning land adjacent to said park, street, or courts.”

Banacki filed a trespassing complaint regarding the defendants’ installation of a pier, boat lift, wooden dock, and decking adjacent to Magician Lake on the East Court.  He asserted that they do not have a right to use East Court or the adjacent lake frontage since they are not owners of land adjacent to East Court.  He further argued that defendants’ additions interfered with his ability to use and enjoy East Court and the adjacent property.  He sought an injunction to prevent future installation of such structures.  Banacki also pursued a quiet title to declare himself and another (Smit) the owners of the property adjacent to East Court.

The Howes and the rest of the defendants filed for summary disposition, arguing no trespass had occurred.  They asserted that the language of the plat dedication gave all persons owning land adjacent to any park, street, or court the right to use the parks, street, or courts.  They also argued they had a prescriptive easement for the use of East Court since their predecessors used the property in a similar fashion for 65 years without complaint.  Banacki responded by filing his own motion for summary disposition, arguing the language of the dedication clearly prevented anyone from the seasonal installation of boat lifts and the overnight mooring of boats  in East Court.  Therefore, the defendants’ actions interfered with all lot owners’ right to use East Court.  The district court concluded the defendants’ use of East Court exceeded the scope of the plat dedication and granted summary judgment in favor of Banacki.  This appeal followed.

The question in front of the Court was to what extent nonriparian land owners have access to East Court.  According to statute, a nonriparian owner has the right to “use the surface of the water in a reasonable manner for such activities as boating, fishing and swimming” as well as “to anchor boats temporarily.”  Any additional uses must be granted by easement, which defendants argued was given to them through the plat dedication.  Since the language was unclear, the Court looked to the way in which the land was used at the time of the plat dedication.  Defendants provided an affidavit of Jack Szymanski, a previous owner of lots 47-50 for over 50 years, who testified that he used East Court as “lake access” and for the “overnight mooring of boats, and seasonal installation and removal of a wooden pier and shore station.”  He further stated that his parents, the original owners of the property, used East Court in a similar way.  The Court noted, however, that the record did not show that these activities occurred at the time of the plat dedication.  Therefore, it relied solely on the language of the dedication.

Typically, the granted “use” of streets and alleys near navigable waters extends up to the edge of the water and includes public access to the water.  The Court consulted the common definition of a “court” and determined it should be treated in the same way.  It concluded that the defendants failed to prove that the plat dedication granted any other “use” outside of general public access to the water surface.  There was no evidence that the dedication allowed individual lot owners to monopolize East Court by permanently parking boats or installing decks and boat lifts within East Court.  In regards to the defendants’ supposed prescriptive easement, the Court noted that a prescriptive easement is usually appropriate only where an express easement has failed because of a defect.  This is not the case here.  It further compared a prescriptive easement to adverse possession, which requires an element of adversity.  There was no adversity or hostility present in this case.  Therefore, the Court concluded that no prescriptive easement was granted.  It affirmed the district court’s decision.

Refusal to rezone to multi-family not a due process violation; did not constitute exclusionary zoning

by Victoria Heldt

DF Land Development, LLC v. Charter Township of Ann Arbor
(Michigan Court of Appeals, November 17, 2011)

DF Land Development owned a 54-acre piece of property within Ann Arbor Charter Township (Township) that was zoned “A-1”.  This zoning classification allowed farming and agricultural use or one residential unit per every ten acres.  DF Land wanted the property rezoned to “R-7” so it could build multi-family residential units.  Its request was denied.  DF filed a substantive due process claim in court alleging that the denial to rezone the property constituted exclusionary zoning and a taking of the property.  The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the Township and dismissed DF Land’s substantive due process and takings claims.

DF Land appealed, arguing that the refusal to rezone is arbitrary and capricious and that the current zoning was unreasonably restrictive.  They were of the opinion that it violated their substantive due process rights and was an “inverse condemnation of the property through regulation.”  The Court first noted that, in a review of a city ordinance, 1) the ordinance is presumed valid, 2) the challenger has the burden of proof to prove unreasonableness, and 3) the Court gives heavy weight to the trial court’s findings.  Additionally, in order to be successful in its claim, DF Land must show that no reasonable governmental interest is advanced by the zoning classification and that the ordinance is unreasonable “because of the purely arbitrary, capricious, and unfounded exclusion of other types of legitimate land use from the area in question.”

