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Williams v. City of Detroit

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

June 7, 2019

GWENDOLYN WILLIAMS, et al., Plaintiffs,
CITY OF DETROIT, et al., Defendants.

          Anthony P. Patti, Magistrate Judge



         Lotus Industries, LLC ran Centre Park Bar. Not long after Centre Park opened, the City of Detroit announced plans to redevelop the neighborhood surrounding the bar. And the bar's managers submitted a proposal to take part in the redevelopment project. But their bid was rejected. And when Detroit announced the winning project, the redevelopment did not include Centre Park Bar. The bar's managers cried foul. Appearing on local radio stations and in local papers, they complained that the proposal process was rigged.

         Soon after the public complaints, one of the bar's owners and two of its managers insisted the City and redevelopment officials retaliated against the bar. So Lotus, one of its members, and the bar's two managers brought suit. The individual plaintiffs say the retaliation escalated after they filed suit. Midway through this litigation, Lotus filed for bankruptcy. The bankruptcy trustee settled the lawsuit, leaving the three individuals as the only plaintiffs. Because the three individuals complain about the same injuries as the LLC, either they lack standing or they are not the real parties in interest. Recognizing this issue, Detroit Economic Growth Corporation moved to have the suit dismissed. Plaintiffs did not respond. The Court will grant the unopposed motion.



         In 2013, Centre Park Bar opened in the Harmonie Park area of Detroit. Centre Park was owned by Lotus Industries, LLC. Lotus had two members: Gwendolyn Williams and Kenneth Bridgewater.[1] (ECF No. 211, PageID.5802.) Neither Gwendolyn nor Kenneth played any role in running Centre Park. (Id. at PageID.5803.) Instead, Gwendolyn's son Christopher Williams and Kenneth's son Kenneth Scott Bridgewater co-managed Centre Park. (Id.; see also Id. at PageID.5799.) And over time, Centre Park became a popular downtown attraction. (See, e.g., ECF No. 211, PageID.5928-5953; ECF No. 211-3.)

         In 2015, Centre Park's landlord, the Detroit Downtown Development Authority, alongside the City of Detroit, revealed plans to redevelop the Harmonie Park area. (ECF No. 211, PageID.5806.) The DDA put out a request for proposals, and Christopher, along with Kenneth Scott, submitted one. Yet Kenneth Scott was late submitting the proposal. (Id. at PageID.5808-5809, 5530.) The rules governing the proposal process indicated that late proposals would not be considered. Even so, Kenneth Scott says the DDA's receptionist accepted the late proposal. (Id; see also Id. at PageID.5846.) Eventually, though, the proposal was rejected as tardy. (Id. at PageID.5530, 5824.)

         Upset by the rejection, Christopher reached out to City and DDA officials to seek reconsideration. (ECF No. 211, PageID.5825-5829, 5530-5549.) Christopher says he had informal conversations with DDA officials and City Council members, many of whom said they would look into why the bid was rejected. (Id.) When nothing came of Christopher's informal conversations, Christopher, Gwendolyn, and Kenneth Scott secured a meeting in the Mayor's Office with high-level DDA officials. (Id. at PageID.5831, 5535, 5543.) But the proposal was not reconsidered. (Id. at PageID.5551.) Eventually, Detroit announced the winning bidder of the redevelopment project, and the winner's proposal did not include Centre Park Bar. (Id. at PageID.5981-5982.)

         Left out of the DDA's redevelopment project and faced with the loss of the business they managed, Christopher and Kenneth Scott publicly complained. They appeared on radio and in print calling the bid proposal process a sham. (ECF No. 211, PageID.5851.) The men came to believe the DDA had been working behind the scenes with the Detroit Economic Growth Corporation and the Mayor's Office to hand the redevelopment project to a preselected candidate. (Id. at PageID.5853-5855.) And they said they were in the boardroom where it happened. (Id. at PageID.5851.)

         The bar managers believed their complaints led to retaliation. After complaining, they say Detroit police officers started to show up at the bar. (ECF No. 211, PageID.5890.) The officers said they were showing up in response to a neighboring hotel's noise complaints. (ECF No. 211, PageID.5890.) But Christopher suspected the hotel's complaints were all part of a conspiracy. To him, the hotel's noise complaints were manufactured by redevelopment officials and the Mayor's Office. (Id. at PageID.5890-5891, 5894, 6078-6079, 6100; but see ECF No. 211-3.) Christopher contends that even though other bars in the area operated outdoor spaces, and, like Centre Park, did so without the necessary permits, only Centre Park received police attention. (ECF No. 211, PageID.5891, 6097-6098.)

         The police attention started to cost the bar business. (Id.) Fed up, Gwendolyn, Kenneth Scott, Christopher, and Lotus filed suit. (ECF No. 1.) Lotus and the individual plaintiffs alleged the Mayor's Office, Detroit police officers, and redevelopment officials conspired to violate Lotus' First Amendment rights and discriminate against the bar because it was a black-owned business attracting black clientele. (ECF No. 66, PageID.1937, 1942.) All told, Lotus and the individual owners and managers alleged First Amendment retaliation, equal protection, promissory estoppel, tortious interference, and trespass claims. (ECF No. 66.)

         After bringing the lawsuit, Gwendolyn, Christopher, and Kenneth Scott say they were subjected to more retaliation. Though they never bothered the bar before, after the lawsuit, Detroit police officers issued Centre Park citations for fire code violations, over-occupancy, and even arrested Kenneth Scott. (ECF No. 66, PageID.1949.) Kenneth Scott says the arrest was retaliation for the lawsuit. (ECF No. 66, PageID.1950; ECF No. 211, PageID.5472-5475.) The DEGC also initiated eviction proceedings against Centre Park Bar. So the Plaintiffs amended their complaint to expand their First Amendment retaliation claims. (ECF No. 66.) Eventually, Centre Park Bar closed for good. And ...

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