University of Michigan Law School
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. On July 3, 2018, Judge Colombo entered an order of dismissal because the parties came to a stipulation and settlement agreement. The plaintiffs agreed to dismiss their second amended complaint in return for the city of Detroit's stipulations. The city agreed to make changes to its poverty tax exemption program, including new notification requirements like automatic mailings and new website information. The city also agreed to remove application requirements like references and deadlines. Finally, the city agreed to exercise its right of first refusal to purchase properties of low income home owners who were affected by the 2008 financial crisis. The city agreed to exercise its right in good faith, but there are no specific requirements in the settlement agreement. The settled terms concerning the poverty tax exemption application expire in five years, and the terms concerning the city's agreement to purchase properties expires in eight years. The case is over.

Mackenzie Walz - 03/06/2018
Casey D'Alesandro - 03/14/2021


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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
Filed Pro Se No
Prevailing Party Mixed
Public Int. Lawyer Yes
Nature of Relief Injunction / Injunctive-like Settlement
Source of Relief Settlement
Form of Settlement Court Approved Settlement or Consent Decree
Order Duration 2018 - 2026
Filed 07/13/2016
Case Ongoing Yes
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 ]

Court Docket(s)
State Trial Court
11/15/2016
16-008807-CH
FH-MI-0012-9000.pdf | Detail
State Supreme Court
11/29/2017
156707
FH-MI-0012-9001.pdf | Detail
Source: Westlaw
State Court of Appeals
08/01/2018
336430
FH-MI-0012-9002.pdf | Detail
Source: State Court Website
General Documents
State Court of Appeals
09/21/2017
Opinion (2017 WL 4182985)
FH-MI-0012-0002.pdf | WESTLAW | Detail
Source: Westlaw
State Supreme Court
01/24/2018
Order (905 N.W.2d 597)
FH-MI-0012-0001.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Source: Westlaw
State Trial Court
07/03/2018
Stipulation and Order Settlement and Dismissal
FH-MI-0012-0003.pdf | External Link | Detail
Source: Public.Resource.Org
show all people docs
Judges Colombo, Robert J. Jr. Court not on record show/hide docs
FH-MI-0012-0003 | FH-MI-0012-9000
Gadola, Paul V. (E.D. Mich.) show/hide docs
FH-MI-0012-0002
Saad, Henry William (State Appellate Court) show/hide docs
FH-MI-0012-0002
Servitto, Deborah A. Court not on record show/hide docs
FH-MI-0012-0002
Plaintiff's Lawyers Buddin, Kimberly (Michigan) show/hide docs
FH-MI-0012-0003
Cook, Marta P. (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
FH-MI-0012-0003
Duraiswamy, Shankar (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
FH-MI-0012-0003
Fancher, Mark P. (Michigan) show/hide docs
FH-MI-0012-0003
Grimes, Jason (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
FH-MI-0012-0003
Kitaba, Bonsitu A. (Michigan) show/hide docs
FH-MI-0012-0003 | FH-MI-0012-9000 | FH-MI-0012-9002
Korobkin, Daniel S. (Michigan) show/hide docs
FH-MI-0012-0003 | FH-MI-0012-9001 | FH-MI-0012-9002
Lenox, Marne Lynne (New York) show/hide docs
FH-MI-0012-0003
Montag, Coty R (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
FH-MI-0012-0003
Quereshi, Ajmel (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
FH-MI-0012-0003
Ridings, Donald J Jr (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
FH-MI-0012-0003
Steinberg, Michael J. (Michigan) show/hide docs
FH-MI-0012-0003 | FH-MI-0012-9000
Tremont, Sarah E. (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
FH-MI-0012-0003
Urbina, Luis (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
FH-MI-0012-0003
Wintermyer, Wesley (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
FH-MI-0012-0003
Defendant's Lawyers Elhasan, Zenna F. (Michigan) show/hide docs
FH-MI-0012-0003
Ghannam, Jacob S (Michigan) show/hide docs
FH-MI-0012-0003
Kapalla-Bondi, Lara (Michigan) show/hide docs
FH-MI-0012-0003
Mithani, Sonal H. (Michigan) show/hide docs
FH-MI-0012-0003 | FH-MI-0012-9001 | FH-MI-0012-9002
Raimi, Charles N. (Michigan) show/hide docs
FH-MI-0012-0003 | FH-MI-0012-9000 | FH-MI-0012-9001 | FH-MI-0012-9002
Stella, Davidde Alessandro (Michigan) show/hide docs
FH-MI-0012-0003 | FH-MI-0012-9000 | FH-MI-0012-9002
Trigg, Amia L. (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
FH-MI-0012-0003
Woolard, James L (Michigan) show/hide docs
FH-MI-0012-0003

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