As to the question of whether the zoning ordinance serves a legitimate governmental interest, the Court found that it did.  The evidence presented showed that the ordinance worked to “preserve the rural character, natural features, and availability of open areas by limiting residential development on the property through density restrictions.”  According to precedent, this purpose constitutes a legitimate governmental interest.  It further found that the ruling was consistent with the historical use of the property, so it was not an arbitrary decision.  DF Land argued that the statute was too restrictive because it disallowed the property’s most economically viable use.  The Court dismissed that argument as irrelevant because a property does not, by law, need to be zoned for its most profitable use.

DF Land argued that the zoning ordinance was unlawfully exclusionary because it prohibited an R-7 zoning classification on the property.  The Court noted that an ordinance would only be considered exclusionary if it prohibited that zoning throughout the entire township.  Evidence demonstrated that 28-37% of the residential units in the township consisted of multi-family housing, so the R-7 zoning classification was not forbidden in the entire Township.  Therefore, the ordinance was not unjustly exclusionary.   The Court affirmed the trial court’s decision.

Tear down your 9,000 sq. ft. mansion (and Happy Valentines Day!)

by Gary Taylor

Thom and Lockwood Hills HOA v. Palushaj
(Michigan Court of Appeals, February 14, 2012)

The Thoms live in the Lockwood Hills development in Macomb County. The Palushajs purchased the parcel of land adjacent to the Thoms. Several deed restrictions apply to the lots in Lockwood Hills. The relevant restrictions provide that any home built must be a minimum of 100 feet from any adjacent homes, and that any home built must be a minimum of 40 feet from the side lot line.
During construction of the Palushaj’s 9,000 square foot mansion, the Thoms approached them with concerns that the new home potentially violated these deed restrictions.  The Palushajs apparently sought the advice of counsel and concluded that the restrictions were no longer valid and did not apply to their planned construction. They proceeded with construction of their home as planned, which ended up located 80 feet from the Thom’s home and approximately 28 feet from the side lot line.  After litigation spanning years, the Court of Appeals in this case was faced with the question of the appropriate remedy for the violation of the deed restriction.  The court observed that

[D]eed restrictions are a form of a contractual agreement and create a valuable property right. If a deed restriction is unambiguous, we will enforce that deed restriction as written unless the restriction contravenes law or public policy, or has been waived by acquiescence to prior violations, because enforcement of such restrictions grants the people of Michigan the freedom ‘freely to arrange their affairs’ by the formation of contracts to determine the use of land.

The court emphasized that it was “not faced with a situation where by innocent mistake a house was built that slightly encroached into the setback zone. Rather, we have a substantial,
intentional and flagrant violation of the setback requirements…”  In light of this, the court determined that demolition of all or part of the home to bring it into compliance with the deed restrictions was the only adequate remedy available to be imposed by the courts.

OBSERVATION:  This is a case involving violation of home owners association covenants.  Would the court have been as merciless if it were a zoning violation?

Conditions in development agreement not enforceable as contractual promises

by Victoria Heldt

Button Realty, LLC, v. Charter Township of Commerce and Country Hills Development, LLC
(Michigan Court of Appeals, September 22, 2011)

In 2004, Button Realty entered into a purchase agreement with Country Hills Development for the sale of 34 acres of land.  The agreement provided that Country Hills purchase the property in order to build a single-family residential project with pressure sewer and public water.  It stated that Button would enter into a legitimate land contract once Country Hills obtained site approval from the Charter Township of Commerce (the township).   It further stated that Button must agree to the imposition of any special assessments in order to cover costs for installing the water/sewer system.  Country Hills petitioned the Township for the creation of a special assessment district (which included the property) in order to finance the extension of the public water system to the property.  The Township approved.  Subsequent to approval of the site plan, Button and Country Hills executed a land contract in accordance with the terms of the agreement.

Country Hills submitted an application to the township to rezone the property (as it was zoned “undeveloped” at the time) to allow the single-family residence to be constructed.  The Township agreed and entered into a development agreement with Country Hills.  As a condition of the rezoning, Country Hills was required to undertake certain actions (such as the construction of the residences and the installation of a water system) within 15 years of the date of the agreement or else the property would revert back to its original zoning classification.  The Township noted that Country Hills was not required to do these things, but that they were a condition of the rezoning.

