On August 23, Dalton & Tomich, PLC celebrated its fifth anniversary. In honor of this significant milestone, we thought we’d share a summary of some of our firm's highlights and major victories over the course of the last five years.
Dalton & Tomich Opens in Bloomfield Hills, Mich.
On August 23, 2010, Dalton & Tomich PLC opened for business in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan. Founding partners Dan Dalton and Zana Tomich launched the firm with the goal of combining their unique areas of expertise in order to provide prompt, affordable and effective legal services in the areas of land use and zoning, business and banking law.
ACMEC v. Twp. of West Pikeland, Penn.
That same year, we successfully represented the Adhi Parasakthi Charitable, Medical, Educational and Cultural Society of North America (“ACMEC”), a Hindu faith community, in its lawsuit against West Pikeland Township, Pennsylvania. At the time, ACMEC worshipped in a 5,000 square foot facility. Because of space constraints, ACMEC sought to construct a larger temple, which the Township vigorously opposed. After nearly 2 years of litigation, we were able to successfully negotiate a settlement agreement that allowed ACMEC to construct a 27,000 square foot temple and 9,000 square foot auxiliary building that provided its members with enough space to worship according to its beliefs.
Salvation Temple v. Hazel Park, Mich.
In 2010, we also represented Salvation Temple in its lawsuit against the city of Hazel Park, Michigan. Salvation Temple purchased property near the I-75 and I-696 interchange that contained a vacant banquet hall facility. Salvation Temple applied for a use variance to use the vacant building as a house of worship, which Hazel Park denied. Soon after, we filed suit against Hazel Park on Salvation Temple’s behalf, alleging the decision violated RLUIPA and the U.S. Constitution. In less than two months, Hazel Park agreed to settle the matter and allow Salvation Temple to develop the building as a house of worship. Today, Salvation Temple continues to worship at this location.
Paeth v. Worth Twp., Mich.
2010 was a significant year for the firm’s land use and zoning litigation practice area. We successfully represented a couple, George and Margaret Paeth, in their lawsuit against Worth Township, Michigan. The Paeths had bought an abandoned cottage near Lake Michigan in Worth Township with the intention of renovating the cottage and using it as a vacation home. Over the course of nearly 10 years beginning in 2002, various Worth Township officials imposed multiple roadblocks that effectively prevented the Paeths from being able to renovate or occupy their cottage.
Litigation in this matter spanned nearly three years. In 2009, we filed suit on the Paeths’ behalf, alleging the Township had violated the Paeths’ due process and First Amendment rights. The case was tried over the course of a week in August, 2010, after which the jury returned a $600,000 verdict in favor of the Paeths. The court later ruled the Township had to pay an additional $200,000 to cover the Paeths’ attorney fees, as well. This verdict was the largest-ever procedural due process and First Amendment retaliation award in the Eastern District of Michigan, and one of the largest verdicts in the country. The decision helped cement Dalton & Tomich’s reputation as a local and national leader in the area of land use and zoning litigation.
Dalton & Tomich Grows With Level One Bank
2011 was another year of growth and success for us. In 2011, we also began serving as banking and finance counsel to Level One Bank, which is based out of Farmington Hills, Michigan. At the time we began our representation, Level One was a relatively new community bank. Today, Level One has grown to more than ten locations around metro Detroit with assets of more than $800 million. We continue to represent Level One in a variety of capacities, including loan origination, loan restructuring and workouts, foreclosures, short sales, debt collection, negotiating forbearance agreements, and litigation.
Kate Brink Hired
Another significant milestone from 2011 is that Kate Brink joined Dalton & Tomich. Kate joined Dalton & Tomich in May 2011 as a summer associate after completing her second year of law school. She has continuously worked at Dalton & Tomich since then, as a law clerk while she finished law school and as an attorney after she passed the Bar exam in November 2012. Kate is a valued member of our team and we are excited to see how much she has grown in her career over the last 4 years.
