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Bergmann v. Michigan State Transportation Comm'n,

ELR Citation: 42 ELR 20005
Nos. 10-1708, -1770, (6th Cir., 12/15/2011)

The Sixth Circuit vacated and remanded a lower court decision partially granting a landowner's motion to enforce a decades-old consent decree requiring Michigan's transportation department to remediate certain property by March 31, 1995, or to pay the landowner $2,000 per month until the remediation was complete. The department failed to remediate the property or to pay the damages, and in July 2009—more than 14 years after those obligations came due—the landowner filed a motion to enforce the decree. The court held that Michigan's 10-year statute of limitations barred enforcement of the department's remediation obligation, but that each of the missed $2,000 payments triggered its own 10-year limitations period. The court therefore awarded the landowner damages for the period between August 1999 and March 26, 2010—the date of its order. But in deciding which portions of the decree are enforceable, the court incorrectly looked to Michigan's statute of limitations rather than the doctrine of laches. Where a party seeks to enforce a consent decree, the remedy is in equity. Thus, the equitable doctrine of laches—and not the state statute of limitations—applies.