Country Hills eventually defaulted on its land contract with Button and the property was transferred back to Button before the public water and sewer lines had been extended throughout the development onto Country Hills’ property.  Button filed an action in district court seeking to have the assessments declared unenforceable on the grounds that they conferred no special benefit to Button.  They also claimed they received no notice of the assessment hearing, so the assessments were invalid.  In addition, Button claimed that Country Hills breached its contract with the Township when they failed to extend the water system to the property.  Button alleged that those contractual obligations conferred a direct benefit to Button, and so Button was a third-party beneficiary of the development agreement.

Country Hills argued that Button was not a third-party beneficiary of the agreement with the township, so therefore Button had no grounds to bring a lawsuit raising the issue that Country Hills was in breach of that contract.  Country Hills further claimed that it had not breached the contract since there was a 15-year limit in which to complete the actions and because the actions were not required.  The district court granted summary judgment in favor of the township and Country Hills on both claims.   Button appealed.

In regards to the question of whether Country Hills breached their development contract with the township, the Court of Appeals ruled they had not.  It noted the distinction between a condition and a promise.  A condition “is distinguished from a promise in that it creates no right or duty in and of itself but is merely a limiting or modifying factor.”  In this case, the actions to be taken by Country Hills were a condition to the rezoning of the property, not a requirement.  The only consequence of not completing the actions was that it would revert back to its previous zoning classification.  Additionally, the Court noted that the agreement allows for a 15 year deadline to complete the actions, and therefore the claim was not yet timely.

Further, the Court agreed with the district court in its decision that Button is not a third-party beneficiary of the development agreement.  A person is a third-party beneficiary of a contract only when the promisor undertakes an obligation “directly” to or for the person.  This means that not just anybody who benefits from a contract can enforce it.  Since Button was not named in the contract, it is not a third-party beneficiary.  The Court of Appeals affirmed the district court’s decision.

Local ordinance permitted to define “available public sanitary sewer system” more broadly than state statute

by Victoria Heldt and Gary Taylor

Roger Newell and Arelene Newell v. Village of Otter Lake, County of Lapeer
(Michigan Court of Appeals, November 15, 2011)

The Newells own property in the Village of Otter Lake on which sits a structure with a working septic system.  In 2004, the Village created a special assessment for its public sanitary sewage system.  The Newells were assessed $10,475; however, they were of the opinion that the assessment should not be applied to them so they filed a complaint with the Michigan Tax Tribunal.  During the time between when the Newells filed their complaint and the time of their hearing, the Village enacted an ordinance that changed the definition of an “available public sanitary sewer system.”  Under the new definition any public sewer system that “crosses, adjoins, or abuts a parcel upon which a structure is located” is considered an “available public sewer system” regardless of how many feet the system was from the structure it services or could potentially service.  This ordinance differed from the previously governing state statute (MCL 333.12751 (c)), which “available public sanitary sewer system as  “a public sanitary sewer system located in a right of way, easement, highway, street, or public way which crosses, adjoins, or abuts upon the property and passing not more than 200 feet at the nearest point from a structure in which sanitary sewage originates.”

At the Tax Tribunal trial, the Newells argued that the assessment was unjust because they received no benefit from the sewer system (they did not connect to it, nor did they need to connect to it).  The tribunal upheld the assessment and the Newells paid it.   Since they did not connect to the system, however, they refused to pay the operation and maintenance fees that were due each quarter thereafter.  When they were notified of their delinquency on the operation and maintenance fees, the Newells filed a claim in circuit court arguing that the ordinance was preempted by the previously governing state statute, that the fee violated the Headlee Amendment, and that the assessment violated the right to equal protection under the Michigan Constitution.  The court ruled in favor of the Village, finding that the preemption claim could have been resolved in the tax tribunal hearing so the court was prohibited from ruling on it.  Additionally it found that, although a municipality is not allowed to enact ordinances that conflict with state statutes, it is free to make ordinances that expand on them.

On appeal, the Newells again made a preemption claim arguing that the state statute preempted the Village’s ordinance.  They were of the opinion that they were not required to connect to the public sewer system (per the state statute MCL 333.12751 (c)) because their structure was located more than 200 feet from it.  The Court disagreed, finding that the Village’s ordinance was not in conflict with the state statute but merely expanded on it, which is allowable.  Thus, the Village’s ordinance was not preempted by the state statue.  The Court further noted that, in matters of public health such as a sewer system, municipalities act as an agent of the state in the regulation of such systems.

