COALITION ASKS FOR TRO AGAINST SHUT-OFFS
August 25, 2014
DETROIT – In an effort to preserve a moratorium on water shut-offs, a group of Detroit residents and civil rights attorneys filed court documents over the weekend asking a judge to immediately block the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department (DWSD) from terminating water service to any occupied residence, and to require the restoration of service to occupied residences without water.
The moratorium was currently scheduled to end today. The ACLU of Michigan and NAACP Legal Defense fund are serving as expert consultants in the ongoing litigation.
“Without a continued moratorium on water shutoffs, thousands more Detroiters, mostly low income children, seniors, and disabled, will immediately be at risk for shutoff,” says Alice Jennings of Edwards & Jennings, P.C., counsel in the lawsuit.
“A comprehensive water affordability plan, a viable bill dispute process, specific polices for landlord-tenant bills and a sustainable mechanism for evaluating the number of families in shutoff status or at risk for shutoff, is necessary prior to lifting the DWSD water shutoff moratorium.”
Jennings said that Judge Steven Rhodes scheduled the hearing at 8:30, on September 2, 2014.
“The legal team is requesting support for the Plaintiffs in the courtroom or outside of court. The bankruptcy trial is also schedules to begin that day. Please let me know what you are hearing about shutoffs this week.”
The motion for a temporary restraining order filed yesterday is part of a class action lawsuit, Lyda et.al v. City of Detroit, on behalf of Detroit residents affected by the mass shut-off campaign of DWSD, as well as organizations active in the fight for the restoration of and affordable access to water. They include the Michigan Welfare Rights Organization, People’s Water Board, National Action Network-Michigan Chapter and Moratorium Now!.
This suit is currently in bankruptcy court before Judge Stephen Rhodes as part of the city’s bankruptcy proceedings. The lawsuit argues that that the DWSD began water shutoffs without adequate notice and against the most vulnerable residents, while commercial entities with delinquent accounts were left alone. The suit also argues that this violates the plaintiffs’ due process and equal protection rights.
“More than 17,000 homes have had their water cut off and water bills in Detroit are among the highest in the country and unaffordable to many Detroit residents,” says Kary Moss, ACLU of Michigan executive director. “The rush to resume shut offs when there are serious questions about the affordability plan, accuracy of bills, and issues with the water department’s ability to process disputes, means that the City of Detroit should get its house in order before turning off anyone else’s water.”
In March, DWSD began dispatching private contractors to begin shutting off water service to residents who are more than 60 days delinquent, or owe more than $150. Despite the fact that 38 percent of the population lives below the poverty line, the shut-offs began without a plan to help those who cannot pay.
After public outcry and this lawsuit, the city implemented a moratorium and announced a 10-point plan to address the dysfunctions raised by the lawsuit and civil rights groups.
“The mayor’s plan only consists of proposals and temporary fixes,” said Rev. Charles Williams of the National Action Network-Michigan Chapter. “Until actual policies are in place to ensure that residents have access to affordable water, the water shut-offs cannot be resumed. The current proposal for residents to enter into non-negotiable payment plans is only a short-term solution.”
Last month, the ACLU of Michigan and NAACP LDF wrote a letter to city officials arguing that that the poorly implemented and uneven DWSD shut-off policy violates the civil and human rights, as well as the due process rights of residents because it often fails to provide them with adequate notice and a hearing that takes into account whether they actually have the ability to pay.
“DWSD must immediately restore water to all its customers,” said Sherrilyn Ifill, President of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. “In addition, they should create a reasonable timetable for a hearing and appeals process, pending resolution of these issues.”
Attorneys for residents are calling on Judge Rhodes to order DWSD to extend the moratorium to ensure that the most vulnerable Detroiters are not left without water. The moratorium on shut offs should be extended until DWSD has policies in place to ensure that collections are done in a way that doesn’t violate residents constitutional rights.
Tawana Petty, an activist with the People’s Water Board Coalition, echoed these sentiments. “We are asking the Governor, Mayor, Emergency Manager and the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department to stop their assault on the citizens of Detroit and restore all water to residents. Water is life and without it, we perish.”
CONTACT: Alice Jennings, Edwards & Jennings, P.C, at firstname.lastname@example.org or 313.961.5000
Rana Elmir, ACLU of Michigan, at email@example.com, 313.578.6816
Jennifer Parker, NAACP LDF at firstname.lastname@example.org, 212-965-2783
In addition to the lawsuit filed Aug. 25, Hassan Aleen and Carl Williams, along with members of the Detroit Active and Retired Employees Association, filed an objection to the upcoming water shut-offs Aug. 21, stating in part:
“Governor Snyder and Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr conspired by their action and were cruel in their action and in a sense using punishment for those being unfortunately unable to pay a water bill for something that is an essential necessity of life to exist, a “God” given element of life.
Their action was shocking to conscious people all over the world in the so-called richest country in the world depriving their residents and citizens of a God-given necessity. In the way it was executed it was a cruel and usual violation of IX Amendment of the United States Constitution. Gov. Snyder and his sidekick Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr contravened the Universal Declaration of Human Rights:
“Art. 1 All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.
Art. 5 No one shall be subject to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.
Art. 7 All are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination in violation of this Declaration and against any incitement to such discrimination.
Art. 8 Everyone has a right to any effective remedy by the competent National tribunals for acts violating the fundamental rights granted him by the constitution or by law.
Art. 10 Everyone is entitled in full equality to a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal, in the determination of his rights and obligations and of any criminal charge against him.
We need Magistrate Judge Steven W. Rhodes to order an investigation against the State of Michigan and to hold a hearing on this matter in connection with the Bankruptcy.”
Full objection at DB DAREA objection re water shutoffs.