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Benjamin v. Stemple

United States District Court, E.D. Michigan, Northern Division

June 21, 2018

JOHN STEMPLE AND JANET SANTOS, in their official and individual capacities, Defendants.



         On March 14, 2018, Plaintiff James Benjamin, trustee for the Rebekah C. Benjamin Trust, filed suit against Defendant John Stemple and Janet Santos, employees of the City of Saginaw. ECF No. 1. In the suit, Benjamin alleges that the City of Saginaw requires owners of “vacant, but maintained, properties to ‘register' their property in order to obtain licensing compliance.” Benjamin contends that, as part of that registration, the City requires property owners to consent to the City entering the properties if they become dangerous. Benjamin argues that this registration form violates the doctrine of unconstitutional conditions. On May 15, 2018, Defendants filed a motion to dismiss. ECF No. 9. Two days later, Plaintiff filed an amended complaint. ECF No. 10. Defendants promptly moved to dismiss, and a hearing on that motion has been scheduled for September 11, 2018, at 4:00 p.m. ECF No. 13.

         On June 11, 2018, Benjamin filed a motion for a preliminary injunction. Mot. Prelim. Inj., ECF No. 16. Because Benjamin was seeking the injunction to prevent an injury which he did not share with the putative class, the motion was denied for lack of standing. ECF No. 18. The next day, two putative class members filed a motion to intervene (with assistance of Benjamin's counsel) and a second motion for a preliminary injunction. As before, the intervenors request judicial action by June 22, 2018.


         Benjamin's amended complaint challenges the City of Saginaw's practice of requiring “owners of vacant, but maintained, properties to ‘register' their property in order to obtain licensing compliance as to their vacant houses and also to allow the City ‘maintain a registry of all unoccupied properties.'” Am. Compl. at PageID.106. In particular, Benjamin is challenging the City's decision to allegedly require that “property owners and controllers surrender their Fourth Amendment constitutional protections against warrantless entry into the private homes and private properties for administrative inspections, ” as “a condition of fulfilling that legal licensing compliance and obtaining a license/authorization to have vacant property in the City of Saginaw.” Id. at PageID.106-07. The registration form at issue “contains non-optional language which mandates that the owner agrees ‘that in the event my property becomes dangerous as defined by the City of Saginaw Dangerous Building Ordinance, State Law, or the City of Saginaw Housing Code, I give permission for the City, its agents, employees, or representatives, to enter and board the premises or do whatever necessary to make the property secure and safe.'” Id. at PageID.111- 12.

         Benjamin alleges that “[o]n January 11, 2018, Defendant JOHN STEMPLE issued two municipal citations (i.e. tickets) on Plaintiff TRUST.” Id. at PageID.113. Plaintiff further alleges that “[a]t the time of filing, Defendant JOHN STEMPLE . . . is actively seeking to impose penalties on Plaintiff TRUST and Class members for not waiving the Fourth Amendment rights of Plaintiff TRUST and Class members.” Id. at PageID.115. The amended complaint cites to Exhibits C and D in support of that allegation. Those exhibits are composed of two “Uniform Municipal Civil Infraction Citation[s]” issued to Benjamin for “Failure to register vacant dwelling[s].” Citations, ECF No. 10, Exs. C, D. Exhibits F and G of the amended complaint indicate that hearings on the citations were scheduled for March 22, 2018. ECF No. 10, Exs. F, G.

         In the second motion for a preliminary injunction, the intervenors allege that they have been subject to similar enforcement proceedings. They contend: “After refusing to waive their constitutional rights (which is not at all require [sic] or directed by the [Unsupervised Properties Ordinance]) Defendant John Stemple issued Proposed Intervening Plaintiffs as Trustees, Plaintiff Benjamin as Trustee, and other class members civil infraction tickets and sought judicial enforcement.” Inter. Mot. Prelim. Inj. at PageID.300, ECF No. 20. Exhibit 1 to the motion for a preliminary injunction is a notice of a hearing issued to the Jones Family Trust/Bobby Jones. Jones Notice, ECF No. 20, Ex. 1. The hearing on the citation is currently set for June 22, 2018. The intervenors request that the Court resolve the motion for a preliminary injunction before that date by entering an order enjoining Stemple from initiating these enforcement actions against the intervenors and all putative class members.