Citing People v. Llewellyn, the Newells additionally argued that this area of regulation was one in which state law has exclusive jurisdiction.  This argument rested on the fact that MCL 333.12751 was not included in the list of sections that the statute specified as being expandable by municipalities.  The Court rejected this argument, finding that the statute clearly anticipated changes by local governments.  It further found that the fact that the section was not listed did not equal a declaration that the state’s statutes were the exclusive governing power in that area.

The Newells also argued that the fee violated the Headlee Act, which prohibits municipalities from enacting a tax that was not authorized by state law, and from increasing an already authorized tax without a majority vote.  The Court found that since the fee is “serving a regulatory and not a revenue-raising purpose,” it is not considered a tax.  Consequently, the Headlee Act does not apply to it.  The Court affirmed the lower court’s decision in favor of the Village.

Legal non-conforming use still subject to junk and nuisance ordinances

by Victoria Heldt

Soo Township v. Lorenzo Pezzolesi
(Michigan Court of Appeals, October 25, 2011)

Lorenzo Pezzolesi purchased a piece of property in Soo Township in 1987 when the property was zoned commercial.  He began using it as a junk/salvage yard soon after that.  In 2001, the property was zoned residential and Soo Township passed a nuisance ordinance and a junkyard ordinance.

Subsequently, the Township filed a complaint against Pezzolessi claiming that he was in violation of the ordinances, that the property wasn’t zoned to be a junkyard, and that he did not have a license to operate a junkyard.  The Township’s Supervisor testified that the junkyard did not even classify as “commercial” since no commercial signs were up, the entrance was blocked on a regular basis, and no evidence of commercial activity existed.  Pezzolesi argued that his operation was a salvage yard, not a junkyard.  He claimed to have made sales two weeks prior to the trial and, when asked about employees, he responded that he called “Peter, Joe, and Bob” on the weekends when they were free.  He was unable to provide the last names of his helpers.  The trial court ruled in favor of Pezzolesi.  It found that his salvage yard constituted a commercial operation on property that was zoned commercial at the time of purchase.  The property was rezoned residential after the establishment of the salvage yard; therefore the salvage yard was a legal nonconforming use not subject to the license requirement in the zoning ordinance.  The trial court also found that Pezzolesi was not subject to the nuisance ordinance for the same reason.

The Township appealed, first arguing that the defendant abandoned his right to a nonconforming use when he ceased operating a “commercial” business.  The Court denied this argument, noting that the act of abandonment required “an act or omission on the part of the owner or holder which clearly manifests his voluntary decision to abandon.”  The Court found no such action.  Next, the Township argued that the Pezzolesi’s property was subject to the nuisance ordinance and the junkyard ordinance.  On this issue, the Court agreed.  It distinguished between a zoning ordinance and a regulatory ordinance in that “zoning ordinances regulate land uses, while regulatory ordinances regulate activities.”  It cited a previous case in which it ruled that “a regulatory ordinance can be imposed on a prior nonconforming user, but a zoning ordinance cannot.”  It found that in this case, the junkyard ordinance and the nuisance ordinance constituted regulatory ordinances since they governed people’s behavior regarding the operation of junkyards.  Similarly, the nuisance ordinance “address activity or conditions that could apply to any property, regardless of its location.”  Therefore, the ordinances applied to Pezzolesi’s junkyard/salvage operation.

The Court remanded the decision to the lower court to take further evidence and hear arguments on whether Pezzolesi’s operation in fact violated either of the regulatory ordinances.

Township ordinance regulating billboards passes constitutional challenges

by Victoria Heldt

Township of Blair v. Lamar OCI North Corporation
(Michigan Court of Appeals, October 27, 2010)

Lamar OCI North Corporation (Lamar) leases property along US highway 31 on which it maintains commercial billboards.  Ordinances in the Blair Township Zoning Ordinance (BTZPO), passed in 2005, prohibit billboards exceeding 300 square feet in area, 30 feet in height, and closer than 2,640 feet to another billboard.  One of Lamar’s billboards was in violation of all three of those stipulations, but was allowed as a nonconforming use since it was constructed before the relevant ordinances in BTZPO were passed.  In 2005, Lamar removed a portion of the sign and installed an LED display face on the remaining portion of the board.  This action brought the sign in compliance with the area and height requirements, yet it still violated the distance requirement.

