Yang et al v. Wyoming, City of et al
OPINION ; signed by Judge Robert Holmes Bell (Judge Robert Holmes Bell, kcb)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE WESTERN DISTRICT OF MICHIGAN
MING KUO YANG and JULIE YANG,
husband and wife,
File No. 1:13-CV-616
HON. ROBERT HOLMES BELL
CITY OF WYOMING, MICHIGAN, a
In this action Plaintiffs allege that the City of Wyoming violated their procedural due
process rights by failing to give them proper notice before demolishing their commercial
building. This matter is before the Court on the parties’ cross-motions for summary
judgment. (ECF Nos. 46, 47.) For the reasons that follow, the Court will grant Defendant’s
motion, deny Plaintiffs’ cross-motion, and enter judgment for Defendant.
Plaintiffs Min Kuo “James” Yang and his wife Julie Yang have been the owners of
property located at 2675 28th St. S.W. in Wyoming, Michigan (the “Property”) since 1989.
The Property had a commercial building on it that housed a restaurant called Abacus.
Plaintiffs listed the Property for sale with a realtor in late 2010. (Pls. Ex. 1, M. Yang Aff.
¶ 9.)1 In February 2011 Abacus closed for business. (Id..) Plaintiffs remained the owners
of record. ( Id.) The county property records reflect that the Plaintiffs are the owners of the
Property, and that their home address is 6483 Brookhills Ct. S.E., Grand Rapids, MI. (Pls.
Ex. 4, ECF No. 48.) After Abacus closed for business, Defendant City of Wyoming (the
“City”) has been sending the Property’s tax, energy, and sewer and water bills to the
Plaintiffs’ home address. (Answ. ¶ 19, ECF No. 8; M. Yang Aff. ¶ 3.)
On October 5, 2011, a city inspector visited the Property and noted a number of
ordinance violations, including roof damage, chipped or peeling paint, a boarded vent,
damaged rear siding, rotted facia, a pothole in the driveway, and three abandoned vehicles.
The inspector characterized the Property as “abandoned,” posted an abandoned structure
(“AS”) card on the building, and filed a complaint with the City for condemnation. (Pls. Ex.
12.) On October 6, 2011, the City mailed a Notice of Abandoned Structure to “Joseph
Gordon” at the Property’s address, 2675 28th St. S.W., Wyoming, MI. (Pls. Ex. 5.)
The Property continued to be inspected on a monthly basis. (Def. Ex. 1, Pls. Ex. 12,
Enforcement Log.) On July 12, 2012, the inspector determined that the structure on the
Property was a Dangerous Building under the Code and posted a “Notice of Condemnation,”
also known as a repair/demolish notice, on the building. (Enforcement Log.) On July 20,
2012, the City sent a Notice of Posting and a Notice and Order to Repair or Demolish
Unless otherwise noted, Plaintiffs’ exhibits are located at ECF No. 48, and
Defendant’s exhibits are located at ECF No. 46.
(“Demolition Notice”) to Joseph Gordon at the Property address by certified mail. (Pls. Exs.
7, 8, 9; Bell Dep. 57, Pls. Ex. 10.) The Post Office returned the Notice of Posting and the
Demolition Notice as “unable to forward” and “vacant.” (Pls. Ex. 11.)
In September 2012, the City discovered that the notices had been incorrectly mailed
to the wrong person and address. On September 11, 2012, the City sent the Demolition
Notice and the Notice of Posting to the Plaintiffs’ residence at 6480 Brookhills Ct. by
certified mail, return receipt requested. (Pls. Ex. 14.)
The Post Office returned the
September 11 Demolition Notice to the City as “unclaimed.” (Pls. Ex. 18; Bell Dep. 97, Def.
On October 18, 2012, the City mailed a notice of a November 1, 2012, hearing
(“Hearing Notice”) before the City Housing Board of Appeals regarding 2675 28th St. S.W.
to Plaintiffs at their home address by regular mail. (Pls. Exs. 18, 19.) The letter provided
that “The purpose is to hear all interested parties . . . regarding the City’s Notice to Repair
or Demolish the structure(s).” (Pls. Ex. 19.) The letter further provided that Plaintiffs had
a right to attend the meeting, to present evidence, and to have an attorney present. The notice
of hearing was also posted on the Property and published in the City newspaper. (DeLange
Dep. 22, ECF No. 50-2.) The City sent a courtesy copy of the October 18, 2012, Hearing
Notice to Bill Tyson, NAI West Michigan, the realtor whose For Sale sign was on the
property. (Pls. Ex. 19; Def. Ex. 2, DeLange Dep. 22-23.) The Post Office did not return the
October 18, 2012, letter addressed to Plaintiffs or the letter addressed to the realtor. (Bell
Dep. 98, Def. Ex. 8 .)
