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Case Name Phillips v. Snyder VR-MI-0070
Docket / Court 2:13-cv-11370 ( E.D. Mich. )
State/Territory Michigan
Case Type(s) Election/Voting Rights
Public Accomm./Contracting
Speech and Religious Freedom
Attorney Organization Center for Constitutional Rights
Case Summary
On March 27, 2013, plaintiffs filed this lawsuit against the State of Michigan in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan. Plaintiffs were a coalition of unelected citizens, public employee union members and representatives, and locally elected officials from cities in ... read more >
On March 27, 2013, plaintiffs filed this lawsuit against the State of Michigan in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan. Plaintiffs were a coalition of unelected citizens, public employee union members and representatives, and locally elected officials from cities in Michigan that were currently under the authority of an Emergency Manager. Represented by a combination of private counsel and the Center for Constitutional Rights, plaintiffs alleged that the state violated their constitutional rights to equal protection, republican form of government, free speech, and ability to petition their government, when the state appointed an Emergency manager to their respective local governments pursuant to Public Act 436, MCL §§ 141.1541 et seq. ("PA 436").

Among other counts, plaintiffs asserted that their equal protection rights and the protections granted by the Voting Rights Act had been violated because Emergency Managers were appointed to communities in a way that disproportionately impacted and diluted African American and low-income voting power. Additionally, the union plaintiffs alleged that their substantive and due process rights were violated when state officials impeded the City of Detroit's ability to finalize a tentative agreement with the coalition of public employee unions. Plaintiffs also alleged a violation of their substantive due process right to "elect representatives with general legislative power." Filing this action pursuant to 24 U.S.C. § 1983 and Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act ("VRA"), 42 U.S.C. § 1973, plaintiffs sought declaratory judgment that P.A. 436 violated the VRA and the Constitution, injunctive relief restraining the state from implementing or exercising authority and power conveyed by P.A. 436, prohibiting the state from impeding the City of Detroit in its bargaining with the public employees unions, and an award of compensatory and punitive damages.

On May 16, 2013, the State moved to dismiss all counts, alleging that plaintiffs did not have standing, and generally denying the allegations of constitutional violations.

On June 27, 2013, the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan filed an amicus brief, arguing that by international law standards, the State of Michigan had unlawfully suspended the political rights of its citizens.

The plaintiffs filed an amended complaint on February 12, 2014, which the State moved to dismiss on March 5. On November 19, 2014, Judge George Caram Steeh granted in part and denied in part the motion to dismiss. The court dismissed the plaintiffs' substantive due process, Guarantee Clause, Equal Protection Clause vote burden, Equal Protection Clause wealth discrimination, Equal Protection Clause localities discrimination, Voting Rights Act, First Amendment, and Thirteenth Amendment claims. The court found that the right to vote has never qualified for substantive due process protection, and that the Guarantee Clause has not been shown to apply to local governments. Regarding the Equal Protection claims, the court found that PA 436 was applied facially equally, and so under rational basis review, it survived in serving the State's "legitimate government interest in preventing or rectifying the insolvency of its political subdivisions." The court further found that, because the plaintiffs were challenging a temporary government reorganization rather than a voting standard or procedure, "the political process remains the correct means for redress rather than...the Voting Rights Act." Similarly, the court did not find that this temporary reorganization could be considered a vestige of slavery in violation of the Thirteenth Amendment. As to the First Amendment claims, the court found that any abridgment was justified by the State's legitimate interest in solving financial crises. 2014 WL 6474344.

Judge Steeh did not dismiss the plaintiffs' Equal Protection Clause racial discrimination claim, finding that the State had enormous discretion in appointing EMs, creating "a significant potential for discriminatory decisions." 2014 WL 6474344.

The parties then progressed towards trial. But, seemingly to allow for an appeal to the Sixth Circuit, the plaintiffs agreed to dismiss without prejudice the one remaining claim left open after Judge Steeh's order. Judge Steeh ordered the dismissal on October 23, 2015, and on November 12, 2015, the plaintiffs appealed Judge Steeh's 2014 order. On September 12, 2016, the Sixth Circuit affirmed the district court's decision. On November 1, the Sixth Circuit denied the plaintiffs' motion for a rehearing en banc. The Supreme Court denied the plaintiffs' motion for certiorari on October 2, 2017.