The Township filed suit in district court claiming that the sign constituted a nuisance and Lamar countered with a claim that the spacing requirement between signs violated the First Amendment.  The district court ruled in favor of the Township, but found a portion of the governing ordinance invalid under the First Amendment due to vagueness and removed it.  The court ordered the removal of the billboard unless it appealed the ruling, in which case it could remain until the resolution of the appeal.

On appeal, Lamar first argued that Michigan law prohibited the Township from disallowing modifications to nonconforming uses if they reduce the nonconformity.  The Court acknowledged that the Township has authority to regulate billboards under Article 20 under the BTZO.  Specifically, the Township governs nonconforming uses under Section 20.08 which states that the ordinance may not prohibit alterations to the nonconforming use unless the cost of the alterations exceeds 30% of the cost to replace the sign.   The Court noted that Lamar’s argument was invalid, since it cited cases that were not factually similar.   The changes to Lamar’s sign exceeded 30% of the cost of replacement, so the BTZO had authority to prohibit them.  Lamar failed to show that the trial court lacked authority to eliminate the nuisance.

Lamar next claimed that, since one sentence of the governing ordinance was stricken due to vagueness, the district court should not have been able to find them in violation of the ordinance.  The sentence removed read:  “If the face, supports, or other parts of a nonconforming sign or billboard is structurally changed, altered, or substituted in a manner that reduces the nonconformity, the Zoning Administrator may approve the change.”  The trial court ruled that the phrase gave unbridled and vague authority to the Zoning Administrator.  The Court found that the sentence was able to be removed without altering the goal or effectiveness of the ordinance.  Another question the Court asked itself was whether the ordinance would have been passed in the first place had it been known that the sentence would be stricken.  They found that it would, so the removal of the sentence did not render the clause ineffective.  Lamar claimed that the Court should have eliminated the need for permission from the Zoning Administrator to solve the problem and retain the ability to reduce nonconformities; i.e., that requiring permission constituted prior restraint of speech.  They based their argument on Shuttlesworth v. Birmingham in which the Court ruled against an ordinance requiring a permit to protest.  The Court rejected Lamar’s argument, stating that Shuttlesworth did not apply to the facts in this case because the Township was not trying to restrict the content of the speech.

Lastly, Lamar challenged the constitutionality of the distance requirement found in the ordinance.  The Township claimed the requirement was in place to “enhance the aesthetic desirability of the environment and reduce hazards to life and property in the township.”  When analyzing restrictions on free speech, the Court considers four factors:  1) The First Amendment protects commercial speech only if that speech concerns lawful activity and is not misleading.  A restriction on otherwise protected commercial speech is valid only if it;  2) seeks to implement a substantial governmental interest; 3) directly advances that interest; and 4) reaches no further than necessary to accomplish the given objective.  In this case, the Court found that lawful commercial speech was involved and that “promoting aesthetic desirability of the environment and reducing hazards to life and property in Blair Township are of substantial governmental interest.”  It also found that the ordinances also passed the last two factors of the four-pronged test.  Consequently, the Court affirmed the trial court’s decision.

Demolition is abatement of a nuisance, not a taking requiring condemnation

by Victoria Heldt

Hendrix Roosevelt v. City of Detroit
(Michigan Court of Appeals, October 13, 2011)

This case deals with the demolition of a building in Detroit, Michigan.  In 2003, the City sent a dangerous building violation notice to the owners of the building after they discovered it was dilapidated, only had a half roof, and was open to trespass.   After a hearing was held, a demolition notice was sent.  At the time, Roosevelt was not on record as an owner of the building, so he didn’t receive these notices.  In 2005, Roosevelt filed a demolition deferral application and listed the building’s address as the place to send him notice.  The City granted the deferral on the condition that the building not is kept open to public trespass.  If the condition was not met, the building would be demolished without further notice.  A notice was sent to the building addressed to Roosevelt, but it was returned as Roosevelt had moved from the building.  In 2006 the City inspected the building and found it was in violation of the deferral agreement.

Roosevelt filed another deferral request in 2007 and provided 258 Riverside Drive as an address at which to reach him.  The City denied the request and sent notice both to the building’s address and to the alternative address Roosevelt provided.  Both notices were returned in the mail.  In September of 2007 the building was demolished.  Roosevelt filed a claim arguing that the demolition of the building violated the Michigan constitution, violated federal due process, and was the result of gross negligence by two City employees.  The court dismissed the federal claim and remanded the case to the circuit court to resolve the remaining claims.  On both of these claims the circuit court granted summary judgment for the City.  In 2010 the City petitioned to reopen the case in order to present a counterclaim for demolition costs.  The petition was granted, and when Roosevelt failed to oppose the demolition costs, the court awarded demolition costs to the City.  All claims made their way to the Michigan Court of Appeals.

