Michigan couple awarded $600,000 judgment against Worth Township; Proof that you can fight city hall

Dennis Norman St Louis

Dennis Norman

Who says you can’t fight City Hall and win?

Well, it wasn’t easy, nor quick, but George and Margaret Paeth of the Worth Township in Michigan have”beat” City Hall and been awarded $600,000 by a Federal Court Judge. According to a press release by their attorney’s, Daniel P. Dalton and Pauline J. Pensler, this judgment is “one of the largest procedural due process and First Amendment retaliation verdicts in the nation, and the largest for the Eastern District of Michigan’s federal courts.”

The events leading up to this verdict began way back in 1998 when the Paeths obtained building and water permits to begin updating their newly purchased home in Worth Township. In the course of the following 12 years, the couple fought with the township over questionable expirations and retraction of these permits, often without explanation.

The Paeths did not have access to water for three years before being allowed to join the water main in 2002. During this time the couple applied for a permit to be connected to the municipal water supply with no action taken. A water permit was obtained by a hired excavator and was later withdrawn. Problems with the Paeths’ building permit surfaced after Worth Township formed its own building department.

The Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) ordered the couple to remove a portion of their structure in 2005 due to a preexisting non-conformance issue. The Sanilac County Circuit Court reversed the ZBA decision in 2007, freeing the couple to resume work on their home. However, the township then quickly posted a stop-work order without warning or offering a hearing, stating that construction had ceased for more than a six-month period. Construction had been suspended for two years while the Paeths addressed the issue in court.

The Paeths’ comedy of errors came to an end with the $600,000 verdict. The federal court jury’s decision included an award of $275,000 due to the couple’s First Amendment rights violation, as the township retaliated against them for appealing the ZBA decision, and $325,000 for infringing on their procedural due process rights. The court has since Ordered Worth Township to pay prejudgment interest and cost. The judgment, along with the cost, pre- and post-judgment interest and a pending Motion for Attorney Fees will likely be in excess of $1,000,000.00. As Worth Township’s insurance carrier disavowed coverage, the judgment will be paid by assessment of all of the properties within the community.

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