FDD Class Plaintiffs File Petition with US Supreme Court to Overturn Sixth Circuit’s Judgement for City of Ann Arbor

Landmark SCOTUS Decision Eradicates Legal Barriers to Commencement of New Federal Litigation by Additional Class Action Plaintiffs

I am pleased to report that on July 29, 2019, the FDD Federal Class Action Plaintiffs in Lumbard et. al vs City of Ann Arbor filed their Petition with the United States Supreme Court review the United States Supreme Court to vacate the decision of the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals in their consolidated cases.

Here is a link to the full document. If you read the relatively short arguments beginning on Page 20 you will get a brief version of the autopsy report on the City of Ann Arbor’s case in the FDD litigation since 2014.

The Plaintiffs’ Petition follows the decision of the Supreme Court on June 21 in Knick v Township of Scott, No. 17-647, 588 U.S. ___ 2019). As we discussed in an earlier post, Knick overturned the two cases on which the City’s successes in both state and federal court depended,  Williamson County Regional Planning Commission v. Hamilton Bank of Johnson City, 473 U.S. 172  (1985) and San Remo Hotel, L. P. v. City and County of San Francisco, 545 U.S. 323 (2005). 

In brief, after Knick, Williamson, San Remo, and all of the jurisprudence under them for 34 years, ceased to exist. The use by municipal governments of  Williamson and San Remo, as a tactic to preclude federal takings plaintiffs from their day in federal court, was on trial in the Supreme Court in Knick. The Court reacted with unusual force to the “unanticipated result” of preclusion of federal takings plaintiffs under San Remo, particularly where the plaintiffs have spent years in state court formerly required under Williamson. 

The Court made such tactics legally impossible even to be attempted post-Knick. Justice Roberts carefully eliminated all the precedents and doctrines that underlay the use of “preclusion traps,” root and branch. The City of Ann Arbor will go down as one of the last municipalities–if not the last–to employ a San Remo trap successfully to preclude federal takings plaintiffs from an independent federal forum for their claims.

Because of Knick, the Sixth Circuit decision in Lumbard did not end litigation arising from the City’s Footing Drain Disconnection Program at all. The Lumbard case is very much alive. Independent of its effect on Lumbard, Knick also removed any barriers to a new class action by a further class action by another class representative, this time commenced in federal court, federal court, by a new class plaintiff. We will have some details on that in a separate post.

Only four Justices are required to grant a Petition; there were five in the majority in Knick. Additionally, the Court has already granted the Petition of another takings plaintiff from the Ninth Circuit while the case was was still “in process” in the federal courts when Knick was handed down by the Supreme Court. The whole Court (not just the majority justices in Knick) granted summary relief, vacated the judgment of the Ninth Circuit and ordered “further proceedings not inconsistent with the decision in Knick.” Lumbard  is also “in process,” as discussed in the attached Petition. The Court’s handling of the earlier Ninth Circuit plaintiff is at least some indication of the direction the Court may take in the case of the Petition now before it. 

Next Steps at the Supreme Court and Timing

Here is a good brief summary on Supreme Court process from A Reporters Guide to Applications Pending Before The Supreme Court of the United States:

Q:How long does it take the Court to act, once a petition has been filed?

A: On the average, about six weeks. Once a petition has been filed, the other party has 30 days within which to file a response brief, or, in some cases waive his/her right to respond. Once the 10 day period for receiving a reply brief has passed, the case is circulated to the Justices and placed on a conference list, for consideration at one of the Justices’ private Friday conferences. Copies of conference lists are available to news reporters for their convenience ONLY, and not for publication. Cases appearing on a conference list may reasonably be expected to appear on the following Monday’s Order List (the announcement of dispositions in pending cases) although this is not always the case. If a case does not appear, it will be relisted for consideration at a future conference. If the petition is granted, the petitioner has 45 days within which to file a brief on the merits, and the respondent has 35 days within which to file the brief in response, for a total of about 80 days. The petitioner may then file a reply brief up to one week prior to the date oral argument has been scheduled.  

The City of Ann Arbor’s Response Brief, if any, looks like it will be due on September 3, 2019. We will have the official date from the Supreme Court shortly. The Plaintiffs’ Reply Brief will be filed no later than September 13, so its reasonable to expect the Petition will be circulated to the nine Justices the week of September 16, 2019.