Academy of Our Lady of Peace v. City of San Diego, Calif.
2012 was a landmark year for our RLUIPA litigation practice. We spent the better part of 2012 (as well as much of 2011) representing the Academy of Our Lady of Peace (“OLP”) in its lawsuit against the city of San Diego, California. The dispute began in 2007 when the City refused to allow OLP to modernize its campus and facilities. We became involved in the matter in mid-2011 and filed suit on OLP’s behalf, alleging the City’s refusal to approve its modernization plan violated RLUIPA, the U.S. Constitution and the California Constitution.
As the litigation proceeded, San Diego refused to compromise or settle with OLP. As a result, the dispute culminated in a two-week federal jury trial in the Southern District of California in October 2012. At the end of trial, the jury unanimously ruled in favor of OLP, finding that City officials’ calculated efforts to stall OLP’s modernization plan violated federal law. The jury also awarded OLP over $1.1 million in damages, the largest jury verdict ever awarded in a RLUIPA case. Our noteworthy success in this case, and the subsequent national attention the decision received, served to further cement the reputation of Dan Dalton and Dalton & Tomich as preeminent leaders in the area of RLUIPA litigation.
Triumph Church Receives Special Land Use Approval
Also in 2012, Dalton & Tomich assisted Triumph Church in obtaining Special Land Use approval for a former seminary in Northville Township. After receiving initial denials, the firm assisted the church in negotiations with the Township and obtained a favorable use permit to further its growth. Triumph Church is the fastest growing church in the U.S., per Outreach Magazine, and Dalton & Tomich continues to assist the Church in its real property acquisitions throughout the region.
Dalton & Tomich Moves Downtown Detroit
In the fall of 2013, we relocated our office from Bloomfield Hills, Michigan to downtown Detroit. Since its inception in May 2010, Dalton & Tomich had been headquartered in Bloomfield Hills. Inspired by all the positive changes taking place in Detroit and the vibrant downtown, we decided to move to a newly built out office in the historic Chrysler House building. Construction of our office space took nearly a year, and in November 2013 we were finally able to move into our new space.
After almost two years in our new location, we can all safely say the decision to move to Detroit was a great choice. Our new space is closer to many of our clients, several downtown courts, and many of the local businesses we enjoy frequenting on a daily basis. It is always exciting to see the growing energy and positive changes being made downtown, and we look forward to being part of this continued progress over the years to come.
Lighthouse Rescue Mission v. City of Hattiesburg, Miss.
Dalton & Tomich also secured another significant RLUIPA victory in 2013. We represented Lighthouse Rescue Mission, a Christian residential addiction treatment facility located in Hattiesburg, Mississippi. Lighthouse purchased a former school building in Hattiesburg with plans to renovate the building to serve as a worship facility and overnight shelter for women in recovery from addiction and their children. Hattiesburg refused to allow Lighthouse to provide overnight shelter at the building, so Lighthouse had to spend an additional $65,000 to buy a separate house to shelter its ministry participants.
Lighthouse ultimately tried for 8 years to work with the City to allow overnight stay at the school building, to no avail. In May 2013, Lighthouse filed suit against the city of Hattiesburg. Litigation proceeded over the course of 6 months, and in November 2013 Lighthouse and Hattiesburg reached a settlement agreement. Under the terms of the agreement, Hattiesburg agreed to allow Lighthouse to provide overnight stay at its building, pay $15,000 in damages, and pay Dalton & Tomich’s attorney fees. Today, Lighthouse has completely renovated the former school building and can now safely house women and their children for up to 9 months in the space.
Larry Opalewski Hired as Attorney
2014 started out with Dalton & Tomich hiring a new attorney, Larry Opalewski. Larry first worked with us in 2012 as a law clerk while he was attending law school. Larry graduated from law school in 2013 and passed the Michigan Bar exam in October 2013. We were all very excited to welcome Larry back in January 2014 as an attorney. Over the last year and a half, Larry has proven to be a vital part of our team. He has provided essential assistance in a number of our practice areas, including land use and zoning and RLUIPA litigation, banking law, and business law.