The case is now closed, but on December 1, 2017, the plaintiffs filed a new complaint on similar facts alleging Fourteenth Amendment violations (17-13887).

Dan Osher - 07/13/2013
Virginia Weeks - 03/11/2018

compress summary

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Issues and Causes of Action
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Constitutional Clause
Due Process
Equal Protection
Race discrimination
Plaintiff Type
Private Plaintiff
Vote dilution
Causes of Action 42 U.S.C. § 1983
Voting Rights Act, section 2, 42 U.S.C. § 1973
Defendant(s) State of Michigan
Plaintiff Description A group of unelected citizens, union members and representatives, and locally elected officials from Michigan cities that are currently under the authority of an Emergency Manager, pursuant to Public Act 436.
Indexed Lawyer Organizations Center for Constitutional Rights
Class action status sought No
Class action status granted No
Filed Pro Se No
Prevailing Party Defendant
Public Int. Lawyer Yes
Nature of Relief None
Source of Relief None
Filing Year 2013
Case Closing Year 2017
Case Ongoing No
Case Listing VR-MI-0069 : Brown v. Snyder (State Court)
2:13-cv-11370 (E.D. Mich.)
VR-MI-0070-9000.pdf | Detail
Date: 10/03/2017
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
General Documents
Complaint for Declaratory & Injunctive Relief [ECF# 1]
VR-MI-0070-0001.pdf | Detail
Date: 03/27/2013
Motion for leave to file an amicus curiae brief for the American Civil Liberties Union Fund of Michigan [ECF# 23]
VR-MI-0070-0002.pdf | Detail
Date: 06/27/2013
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
First Amended Complaint for Declaratory Relief [ECF# 39]
VR-MI-0070-0003.pdf | Detail
Date: 02/12/2014
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Order Granting in Party and Denying in Part Defendants' Motion to Dismiss (Doc. #41) and Denying Defendants' Motion to Stay Proceedings (Doc. #47) [ECF# 49] (2014 WL 6474344) (E.D. Mich.)
VR-MI-0070-0004.pdf | WESTLAW | Detail
Date: 11/19/2014
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Opinion [Ct. of App. ECF# 78] (836 F.3d 707)
VR-MI-0070-0005.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Date: 09/12/2016
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Judges Steeh, George Caram III (E.D. Mich.)
VR-MI-0070-0004 | VR-MI-0070-9000
Whalen, R. Steven (E.D. Mich.) [Magistrate]
Plaintiff's Lawyers Charney, Darius (New York)
VR-MI-0070-0001 | VR-MI-0070-0003
Davis, Hugh M. Jr. (Michigan)
VR-MI-0070-0001 | VR-MI-0070-0003 | VR-MI-0070-9000
Flynn, Keith D. (Michigan)
Goodman, William Harry (Michigan)
VR-MI-0070-0001 | VR-MI-0070-0003 | VR-MI-0070-9000
Heenan, Cynthia (Michigan)
VR-MI-0070-0001 | VR-MI-0070-0003 | VR-MI-0070-9000
Hurwitz, Julie H. (Michigan)
VR-MI-0070-0001 | VR-MI-0070-0003 | VR-MI-0070-9000
Klaus, Nicholas H (Michigan)
Mack, Richard G. (Michigan)
VR-MI-0070-0001 | VR-MI-0070-9000
Paris, Anthony D. (Michigan)
VR-MI-0070-0001 | VR-MI-0070-0003 | VR-MI-0070-9000
Philo, John C. (Michigan)
VR-MI-0070-0001 | VR-MI-0070-0003 | VR-MI-0070-9000
Sanders, Herbert A. (Michigan)
VR-MI-0070-0001 | VR-MI-0070-0003 | VR-MI-0070-9000
Schwarz, Ghita (New York)
VR-MI-0070-0001 | VR-MI-0070-0003 | VR-MI-0070-9000
Defendant's Lawyers Barton, Denise C. (Michigan)
Ho, Joseph Yung−Kuang (Michigan)
Meingast, Heather S. (Michigan)
Murphy, Michael F (Michigan)
Nelson, Margaret A. (Michigan)
Sherman, Ann (Michigan)
Other Lawyers Fancher, Mark P. (Michigan)
VR-MI-0070-0002 | VR-MI-0070-9000 | VR-MI-0070-9000
Moss, Kary L. (Michigan)
Steinberg, Michael J. (Michigan)

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