Irvin Mermelstein


Progress Report: In FDD Federal Class Action, US Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor extends time for Plaintiffs to seek High Court Review of Sixth Circuit Ruling

This is important information for owners of homes in the City of Ann Arbor where a “footing drain disconnection” (FDD) was performed under the City of Ann Arbor FDD Program.

On October 20, 2017, four Ann Arbor homeowners filed a class action complaint in federal court claiming that the permanent FDD construction and installations in their home under the FDD Program (i) destroyed original construction, (ii) occupies space and (iii) is otherwise a burdensome violation of their rights under the Fifth Amendment’s edict that “private property [shall not] be taken for public use, without just compensation.” The case was brought on behalf of all FDD homeowners in the City limits.

On January 10, 2019, the Sixth Circuit US Court of Appeals in Cincinnati regrettably dismissed these meritorious claims that FDDs were and continue to be unlawful installations of functional parts of the City sewer system in their homes for them to operate, maintain and replace at their expense.

Both the City and the local press reported this result in the Sixth Circuit as if it ended the FDDP Federal Class Action. Nothing could be further from the truth.

United States Supreme Court

Case in point, on May 16, 2019, the FDD Class Action Plaintiffs began the process for appealing to the United States Supreme Court. They made a motion requesting additional time for filing their Petition for the Court’s review. The Supreme Court assigned Application No. 18A1198 to the case, Lumbard et al v City of Ann Arbor.

As the letter from the Supreme Court (linked here) states, on May 21, 2019, Justice Sonia Sotomayor granted the Plaintiffs’ Motion and set July 29, 2019, as the deadline for filing their petition for review. Justice Sotomayor has supervisory jurisdiction relating to the Sixth Circuit.

Vulnerability of City’s case on appeal to the Supreme Court

The City’s case in the Sixth Circuit and the resulting decision by the court rested entirely on a Supreme Court precedent–the highly controversial 2005 decision in San Remo Hotel vs City of San Fransisco. San Remo was the Sixth Circuit’s authority that the FDD Class Plaintiffs were barred–“precluded”–from an independent federal forum for adjudication of federal claims under the federal Fifth Amendment.

San Remo, however, may soon be gone. In 2017, the United States Supreme Court accepted a case, Knick v Township of Scott, that provides the Court the opportunity to overturn San Remo, which would bring the Sixth Circuit decision into immediate question. This follows years of attacks on San Remo by the federal judiciary and legal scholars as unjust, harsh and wrongly decided.

We expect to be learning whether San Remo lives or dies within the next 30 days: the Supreme Court will hand down its decision by then.

At the two Oral Arguments in Knick, a supermajority of Justices expressed strong hostility toward San Remo and its consequences

The threat to San Remo is evident from the statements of the Justices. There were two sessions of Oral Argument at the Supreme Court in Knick, on October 7, 2018 and January 16, 2019. This is highly unusual. The Town of Scott argued the side of municipalities like Ann Arbor, that San Remo should remain good law. The statements of the Justices were more sharply critical of San Remo at the second Oral Argument than the first.

By the end of the two Oral Arguments in Knick, a clear supermajority of the Justices (including Justices Kagan, Sotomayor, Breyer, Chief Justice Roberts, and Justices Gorsuch and Alito) had made their opposition to San Remo completely clear to eliminate the same kind of preclusion from federal court of federal “takings” claims that just occurred in the FDD Federal Class Action. At the Second Oral argument Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Alito mocked the fondness of municipal lawyers for San Remo as a tool to inflict additional cost and time on federal plaintiffs with federal property claims under the Fifth Amendment.

Former Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote an influential opinion in another case calling for the Court to overturn San Remo at the next opportunity.

A further reason the Supreme Court Justices were in such agreement was that the US Solicitor General entered the case to argue persuasively in court that San Remo has to go as unjust and wrongly decided. Arguments of the Solicitor General are given great weight.

The timing of the Motion for additional time to file the Plaintiffs’ petition for review was strategic and allows us time to file a petition for review after the Court’s action in Knick when its impacts will be known and can be evaluated.

We will keep the community posted and communicate about other important subjects in the meantime.

The dates to watch, then, are:

  • By July 3, 2019: Decision of Supreme Court in Knick v Township of Scott.
  • July 29, 2019: Deadline for filing FDD Plaintiffs’ Petition for Writ of Certiorari
  • By August 27, 2019: City would have the option to file an opposition to the Petition or waive the filing, very possibly with San Remo having been overturned.

Irvin Mermelstein