At the hearing on November 1, 2012, James DeLange, the Chief Building Inspector,
informed the Housing Board of Appeals that the certified letter sent to the owners with the
Demolition Notice had not been claimed. (Housing Bd. Mins., Pls. Ex. 20.) He advised that
the building had been vacant over a year, was in disrepair, and had been posted with a Repair
or Demolish order since October 2011. He also advised that the taxes were being paid. The
Board of Appeals approved the demolition of the structure. On November 7, 2012, the City
sent a letter to Plaintiffs at their home address stating that the Board of Housing Appeals had
affirmed the City’s notice and order to demolish the building (“Post-Hearing Notice”).2 (Pls.
Ex. 21.) The Post Office did not return this letter to the City. Following the November 1
hearing, the City obtained bids for demolition of the building and awarded the contract to the
low bidder, Pitsch Wrecking, in the amount of $15,000. (Def. Ex. 7; Pls. Ex. 22.) On
November 14, 2012, the City posted the demolition order at the front entry way on the
Property. (Pls. Ex. 12.) The structure and parking lot were demolished in January 2013. The
City Code provides that all costs of demolition, plus 50%, shall be assessed against the
property. (City Code § 10-179, PM 106.6, Pls. Ex. 31, ECF No. 53.) On January 31, 2013,
The letter provided: “At their regular meeting held on November 1, 2012, the
Wyoming Board of Housing Appeals affirmed the City’s Notice and Order to demolish the
building at the above referenced properties.” (Pls. Ex. 21.) The letter advised Plaintiffs of
their right to file an appeal to the Kent County Circuit Court within 30 days. It also advised
that the demolition would be awarded to the lowest bidder who would remove the structure
at their earliest convenience.
the City mailed a demolition bill to the Plaintiff’s residence address in the amount of $22,500,
with notice that the City would add an additional 1% for every month that the charge is not
paid. (Answ. ¶ 37, ECF No. 8.)
Chief Building Inspector DeLange received a call after the demolition from someone
who identified himself as Mr. Yang and claimed to be the owner of the Property. In the
course of the conversation that person stated “I remember getting the mail that said something
about fixing up the building, but I ignored it.” (DeLange Dep. 55, Def. Ex. 3, ECF No. 51;
DeLange Aff., Def. Ex. 4, ECF No. 51.)
Plaintiffs have filed sworn statements indicating that before the City demolished the
building they were “not aware that the City of Wyoming had ordered the repair or demolition
of the building on the property, that the City of Wyoming was going to hold or had held a
hearing on whether to demolish the building, that the City was planning to demolish the
building if [they] did not repair it, or what repairs had to be made to avoid demolition.” (M.
Yang Aff. ¶ 14,; J. Yang Aff. ¶ 7, Pls. Ex. 2.) Plaintiffs do not dispute the fact that the
September 11, 2012, Demolition Notice and the October 18, 2012, notice of hearing were sent
to the proper address nor do they claim that they were not living at that address.
Plaintiffs filed this action for damages against the City3 for failing to give proper notice
before demolishing their commercial building. Plaintiffs allege that Defendant demolished
All claims against James DeLange were dismissed on stipulation of the parties. (ECF
their commercial building in violation of their due-process rights and the City’s ordinance.
This matter is before the Court on the parties’ cross-motions for summary judgment.
The City contends that it is entitled to summary judgment because it made every effort
reasonably calculated to give Plaintiffs notice and opportunity to be heard prior to the
demolition of the building and because Plaintiffs cannot prove that they have suffered any
damages as a result of the demolition. Plaintiffs contend that they are entitled to summary
judgment because the City violated their procedural due process rights and because there is
no issue of fact as to the amount of compensatory damages they are entitled to.
Under Rule 56(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, summary judgment is proper
if there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment
as a matter of law. In evaluating a motion for summary judgment the Court must look beyond
the pleadings and assess the proof to determine whether there is a genuine need for trial.
Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986). If the moving
party carries its burden of showing there is an absence of evidence to support a claim then the
nonmoving party must demonstrate by affidavits, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and
admissions on file, that there is a genuine issue of material fact for trial. Celotex Corp. v.
Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 324-25 (1986). The mere existence of a scintilla of evidence in support
of the nonmoving party’s position is not sufficient to create a genuine issue of material fact.
Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 252 (1986). The proper inquiry is “whether
the evidence presents a sufficient disagreement to require submission to a jury or whether it
is so one-sided that one party must prevail as a matter of law.” Id. at 251-52.
In Count 1 of their Complaint, Plaintiffs allege that the City violated their civil rights
by depriving them of property interests without due process of law. Plaintiffs seek monetary
damages and an injunction against the City from charging Plaintiffs for any costs, fees,
interest, or penalties related to the unconstitutional demolition of the Property.
The Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment prohibits states from depriving
any person of property without “due process of law.” U.S. Const. amend. XIV. “[D]ue
process in any proceeding which is to be accorded finality is notice reasonably calculated,
under all the circumstances, to apprise interested parties of the pendency of the action and
afford them an opportunity to present their objections.” Mullane v. Cent. Hanover Bank &
Trust Co., 339 U.S. 306, 314 (1950). “Due process does not require that a property owner
receive actual notice before the government may take his property.” Jones v. Flowers, 547
U.S. 220, 226 (2006) (citing Dusenbery v. United States, 534 U.S. 161, 170 (2002)). The
“‘notice required will vary with circumstances and conditions.’” Id. at 227 (quoting Walker
v. City of Hutchinson, 352 U.S. 112, 115 (1956)). However, “[t]he means employed must be
such as one desirous of actually informing the absentee might reasonably adopt to accomplish
it.” Mullane, 339 U.S. at 315. “[A]ssessing the adequacy of a particular form of notice
requires balancing the interest of the State against the individual interest sought to be
protected by the Fourteenth Amendment.” Flowers, 547 U.S. at 229.
Plaintiffs contend that this case is governed by Flowers, and that under Flowers, the
notice provided was constitutionally deficient as a matter of law.
In Flowers, Jones owned a house on North Bryan Street, but did not live there. The
state sent a certified letter to Jones at the North Bryan Street address, advising that there was
a tax delinquency and that the property would be subject to a public sale in two years if it was
not redeemed. The post office returned the letter marked “unclaimed.” Two years later, the
State published a notice of public sale. No bids were submitted, so the State negotiated a
private sale of the property. The State mailed another certified letter to Jones at the North
Bryan Street address advising that the house would be sold if he did not pay his taxes. This
second letter was also returned marked “unclaimed.” The State sold the house to Flowers.
Jones did not learn about the sale until after the redemption period had passed. Jones filed
suit, claiming a violation of his right to procedural due process. The Supreme Court held that
“when mailed notice of a tax sale is returned unclaimed, the State must take additional
reasonable steps to attempt to provide notice to the property owner before selling his property,
if it is practicable to do so.” Id. at 225.
Plaintiffs contend that when the certified mailing of the Demolition Notice was
returned “unclaimed,” the City knew that Plaintiffs were no better off than if the City had
never mailed the Demolition Notice at all. See Flowers, 547 U.S. at 221. Plaintiffs contend
if the City truly desired to put the Plaintiffs on actual notice of the demolition, it would have
taken the most obvious and least burdensome step available to it: “resend the notice by
regular mail, so that a signature was not required.” Id. at 234. Plaintiffs contend that because
the City did nothing to ensure notice after the Demolition Notice was returned unclaimed, the
notice was constitutionally insufficient under Flowers.
Although the facts of this case bear some similarity to the facts in Flowers, there are
critical differences that persuade this Court that Flowers does not end the due process inquiry
in this case. Flowers addressed the adequacy of notice prior to the State “extinguishing a
property owner’s interest in a home.” 547 U.S. at 229. In Flowers the unclaimed certified
mail was the only effort to provide notice before the State extinguished Jones’s interest in the
property by selling it at the private sale. In contrast to the facts in Flowers, the City in this
case did not extinguish Plaintiffs’ interest in the building immediately after the failed attempt
to give notice. The unclaimed Demolition Notice was not the only notice sent to Plaintiffs
before their building was demolished. The City also sent Plaintiffs a Hearing Notice.