Church of Our Savior v. Jacksonville Beach, Fla.
2014 also saw another RLUIPA victory for Dalton & Tomich on behalf of a Florida Anglican church. In early 2014, we filed suit on behalf of Church of Our Savior against the city of Jacksonville Beach. The Church had purchased a vacant parcel of land in the city with the hopes of building a house of worship on it. After submitting its plans for the church facility, City Planning staff recommended approval. Inexplicably, the Planning Commission rejected the recommendation and denied the Church’s plans. The Church then re-submitted its application with slight changes, and Planning staff again recommended approval. Once again, the Planning Commission rejected the recommendation.
The Church’s lawsuit alleged the City’s actions violated RLUIPA. In September 2014, trial on the matter was held in the Middle District of Florida. The court ultimately ruled in favor of the Church, finding the City’s actions treated the Church unequally when compared to a similarly situated Montessori school the City allowed to operate under extremely similar circumstances. After the Church succeeded in the district court, the City filed a number of appeals with the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals challenging its loss. The appeal is currenty pending in the Eleventh Circuit.
Dan’s RLUIPA Book Published
2014 was also a big year for Dan Dalton, who released his first book published by the American Bar Association in July. Dan’s book, Litigating Religious Land Use Cases, provides unique perspectives based on firsthand experience on how to successfully litigate claims brought pursuant to RLUIPA and the First Amendment. Dan’s goal through writing the book is to educate people about RLUIPA, which is still a relatively new law. The book also provides practical pointers and litigation strategies to those who are unfamiliar with litigating RLUIPA claims. Be on the lookout for future editions of the book in the near future!
Planet Aid v. City of St. Johns, Mich.
2015 saw a major victory in the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals on behalf of our client, Planet Aid. Planet Aid is a nonprofit that operates charitable donation bins to collect donated clothing and shoes. In 2014, the city of St. Johns, Michigan adopted an ordinance that banned donation bins in the city. Planet Aid sued, claiming this ban violated Planet Aid’s First Amendment right to solicit charitable donations. Judge Neff from the Western District of Michigan granted Planet Aid’s motion for preliminary injunction barring St. Johns from enforcing its ordinance. St. Johns appealed this decision to the Sixth Circuit.
In April 2015, the Sixth Circuit unanimously ruled in favor of Planet Aid, holding that operating donation bins to solicit charitable donations constitutes constitutionally protected speech that is entitled to the strong form of First Amendment protection. The Sixth Circuit then remanded the case back to the Western District of Michigan for final resolution. The case remains pending in the district court and the parties are actively working toward an amicable resolution.
North Jersey Vineyard Church v. Twp. of South Hackensack
We have also spent much of 2015 representing a Christian church client based just outside of NYC. The church, North Jersey Vineyard Church, sought to develop a vacant office space zoned mixed use in South Hackensack, NJ into a house of worship. Houses of worship were not explicitly permitted in this area, so Vineyard submitted a use variance application to South Hackensack. Despite recommendations from numerous officials to approve Vineyard’s application, the Zoning Board of Adjustment unanimously denied the application.
We filed suit on Vineyard’s behalf in December 2014 and have been litigating the matter since. We were able to work with South Hackensack officials to ultimately enact a zoning change that permits houses of worship as of right in the mixed-use district. Next week, Dan Dalton will be in New Jersey presenting Vineyard’s site plan application to the South Hackensack Planning Board, and we are very optimistic the application will be approved and Vineyard will finally be allowed to convert its property into a brand new church facility.
This is just a summary of some of the major victories we have achieved over the course of Dalton & Tomich’s first 5 years. We are extremely proud of what we have achieved over the last 5 years and look forward to seeing what the next 5 years and beyond hold in store for us!