As for the state constitution claim, the Court of Appeals laid out three main reasons why the claim was properly dismissed by the circuit court.  First, monetary damages are reserved for plaintiffs with no other avenue of relief.  Roosevelt’s first line of relief would have been via a federal due process claim, which was alleged and was denied.   The Court also noted that the City’s actions did not constitute a “taking.”  A “taking” occurs when the government confiscates property for public use.  In these instances, the government must go through the proper condemnation process.  An exception exists, however, if the property is causing a public nuisance.  Nobody has the right to use their property as a nuisance; therefore it is not considered a “taking” if the government uses its power to stop a public nuisance.  Roosevelt’s building was considered a public nuisance since it “imperiled the health, safety, and welfare” of the neighborhood.  Thus, the government did not commit a “taking” when it demolished the building.  The Court’s final point regarding this claim was that Roosevelt cannot claim a due process violation if he actually received notice.  The fact that he filed petitions for demolition deferral was evidence that he knew of the demolition plans.  Consequently, there was no due process violation.

In regards to the gross negligence claim against the municipality’s employees, the Court noted that governmental employees are protected from lawsuits if they were “acting within the scope of their authority, were engaged in the exercise or discharge of a governmental function, and their conduct did not amount to gross negligence that is the proximate cause of the injury or damage.”  In this case, the Court focused on the phrase “proximate cause.”  The Court concluded that this phrase is to be interpreted as the “most immediate and direct” cause of the action (in this case, the demolition of the building) and that it refers to one cause.  In this case another cause existed in correspondence with the demolition, namely Roosevelt’s failure to uphold the conditions of the deferral.  As a result of those factors, the employee’s actions are not deemed gross negligence.

Finally, Roosevelt challenged the circuit court’s action in assessing the demolition costs to him since state statute specifies that a judgment lien, and not a personal judgment, should be granted in demolition costs.  The Court agreed with Roosevelt and found that the trial court abused its discretion in awarding the city a personal judgment against Roosevelt.  After affirming the district court’s decisions regarding the constitutional claim and the gross negligence claim, it remanded the case for the granting of a judgment lien.

Chelsea’s (MI) failure to provide water to development violated PUD agreement

by Gary Taylor

Chelsea Inv. Group, LLC v. City of Chelsea
Michigan Court of Appeals (April 27, 2010)

Chelsea Investment Group (CIG) acquired 157 acres of undeveloped real property located in Chelsea by land contract, for which it paid $5,000,000. CIG then filed a petition to rezone the property to PUD, which the City approved contingent upon CIG meeting all terms in a PUD agreement negotiated between the city and CIG.  The agreement provided, among other things, that the development would contain 352 single-family condos. Under the agreement the city was to provide CIG with access to water for the development in a timely fashion.

CIG made an agreement with Pulte Land Company for the sale and construction of the residential units.  Pulte bought the home sites for $23,000 per lot. The development was to occur in three phases. Pulte’s purchase of the sites was conditioned on governmental approval for each phase.

Eventually, the process ran into a snag when the City determined there was not sufficient water capacity for the project.  When the resulting delays prevented Pulte from proceeding with the project Pulte exercised its option to terminate its contract with CIG.  Pulte also requested a full refund of its $250,000 deposit.

Plaintiff-CIG sued the City alleging breach of the PUD Agreement.  The trial court held that plaintiff had established a breach of the PUD Agreement, but that its damages were limited to Pulte phase two of the development.  It awarded plaintiff costs, attorney fees, and interest.  The Court of Appeals affirmed, finding that the city breached the Planned Unit Development (PUD) Agreement by not timely providing CIG (and Pulte Land Company) access to water for the development.  The damages CIG requested for inability to develop phase two were not too speculative; however, CIG was not entitled to damages as to the lost profits on phase three because development of phase three was too uncertain. The Court of Appeals found that the trial court properly dismissed CIG’s claim against the city manager personally, because his conduct was not grossly negligent, which is the standard a plaintiff is required to prove to overcome a governmental immunity defense.

Thanks to Kurt Schindler, Michigan State University Extension, for this case information. You can visit Kurt’s Land Use page here.

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