Plaintiffs contend that although the Hearing Notice was reasonably calculated to reach
them, it was not reasonably calculated to notify them of the impending loss of their property.
Plaintiffs contend that the Hearing Notice was not sufficient to inform them of the proposed
demolition of their property or to give them a meaningful opportunity to prepare for the
hearing because it did not advise what would be demolished, why it would be demolished,
where the demolition would take place, or how the demolition could be avoided.
Contrary to Plaintiffs’ assertions, the Hearing Notice did give them significant
information regarding the impending loss of their property. It advised that the hearing was
about the City’s “Notice to Repair or Demolish” the “structure(s)” on their property at “2675
28th St. S.W.,” and that Plaintiffs would have an opportunity at the hearing to present
evidence through counsel. (Pls. Exs. 18, 19.) Although the Hearing Notice did not explain
why the building would be demolished or how the demolition could be avoided, the
information provided would have put a reasonable person on notice that the City was
contemplating some action, potentially including demolition, with respect to the building.
Even if the Hearing Notice was not sufficient in and of itself to explain what violations had
been observed or how the demolition could be avoided, it was at least sufficient to put
Plaintiffs on inquiry notice that the City was about to make some decision concerning their
vacant building. More specific information about the Demolition Notice could have been
obtained through a phone call to the City, a visit to the City offices, or a visit to the Property
which had been posted with the Demolition Notice since July 12, 2012. (Enforcement Log.)
Although the Supreme Court rejected the State’s inquiry notice argument in Flowers,
it did not suggest that inquiry notice is never an appropriate consideration in determining the
adequacy of notice. The Court merely held in Flowers that “the common knowledge that
property may become subject to government taking when taxes are not paid does not excuse
the government from complying with its constitutional obligation of notice before taking
private property.” 547 U.S. at 232. In this case, inquiry notice does not merely rest on
“common knowledge” that a vacant building might result in some action by the City, or on
the general duty of a property owner to be aware of the condition of his property and any
postings on it. In this case, inquiry notice is based on a notice of hearing sent directly to
Plaintiffs that specifically advised that some action based on a “Notice to Repair or Demolish”
was being considered with respect to the structure on their Property.
The Hearing Notice was also sent to the realtor whose sign was posted on Plaintiffs’
Property. Sending the notice of hearing to the realtor was not a “mere gesture.” Together
with the other actions taken by the City, it is an action that one desirous of actually informing
Plaintiffs might reasonably adopt to accomplish such notice. The City could reasonably
assume that the realtor, as Plaintiffs’ real estate agent, owed a duty to Plaintiffs to keep
abreast of the status of the Property and to communicate with Plaintiffs regarding postings on
the Property and notices of hearings regarding the Property.
Plaintiffs also contend that the Hearing Notice was not sufficient to satisfy Flowers
because it was sent before the unclaimed Notice to Repair or Demolish was returned to the
City. The Court is not convinced that Flowers requires a particular sequence of actions, so
long as the actions, as a whole, are “reasonably calculated, under all the circumstances,” to
give notice and an opportunity to be heard. In this case, the Court is satisfied that taken
together, the unclaimed Demolition Notice, the Hearing Notice to Plaintiffs and their realtor,
and the posting of the Property, were reasonably calculated to give notice and an opportunity
to be heard.
Finally, the Court notes that after the decision to demolish the building was affirmed
at the November 1 hearing, and before the building was demolished, the City sent Plaintiffs
a letter at their home address explicitly advising them that the City’s Notice and Order to
Demolish the building at 2675 28th St. S.W. had been affirmed, that Plaintiffs had a right to
appeal, and that the City would be awarding the demolition to the lowest bidder who would
remove the structure. (Pls. Ex. 21.)
Plaintiffs do not dispute that this letter was sufficient to put them on notice of the
City’s intent to demolish the building. However, they contend that a letter informing them of
the City’s decision after a hearing that they never participated in due to lack of adequate
notice does not afford them the process they are due. Plaintiffs contend that the Post-Hearing
Notice did not cure the City’s due process error because at that point the City’s decision to
demolish had become final.
