EM Lawsuit Documents


After repeal of Public Act 4 by voters in November, the lame duck legislature passed a new law – Public Act 436, which retains the emergency manager model as found in PA4.  Notable objectionable features of the new law include:

  • The emergency manager acts in the place of the governing body and local government unit – setting aside the structure of local government and all separation of powers established by local electors in municipal charters.


    Sugar Law interns at courthouse protest.

  • The emergency manager not only assumes all the power and authority of all the local elected officials, but also assumes markedly greater power – the power to, in his or her sole discretion, enact local law by decree (literally) and to disregard existing local law as contained in municipal charters and ordinances.
  • An emergency manager has the power to terminate collective bargaining agreements and contracts
  • An emergency manager can unilaterally privatize services regardless of existing ordinances and charter provisions prohibiting privatization of certain departments and services.
  • An emergency manager can even dissolve the local municipality with approval of the state Governor and Treasurer.
  • The emergency manager is granted virtually unlimited governing power over all matters of municipal concern, including subject matters wholly unrelated to the city’s financial condition.

Legal Challenge to Public Act 436, Bellant et. al v. Snyder, et. al.:

After passage of Public Act 436 in defiance of Michigan voter’s decision to repeal the prior emergency manager law, our office and concerned attorneys again began meeting and strategizing with residents across the state.  On March 27, 2013, together with co-counsel Herb Sanders, the Michigan & Detroit Chapter of the National Lawyers Guild, the Center for Constitutional Rights and others, the Sugar Law Center filed suit in the U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Michigan challenging Public Act 436 as violating citizens’ constitutional rights.  This is the first suit challenging Michigan’s emergency manager laws under the United States Constitution.  To read more:

In the Trial Court (click on document name to view):

At the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals (click on document name to view):

At the U.S. Supreme Court (click on the document name to view):


Legal Defense of Citizens Right to Petition for Repeal of Public Act 4, Stand Up for Democracy v.Board of Canvassers

On February 29, 2012, in an effort to restore democracy to Michigan, the Stand Up for Democracy coalition submitted to the Board of State Canvassers 226,339 petition signatures to place a referendum on the ballot for the repeal of Public Act 4, as allowed by the Michigan State Constitution.   If at least 161,305 were verified as valid signatures, Public Act 4 would be suspended until the next general election, in November 2012.  On April 9, 2012, an organization formed by conservative lobbyists, Citizens for Fiscal Responsibility,  filed a challenge to the form of the petition.  The challengers argued that the font size of the title to the petition was slightly smaller than required by state law.

The Board of Canvassers’ released its staff report on the font size challenge, drafted by the respected head of the State Bureau of Elections, who also serves as Secretary to the Board. The report concluded that the form of the petitions substantially complied with state law and recommended that the petitions be certified for the ballot.  On April 26, 2012, the Board of Canvassers however deadlocked on a party line vote and, as a result, the petitions were not certified.

The statute could have been written by the Legislature to say that petition “form shall be as provided in section 482.”  But it does not say that.  The statute deliberately included the word “substantially.”  Try as the Board might to ignore it, the word is there and cannot be ignored. It has meaning.  On its face “substantially” means “to a great extent or degree” (Collins Thesaurus of the English language). Michigan courts agree. This is why precedent in Citizens, Coalition to Defend, Newsome, Settles, all reach the same conclusion: access to the ballot over technical formalism.

In May 2012, we initiated an action with the state Court of Appeals to have citizen’s petitions certified and a referendum to repeal PA 4 placed on the ballot for the November 2012 elections. In the Court of Appeals, AFSME, the Michigan & Detroit NLG were co-counsel along with counsel from the NAACP. The Governor and State Attorney General joined the challengers as amicus at the Court of Appeals.  We prevailed at the Court of Appeals based on existing law; however the court panel sought to overturn existing law, and thereby keep the referendum off the ballot, by seeking to convene a special panel of the Court of Appeals to reconsider existing law.  The full Court of Appeals declined to convene the special panel and an appeal was taken to state Supreme Court.  After briefing and oral arguments, we prevailed at the Supreme Court and the petitions were ordered to be certified by the state Board of Canvassers.

To read more:


Legal Challenge to Public Act 4, Brown, et al. vs. Snyder, et al.:

On June 26, 2011, the Sugar Law Center and their co-counsel filed suit in Ingham County Circuit Court on behalf of  plaintiffs from across Michigan.  Several months in development, the lawsuit was the first case challenging the constitutionality of Public Act 4 under Michigan’s Constitution of 1963.   After filing, Defendants argued for a lengthy discovery period, which we opposed.  The court entered its scheduling order.  The Governor then requested that the Michigan Supreme Court take the case from the Circuit Court and directly hear the issues.  While the Supreme Court considered the Defendant’s request, the Circuit Court continued to move the case  forward. In the discovery process, we sought information from the state about how the law was developed and applied. The state then argued that they should not be obligated to provide this information and changed their previous arguments to claim that no discovery was needed. While legal proceedings continued in both the Circuit Court and at the Supreme Court, Sugar Law assisted efforts to advance the petition drive.  After the petitions were certified for the ballot, Public Act 4 was suspended until it was repealed by voters on November 6, 2012 . After the law was rejected, the case was voluntarily dismissed from the Circuit Court and Michigan Supreme Court’s docket.  To read more:


If you would like to assist, contact us and see if we can assist to connect you with opportunities and organizations engaged in opposing the emergency manager laws.