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Civil Rights Litigation Clearinghouse
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Case Name Morningside Community Organization v. Sabree FH-MI-0012
Docket / Court 16-008807-CH ( State Court )
State/Territory Michigan
Case Type(s) Fair Housing/Lending/Insurance
Attorney Organization ACLU of Michigan
NAACP Legal Defense Fund
Case Summary
On July 13, 2016, several Detroit homeowners and a coalition of neighborhood associations from throughout the city filed this class-action lawsuit against the Wayne County Treasurer alleging Fair Housing Act (FHA) and due process violations. The plaintiffs alleged that homeowners in Detroit were ... read more >
On July 13, 2016, several Detroit homeowners and a coalition of neighborhood associations from throughout the city filed this class-action lawsuit against the Wayne County Treasurer alleging Fair Housing Act (FHA) and due process violations. The plaintiffs alleged that homeowners in Detroit were being charged unlawfully assessed taxes because the city of Detroit did not reduce the property assessments when the value of their properties declined before and after the 2008 recession. The plaintiffs argued that the city’s unlawful taxes and subsequent foreclosures constituted illegal discrimination and had an adverse disparate impact on African Americans, both in violation of FHA. Additionally, the plaintiffs argued that the City of Detroit failed to provide the state’s poverty tax exemption, which reduces a qualified homeowners tax burden, in violation of their Due Process rights. Represented by private counsel as well as the ACLU of Michigan and the NAACP Legal and Educational Defense Fund, the plaintiffs requested that the court grant a preliminary and final order preventing future foreclosures and the sales of “owner-occupied” homes in the city of Detroit until the lawful taxes were assessed. They also requested the court create a process for qualified homeowners to obtain the poverty exemption.

Because this is a state court case, we do not have access to all of the court documents. However, based on the docket, it is clear that a motion to dismiss was filed by the defendant on August 1, 2016, which Judge Colombo denied on September 2, 2016. Additionally, the plaintiffs moved for injunctive relief on August 12, 2016 to halt the auctions of the foreclosed homes, but this motion was also denied by Judge Colombo on September 2, 2016. Ultimately, the trial court granted summary disposition in favor of the defendants, holding that the court lacked subject-matter jurisdiction because the Michigan Tax Tribunal (MTT) had exclusive jurisdiction over claims involving discriminatory assessment practices. Reasoning for the trial court’s decision can be found in the Court of Appeals opinion. 2017 WL 4182985.

On January 5, 2017, the plaintiffs filed an application for leave to appeal the trial court decision, which the Court of Appeals granted on March 13. The Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court's decision on September 21, 2017. It held that the plaintiffs’ claim, while phrased as a constitutional question regarding the foreclosures, was ultimately a challenge to the validity of the property tax assessment, which was a question within MTT's exclusive jurisdiction. Therefore the Court of Appeals did not have jurisdiction. 2017 WL 4182985.

The plaintiffs filed an application for leave to appeal the Court of Appeals’ judgment but the Michigan Supreme Court denied this leave for appeal on January 24, 2018 on lack of jurisdiction grounds. The case is therefore over.

Mackenzie Walz - 03/06/2018


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Issues and Causes of Action
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Issues
Constitutional Clause
Due Process
Discrimination-basis
Race discrimination
General
Disparate Impact
Housing
Plaintiff Type
Private Plaintiff
Race
Black
Causes of Action Fair Housing Act/Fair Housing Amendments Act (FHAA), 42 U.S.C. §§ 3601 et seq.
State law
Defendant(s) Wayne County
Plaintiff Description A coalition of neighborhood associations and several African American Detroit homeowners
Indexed Lawyer Organizations ACLU of Michigan
NAACP Legal Defense Fund
Class action status sought Yes
Class action status granted Yes
Prevailing Party Defendant
Public Int. Lawyer Yes
Nature of Relief None
Source of Relief None
Case Closing Year 2018
Case Ongoing No
Additional Resources
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  The Origins of Fair Lending Litigation
Date: Dec. 4, 2008
By: Andrew Nash (Washington University in St. Louis Law Student)
[ Detail ] [ PDF ] [ External Link ]

Docket(s)
16-008807-CH (State Trial Court)
FH-MI-0012-9000.pdf | Detail
Date: 11/15/2016
336430 (State Court of Appeals)
FH-MI-0012-9002.pdf | Detail
Date: 09/23/2017
Source: Westlaw
156707 (State Supreme Court)
FH-MI-0012-9001.pdf | Detail
Date: 11/29/2017
Source: Westlaw
General Documents
Opinion (2017 WL 4182985)
FH-MI-0012-0002.pdf | WESTLAW | Detail
Date: 09/21/2017
Source: Westlaw
Order (905 N.W.2d 597)
FH-MI-0012-0001.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Date: 01/24/2018
Source: Westlaw
Judges Colombo, Robert J. Jr. Court not on record
FH-MI-0012-9000
Gadola, Paul V. (E.D. Mich.)
FH-MI-0012-0002
Saad, Henry William (State Appellate Court)
FH-MI-0012-0002
Servitto, Deborah A. Court not on record
FH-MI-0012-0002
Plaintiff's Lawyers Kitaba, Bonsitu A. (Michigan)
FH-MI-0012-9000
Korobkin, Daniel S. (Michigan)
FH-MI-0012-9001 | FH-MI-0012-9002
Steinberg, Michael J. (Michigan)
FH-MI-0012-9000
Defendant's Lawyers Mithani, Sonal H. (Michigan)
FH-MI-0012-9001 | FH-MI-0012-9002
Raimi, Charles N. (Michigan)
FH-MI-0012-9000 | FH-MI-0012-9001 | FH-MI-0012-9002
Stella, Davidde Alessandro (Michigan)
FH-MI-0012-9000 | FH-MI-0012-9002

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