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Dalton & Tomich Represents Michigan Small Business in Land Use and Zoning Case Against Greenleaf Township in Sanilac County

Three young business associates in a meeting, one presenting a theory in front of a white screen.

The attorneys at Dalton & Tomich recently settled a case between a Sanilac County business owner and Greenleaf Township, which is a small municipality within Sanilac County.

The Plaintiff in this case had owned and operated a truck sales and salvage business since 1959. While Plaintiff’s business sells truck parts, torching supplies, and welding supplies, the majority of Plaintiff’s business is selling titled vehicles. Plaintiff built a new building in Greenleaf Township in 1971 and had not expanded since that time. Greenleaf Township passed a zoning ordinance in 2005. Since Plaintiff’s business had complied with all applicable laws in 1971, it became a valid nonconforming use under the new zoning ordinance. In other words, even though Plaintiff’s business might not comply with all requirements in the new zoning ordinance, it would not be required to close or move since it predated the new ordinance.

While Plaintiff had always renewed his Vehicle Dealer’s License from the State of Michigan each year, he inadvertently failed to submit the renewal paperwork for his 2015 license. By the time Plaintiff realized his mistake, he was no longer eligible to renew his old license. Instead, the State of Michigan Business Licensing Section (BLS) informed Plaintiff that he needed to apply for a new license. As part of the application process, Plaintiff obtained 2 documents from the Greenleaf Township Zoning Administrator confirming that Plaintiff met local requirements for operating his business. Plaintiff submitted his application on September 9, 2015 and the BLS began its investigation of the application.

After passing his state inspection, Plaintiff contacted the BLS to inquire about the status of his license. The BLS told Plaintiff that the Township Clerk, the Township Supervisor, and a Planning Commission member had contacted the BLS and tried to persuade it to deny Plaintiff’s application. The Township leaders had falsely claimed that Plaintiff’s business did not comply with Township laws and that there had been complaints of blight on the property. In fact, Plaintiff’s business was in full compliance with all applicable Township laws and Plaintiff had never been contacted about blight concerns.

The attorneys at Dalton & Tomich brought a federal lawsuit on behalf of Plaintiff against the Township. The claims included a violation of Plaintiff’s rights to substantive and procedural due process, as well as a violation of Plaintiff’s equal protection rights, among others. Dalton & Tomich also filed a preliminary injunction on behalf of Plaintiff. Before the hearing on Plaintiff’s motion for preliminary injunction, the Township agreed to send a letter to the State of Michigan confirming that Plaintiff’s business did in fact comply with all Township regulations.

In November 2016, the parties were able to reach a settlement agreement. Under the terms of the settlement, Plaintiff’s business will continue to operate without unlawful interference from the Township. Plaintiff also received financial consideration as part of the settlement agreement.

This was a case where the attorneys at Dalton & Tomich were able to fight for a small business owner against unlawful interference from a municipality. While the case did go into litigation, it was able to be settled in a way that brought maximum benefit to the client.

If you are a small business owner who feels your rights are being violated, or if you simply have questions you need answered, please do not hesitate to contact us. We represent many small businesses and have years of experience dealing with these issues. We would be happy to speak with you.

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