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Andrews v. Holly Township

Citation: 33 ELR 20038
No. No. 01-74433, 216 F. Supp. 2d 678/(E.D. Mich., 08/21/2002)

The court holds that it must abstain from hearing a case brought by property owners who claimed that a county ordinance making the lake on which their property sits a "no wake" lake is invalid under the Michigan Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Act (NREPA) and constitutes a taking in violation of their state and federal constitutional rights. The court first holds that the Burford abstention doctrine, which is used to avoid conflict with a state's administration of its own affairs, is applicable in this case. Although the state environmental agency is not a named party, it is clearly involved in the dispute because the agency's action was statutorily required to be involved with the adoption of the no wake ordinance. Additionally, there are difficult questions of state law that transcend the issues in this case, such as the proper procedure for adopting ordinances under the NREPA. The court further holds that abstention under the Pullman doctrine is appropriate. The Pullman doctrine applies where an unclear state law is involved and a clarification of state law would likely obviate the necessity of deciding the federal claim question. Here, the case involves the proper application of the NREPA, both procedurally and substantively. Further, if the state courts decide that the ordinance does not violate the NREPA, the property owners' constitutional claims would likely need not be considered. Moreover, the fact that the property owners are seeking money damages does not mean that abstention is unwarranted. The court therefore dismisses the case without prejudice so it could be considered by the Michigan courts.

Counsel for Plaintiffs
Arthur J. LeVasseur
Fischer, Franklin & Ford
500 Griswold St., Ste. 3500, Detroit MI 48226
(313) 962-5210

Counsel for Defendant
James E. Tamm
O'Connor, DeGrazia & Tamm
4111 Andover Rd., Ste. 330-E, Bloomfield Hills MI 48302
(248) 433-2000