Judge Dismisses Toxic Soil Suit

July 26, 2002
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GRAND RAPIDS — A two-day evidentiary hearing on a toxic soil lawsuit didn’t come off as scheduled last week, as Kent County Circuit Court Judge H. David Soet dismissed a case that Proto-CAM Inc. brought against developers of the Boardwalk building, the city and some attorneys.

Soet on July 5 had set the hearing dates for last Thursday and Friday, but then granted four motions to dismiss the nine-count lawsuit on July 19. Soet threw out four of the counts with prejudice, including allegations of fraud made against the attorneys.

But the four did not include three environmental charges Proto-CAM made in its complaint: two violations of the state’s Part 201 Act and one of the hazardous waste law.

Proto-CAM General Manager William Tingley III filed the lawsuit on behalf of his firm and two related entities, Bend Tooling Inc. and Tennine Corp. Soet dismissed the case, however, ruling that Tingley was “engaged in the unauthorized practice of law.”

Tingley isn’t an attorney and a 1961 state statue says that unlicensed individuals can’t represent organizations, only themselves. A 1988 state court of appeals ruling held that a business entity is separate from its owners and shareholders, even if the business has only one owner.

Because the suit named local lawyers and the law firms they are associated with, Tingley said he couldn’t find an attorney to handle the case for him.

The lawyers and law firms named in the suit were Robert Wardrop, William J. Fisher III, Todd R. Dickinson, Dickinson Wright PLLC, Fisher & Dickinson PC and Wardrop & Wardrop PC.

Also named in the suit were the city of Grand Rapids, various city officials, Pioneer Inc., and 940 Monroe LLC, one of two limited liability companies that renovated the Berkey & Gay furniture factory into the Boardwalk, now an office and apartment complex. Thomas Beckering is president of Pioneer and the general partner of the limited liability companies.

Wardrop, Dickinson Wright, Fisher & Dickinson and the developers filed the motions to dismiss.

Tingley said he would appeal Soet’s decision to the state appellate court, including the judge’s ruling that he was engaged in the unauthorized practice of law.

The suit sought damages Tingley said his company suffered from the alleged removal and transfer of thousands of cubic yards of toxic soil from the Berkey & Gay construction site at 940 Monroe Ave. NW to the former city-owned water filtration plant at 1430 Monroe Ave. NW.

Tingley claimed the developers illegally used an easement his firm owns to transport the soil to the filtration plant and he accused the others of helping them accomplish that. Proto-CAM is located at 1009 Ottawa Ave. NW, just east of the work site.

The developers said they mistakenly moved about a half-dozen truckloads of dirt from the site to the filtration plant, but then returned the soil to the site as soon as they realized what had happened.

Although the suit did not list the specific dollar amount that Tingley sought, circuit court only dockets a case when a claim is at least $25,000.

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