Plaintiffs, the Detroit Memorial Park Association, Inc. (“DMPA”) and Greater Grace Temple (“Greater Grace”), wanted to use a parcel of property in the City of Detroit, which was formerly a golf course, as a cemetery. In this action, Plaintiffs asserted two federal Constitutional claims: 1) that they were denied due process with respect to the zoning decisions relating to the property (Count (III); and 2) that the zoning decisions resulted in the taking of private property without payment of just compensation (Count IV). Plaintiffs also ask the Court to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over two state-law claims: 1) an appeal of the zoning decision (Count I); and 2) alleged violations of Michigan’s Open Meetings Act (Count II).
As to the state law claims, the court found that party aggrieved by a decision of the zoning board of appeals “may appeal to the circuit court for the county in which the property is located,” the “circuit court shall review the record and decision,” and the circuit court reviewing a decision by a zoning board of appeals “may affirm, reverse, or modify the decision, order further proceedings on conditions that the court considers proper,” or “may make other orders as justice requires.” Thus, these two claims were a matter for the court, rather than a jury to decide. Accordingly, the court declined to extend supplemental jurisdiction over Counts I and II.
Defendants’ primary argument is that under the Burford and Pullman abstention doctrines, this Court should abstain from hearing Plaintiff’s federal claims (Counts III & IV). Defendants’ Burford abstention argument was rejected because: the Defendants have not made a strong showing of the coherent state policies or highly complex, unsettled state law issues required for Burford abstention; and the Sixth Circuit has expressly rejected the very cases that Defendants rely on. Here, unlike the cases cited by the Defendants, this case did not require the state as a mandatory party to appeals of zoning decisions. Similarly, in Pullman, the Supreme Court held that when state court construction of an unclear state statute might narrow or eliminate a federal constitutional question, abstention may be justified under principles of comity in order to avoid “needless friction with state policies.” The court noted that the Pullman abstention is “appropriate only when state law is unclear and a clarification of that law would preclude the need to adjudicate the federal question.” Because Defendants had not identified any unclear state laws that are at issue in this case, the Pullman abstention was not warranted. Thus, the motion to dismiss the two federal claims was denied.
Detroit Memorial Park Association, Inc. v City of Detroit Board of Zoning Appeals, 2015 WL 2343879 (ED MI 5/14/2015)