Although the evidentiary hearing had already been held and the decision to demolish
had been made, the building had not yet been demolished. The November 7 letter provided
Plaintiffs with notice of the proposed demolition and an opportunity to appeal before their
rights were finally extinguished by the demolition of the building. Because the City sent this
letter sufficiently in advance of the actual demolition, Plaintiffs had an opportunity not only
to file an appeal, but to request a stay pending appeal, to request a reconsideration of the
decision, or to request injunctive relief pending an opportunity to be heard. While there is no
question that re-sending the Demolition Notice by regular first class mail would have satisfied
the City’s constitutional notice obligations, its failure to do so, under the totality of the
circumstances of this case, do not amount to a deprivation of due process. The City gave
Plaintiffs reasonable notice and an opportunity to be heard before it demolished their building.
Accordingly, Defendant is entitled to judgment on Count 1 of Plaintiffs’ complaint.
In Count 2 of their Complaint, Plaintiffs allege violation of a City ordinance. Plaintiffs
allege that the City failed to send proper notice to Plaintiffs’ home address by first-class mail
as required by the Ordinance. (Compl. ¶¶ 54, 55.)
The City Ordinance provides that when a building is declared to be dangerous, written
notice of such declaration and the required repairs or demolition of the building shall be given
to the owner. (Ord. § 10-179, PM 110.2.) The Ordinance specifies the information that must
be included in the notice.4 The Ordinance also addresses what it means to give notice of
Section 110.2 of the Property Maintenance Code provides:
Whenever the code official has declared a building as dangerous, he shall give
a written notice of such declaration and the required repairs or demolition of
the building to the owner of the building. Such notice shall include the
(a) A description or address for the real estate.
(b) A statement of the violations, referring to the sections of this article or any
other section of the city code.
(c) A statement obligating the owner to bring the building into complete
compliance with this code and all other applicable sections of the city code,
or to demolish and remove the building.
(d) A reasonable time limit for the completion of the repair or demolition, not
to exceed 90 days.
(e) A statement requiring the owner to state his intentions as to the repair or
demolition order within ten days. The owner shall so state his intentions in
demolition.5 Notice may be served by sending the notice by first-class mail. The Demolition
Notice in this case was sent by first-class mail to the Plaintiffs with the added service of
writing to the city within such ten-day period. Failure to respond shall be
considered a negative response which may result in the city implementing
accelerated compliance measures.
(City Code § 10-179, PM 110.2, Pls. Ex. 31, ECF No. 53.)
Section 1-25 of the Ordinance provides for notice as follows:
Notice regarding sidewalk repairs, sewer or water connections, dangerous
structures, abating nuisances or any other act, the expense of which if
performed by the city may be assessed against the premises under the
provisions of this Code, shall be served:
(1) By delivering the notice to the owner personally or by leaving the
notice at his residence, office or place of business with some person of
suitable age and discretion.
(2) By telephone.
(3) By mailing the notice by first class mail to such owner at his last
(4) If the owner is unknown, by posting the notice in some conspicuous
place on the premises at least five days before the act or action
concerning which the notice is given is to take place. No person shall
interfere with, obstruct, mutilate, conceal or tear down any official
notice or placard posted by any city officer, unless permission is given
by the officer.
(5) In the case of grass and noxious weeds, notice shall be given by
advertising three times during the month of April in a newspaper with
city circulation and designated by the city council as the official, legal
advertising media for the city.
(Ord. § 1-25, Pls. Ex. 31, ECF No. 53.)
certified mail.6 There is nothing in the Ordinance to suggest that combining first-class mail
with the added certified mail service does not satisfy the Ordinance’s requirement that notice
be sent by first-class mail. Because Plaintiffs have not come forward with evidence to create
an issue of fact as to the sufficiency of the notice under the terms of the Ordinance, Defendant
is entitled to judgment on Count 2 of Plaintiffs’ complaint.
For the reasons stated herein, Defendant’s motion for summary judgment will be
granted, Plaintiffs’ cross-motion for summary judgment will be denied, and judgment will be
entered in favor of Defendant.
An order and judgment consistent with this opinion will be entered.
Dated: June 26, 2014
/s/ Robert Holmes Bell
ROBERT HOLMES BELL
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
According to the United States Postal Service, certified mail is an extra service option
that may be combined with first class or priority mail. www.usps.com.
Disclaimer: Justia Dockets & Filings provides public litigation records from the federal appellate and district courts. These filings and docket sheets should not be considered findings of fact or liability, nor do they necessarily reflect the view of Justia.
Why Is My Information Online?