         Motions to intervene are governed by Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 24(a). That Rule specifies that “[o]n a timely motion, the court must permit anyone to intervene who: . . . claims an interest relating to the property or transaction that is the subject of the action, and is so situated that disposing of the action may as a practical matter impair or impede the movant's ability to protect its interest, unless existing parties adequately represent that interest.” Id. at Rule 24(a)(2). The Sixth Circuit has derived fourth elements from the rule: “(1) the motion to intervene is timely; (2) the proposed intervenor has a substantial legal interest in the subject matter of the case; (3) the proposed intervenor's ability to protect their interest may be impaired in the absence of intervention; and (4) the parties already before the court cannot adequately protect the proposed intervenor's interest.” Coal. to Defend Affirmative Action v. Granholm, 501 F.3d 775, 779 (6th Cir. 2007) (citing Grutter v. Bollinger, 188 F.3d 394, 397-98 (6th Cir.1999)).

         Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 65(a), the “court may issue a preliminary injunction only on notice to the adverse party.” The Sixth Circuit has interpreted that requirement as implying “‘a hearing in which the defendant is given a fair opportunity to oppose the application and to prepare for such opposition.'” Certified Restoration Dry Cleaning Network, L.L.C. v. Tenke Corp., 511 F.3d 535, 552 (6th Cir. 2007) (quoting County Sec. Agency v. Ohio Dept. of Commerce, 296 F.3d 477, 484 (6th Cir. 2002)). But “a hearing is only required when there are disputed factual issues, and not when the issues are primarily questions of law.” Id. To summarize:

“[W]here facts are bitterly contested and credibility determinations must be made to decide whether injunctive relief should issue, an evidentiary hearing must be held. [However, ] where material facts are not in dispute, or where facts in dispute are not material to the preliminary injunction sought, district courts generally need not hold an evidentiary hearing.”

Id. at 553 (quoting McDonald's Corp. v. Robertson, 147 F.3d 1301, 1312-13 (11th Cir. 1998)).

         Four factors govern whether the Court will issue a preliminary injunction: (1) whether the plaintiff has demonstrated a substantial likelihood of success on the merits; (2) whether there is a threat of irreparable harm to the plaintiff; (3) whether issuance of the injunction would harm others; and (4) whether the public interest is served by granting injunctive relief. Hamilton's Bogarts, Inc. v. Michigan, 501 F.3d 644, 649 (6th Cir. 2007) (citation omitted); see also Ne. Ohio Coal. For Homeless and Serv. Emps. Intern. Union, Local 1199 v. Blackwell, 467 F.3d 999, 1009 (6th Cir. 2006). “These factors are not prerequisites, but are factors that are to be balanced against each other.” Overstreet v. Lexington-Fayette Urban Cnty. Gov't, 305 F.3d 566, 573 (6th Cir. 2002) (citations omitted).


         As noted above, Benjamin's motion for a preliminary injunction was denied because he lacked standing to request the injunction on behalf of putative class members. In response, Plaintiff's counsel has filed a motion to intervene by putative class members who are presently subject to ongoing enforcement efforts by Defendants. If the intervention is permitted, these proposed intervenors would possess standing to seek the preliminary injunction on behalf of the putative class. See Senter v. Gen. Motors Corp., 532 F.2d 511, 517 (6th Cir. 1976) (“[O]nce an individual has alleged a distinct and palpable injury to himself he has standing to challenge a practice even if the injury is of a sort shared by a large class of possible litigants.”).

         Given this dynamic, the request for a preliminary injunction can only be properly framed for adjudication if brought by a putative class member other than Benjamin. Absent intervention, the putative class members will be subject to enforcement measures until the legitimacy of the City's practice is considered on its merits. Benjamin (and intervenors) alleges that the enforcement proceedings are intentional efforts to coerce putative class members into waiving their constitutional rights. If true, that constitutes a substantial legal interest. Benjamin's lack of standing to request a preliminary injunction on behalf of the class demonstrates that the intervenors' rights cannot be adequately protected by Benjamin, and so intervention is warranted.

         Accordingly, the question is whether class-wide preliminary injunctive relief is warranted. Although the intervenors' motion is styled as a request for a preliminary injunction, they request a decision before June 22, 2018. As indicated above, a preliminary injunction cannot be granted without a fair opportunity for Defendants to oppose the motion. Certified Restoration DryCleaning Network, L.L.C., 511 F.3d at 552. Given the expedited nature of the intervenors' request, ...

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