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Bridgewater v. Harris

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

July 22, 2019


          Anthony P. Patti Magistrate Judge.


          Honorable Laurie J. Michelson United States District Judge.

         This case arises out of a planned redevelopment project in an area of Downtown Detroit. Centre Park Bar was in the area slated for redevelopment. The bar's managers wanted to take part in the redevelopment project. But their proposal was rejected. Following the rejection, the bar's managers and one of its owners publicly complained about the bid process. And according to the bar managers and owner, the public complaints led to retaliation both from the City and from redevelopment officials. So this First Amendment retaliation lawsuit was commenced.

         Originally, the plaintiffs consisted of Lotus, LLC, the entity that owned Centre Park Bar; Gwendolyn Williams, a member of the LLC; and Christopher Williams and Kenneth Scott Bridgewater, two of Centre Park Bar's managers. In a nutshell, the suit alleged that City and redevelopment officials independently and as conspirators, worked behind the scenes to end Centre Park Bar's lease and prevent the individual plaintiffs from participating in the redevelopment project. Plaintiffs' sued a host of people and entities, including the City of Detroit, the Detroit Development Authority, the Detroit Economic Growth Corporation (DEGC), a Detroit police officer, and a Detroit fire captain.

         During this litigation, Lotus, LLC filed for bankruptcy, reached a settlement with all Defendants, and agreed to dismiss its claims against all Defendants. (ECF No. 208.) Soon after, the DEGC argued that this Court lacked subject-matter jurisdiction over the individual plaintiffs' claims against the redevelopment officials. (ECF No. 209.) The gist of the DEGC's motion was a shareholder standing argument. Because the individual plaintiffs were all bringing suit based on injuries suffered by the LLC, no longer a party to the case, the individual plaintiffs' injuries were derivative of the LLC's and so the individual plaintiffs' claims really belonged to the LLC. Thus, the individual plaintiffs lacked standing to proceed further. The individual plaintiffs never responded to this motion.

         The DEGC and the City also each moved for summary judgment on the merits. (ECF No. 210, 211.) And each are fully briefed. (ECF No. 213, 214, 217, 218.) However, because the DEGC's shareholder-standing argument potentially implicated subject-matter jurisdiction, the Court started there. As the Sixth Circuit treats shareholder standing as a concern either of Article III or Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 17, the Court relied on both doctrines to grant the DEGC's motion. (ECF No. 227.)

         Because shareholder standing may implicate Article III (and Rule 17), the Court ordered the remaining parties-the individual plaintiffs and the Detroit defendants-to show cause why the plaintiffs' remaining claims against the City, save one, should not also be dismissed for lack of shareholder standing. (ECF No. 227, PageID.7038.) In response to the Court's show cause order, the City and the individual plaintiffs staked out different positions. The City agreed that all but Kenneth Scott's claim based on his arrest should be dismissed for want of shareholder standing. (ECF No. 228.) Yet hoping to save all their claims, the individual plaintiffs raised a number of arguments. (ECF No. 229.) But only one merits any attention. Christopher Williams says he suffered an injury separate and distinct from the LLC when he, personally, was issued a noise citation by a Detroit police officer named Lewis. (ECF No. 229, PageID.7050.) Christopher points to the amended complaint, where he alleged the ticket was issued in retaliation for Christopher's public complaints against what he perceived to be a corrupt redevelopment process. (Id.; see also ECF No. 66, PageID.1931, 1932, 1936-1937.) And Christopher provides a docket sheet showing that in August 2016, an Officer Lewis issued Christopher a noise citation. (ECF No. 231, PageID.7063.) Thus, like Kenneth Scott, Christopher insists he has an official-policy, retaliatory-arrest claim.

         Having reviewed the supplemental briefing and materials provided in response to the order to show cause, the Court now returns to the City's motion for summary judgment. For the reasons that follow, Kenneth Scott and Christopher each have standing to bring their First Amendment claims. Both allege individual injuries separate and distinct from any injury to Lotus, LLC. While Kenneth Scott's claim survives summary judgment and will proceed to a bench trial, Christopher's claim does not. The remainder of the individual plaintiffs' claims are dismissed for the reasons set forth in the Court's opinion and order granting the DEGC's motion to dismiss for want of standing. (ECF No. 227.) Thus the Court will grant in part and deny in part the City's motion for summary judgment.


         Consider first, Kenneth Scott's retaliation claim. Kenneth Scott sues Detroit Police officer Robert Harris and Detroit Fire captain Kelvin Harris-each in their official capacity. Bridgewater says the pair arrested him at the behest of the city in retaliation for Bridgewater filing a lawsuit bringing to light alleged public corruption.


         During his deposition, Kenneth Scott said the police officer and fire captain told him he was going to be arrested because higher-ups in the City wanted to retaliate against him for suing the city. And Kenneth Scott was arrested at the Centre Park Bar for failing to follow the officers' orders to close the bar for overcrowding, charged, and ultimately acquitted following trial. So Kenneth Scott showed an injury separate and distinct from any injury to Lotus, Gwendolyn, or Christopher. See Old Blast, Inc. v. Operating Eng'rs Local 324 Pension Fund, 663 Fed.Appx. 454, 457 (6th Cir. 2017). Accordingly, the Court finds that Bridgewater has standing to bring his retaliation claims.


         Turning to the merits of that claim, the relevant facts are as follows.

         Bridgewater, along with Christopher Williams, managed a restaurant and bar in Detroit's Harmonie Park neighborhood. After the City announced a redevelopment project for the area, Bridgewater and Williams submitted a proposal to take part in the project. (ECF No. 211, PageID.5355.) But they submitted their proposal late, (id. at PageID.5361-5362), and it was eventually rejected for that reason (id. at PageID.5369). Even so, Bridgewater, Williams, and one of the bar's owners publicly complained. (Id. at PageID.5398.) In particular, Bridgewater's complaints underscored what he perceived as a corrupt redevelopment process tied to a city-led conspiracy to keep African-American businesses out of Detroit. (ECF No. 211, PageID.5435- 5437, 5441-5443.)

         Bridgewater says his complaints caused a backlash. Detroit police officers started to focus their attention on Centre Park Bar. (ECF No. 211, PageID.5440, 5444-5445.) Bridgewater believed the police attention was directed by Mayor Duggan as a ruse to allow the bar's landlord to cancel the ...

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