Township loses battle for DeHoCo land
Attorneys’ Mike Cox and Kevin Bennett wait with Plymouth Township Supervisor Shannon Price (R) in the Michigan Court of Appeals before hearing. Photo by Don Howard
The Michigan Court of Appeals issued a formal opinion Tuesday in the case of City of Detroit vs. Charter Township of Plymouth and County of Wayne – Wayne County Treasurer, stating the Township arguments were unconvincing. The unanimous decision by the three-judge panel clearly upholds the lower court ruling and assures the vacant farmland property that was once the Detroit House of Correction prison farm stays in the hands of the City of Detroit.
Jan. 13, 2016 PLYMOUTH EAGLE.
Plymouth Michigan News
“The fact remains, however, that Plymouth Township does not come across as an innocent party to these proceedings.”
Plymouth Township attorneys were in the Michigan Court of Appeals last week seeking to overturn a decision by the Chief Judge of the Wayne County Circuit Court ordering them to return a 190-acre parcel of land to City of Detroit.
Lawyers representing the City of Detroit argued that the city has owned the land since 1919 and lost it in an improper foreclosure transaction. Their arguments prevailed in a court proceeding and the township was ordered to return the property to Detroit in a decision last year. Township officials hired former Michigan State Attorney Mike Cox, now in private practice, to aid in the arguments before the three-member appeals panel last week. The oral arguments were heard by Presiding Judge Michael J. Talbot, Judge Mark J. Cavanagh and Judge Kirsten Frank Kelly.
“…Plymouth Township is not an innocent third party. The Township engineered the foreclosure by failing to send property tax bills to the City despite the fact that the City at all times was owner of the Subject Property. Plymouth Township then purchased the Subject Property for back taxes and now seeks a multi- million dollar windfall at the expense of the City,” Detroit attorneys claimed in a court motion.
Plymouth Township obtained the land in September 2011 for $606,150. The contested property is located at Five Mile and Ridge roads, the site of the former Detroit House of Correction, also known as DeHoCo, which closed in 1986.
Detroit attorneys filed an affidavit in January 2013 with the Wayne County Register of Deeds in hopes of reversing the transfer of the property without legal action. Law Department representatives say they met with then Plymouth Township Supervisor Richard Reaume and Clerk Nancy Conzelman but were unable to reach any reasonable resolution.
Subsequently the Detroit attorneys filed a lawsuit in April 2013 after attempted negotiations were unsuccessful.
In February 2015 Plymouth Township was ordered by Chief Judge Robert J. Colombo to return the farmland purchased from Wayne County to the City of Detroit, “the rightful owner of the property,” ruling that the tax foreclosure sale was improper.
The township appealed the decision in April seeking to overturn Colombo’s ruling. The Detroit attorneys said the city was anxious to sell the valuable land, once listed on property records for $15 million, and in June requested and was granted an expedited hearing in the Court of Appeals.
In the interim period, township officials retained Cox, a high-ranking Republican Party leader and political associate of Township Supervisor Shannon Price, to handle the case in the appeals court. Kevin Bennett of Hemming, Polaczyk, Cronin, Witthoff and Bennett, the current contract attorney for the township, drafted the initial court brief before Cox took over the case, attended the hearing but didn’t participate in the oral arguments.
“We don’t dispute Judge Colombo’s findings, but his application of the law,” Cox told the panel of judges.
City of Detroit Deputy Corporate Counsel Chuck Raimi argued to the court that not only did the township not send the tax bills but also “the city was never properly notified of the foreclosure.”
Township attorneys argued that the Wayne County Treasurer sent the notice to “City of Detroit Planning and Development Department, 2 Woodward Avenue, Detroit, Michigan 48226-3437. The trial court concluded this was insufficient as the address was incomplete, incorrect and not the location of the city law department.
Plymouth Township attorneys based their appeal on two technical positions. First that Colombo erred in concluding the foreclosure did not comport with due process and second that he erred in concluding the State Tax commission, which prohibits foreclosure of publicly-owned property, prohibited the foreclosure of the subject property.
Raimi told the court the overriding issue at hand was the due process of law and the foreclosure was illegal, refuting township arguments about whether or not 2 Woodward Ave. was a valid address.
“There’s no relationship…” Raimi told the court. “This parcel was never properly in the foreclosure process to begin with.”
At the time of Detroit attorneys filed the lawsuit, Wayne County attorney Jack Ghannam said the county relied completely on information received from Plymouth Township regarding the foreclosure proceedings. The township supervisor, by township charter, is the chief assessing officer for the township and Treasurer Ron Edwards is responsible for collecting and forwarding property tax information to the county.
Talbot told the attorneys for both sides that he felt their arguments were “well- briefed and well-argued.”
After the meeting, Price said, “I think we made a good case and I’m happy with it. I think we’re in the right position.”
State Rep. Kurt Heise who also attended the hearing, said later he has doubts the township will overturn the decision of Colombo, calling the appeal “a waste of tax- payer dollars.”
“The fact remains, however, that Plymouth Township does not come across as an innocent party to these proceedings,” Heise added. “At best, this land deal was handled in a sloppy manner. At worst, we might be looking at fraud.”
Heise announced his candidacy for Plymouth Township Supervisor last October.
Raimi said, “I can’t accuse them of fraud, but it’s certainly not an appropriate foreclosure.” He admitted the city didn’t have the time or resources to dig into the issue mainly because of the Detroit bankruptcy.
“We never got the notices of foreclosure; they were sent to a crazy non-existent address,” Raimi said.
Detroit officials were notified of the county foreclosure in July 2012 when township resident Richard Sharland’s research proved that Detroit was actually legal owner of the land and he subsequently called the erroneous transaction to the attention of Detroit City Council members with the help of Beverly Kindle-Walker a legislative assistant to Wayne County Commissioner Tim Killeen.