Frivolous Lawsuits Cost 152000

October 10, 2003
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GRAND RAPIDS — U.S. District Court Judge Robert Holmes Bell leveled $152,000 in sanctions against William Tingley, William Tingley III, Proto-Cam Inc., Bend Tooling and other plaintiffs in two lawsuits that named Mayor John Logie as a co-defendant with the developers, builders and backers of a residential project.

Bell assessed the penalty as compensation to the defendants for the attorney fees they incurred. Bell said he would issue the sanction in June when he dismissed an environmental complaint the Tingleys brought against those involved with the Boardwalk, once the Berkey & Gay factory, at 940 Monroe NW.

The city's share of that penalty is roughly $20,000.

"There just wasn't any substance to any of these charges," said Logie.

William Tingley III said the penalty wasn't unexpected, but added he was surprised that Bell included the businesses and the nonprofit Local Area Watch in the sanctions, as none were plaintiffs in the suit.

In addition to the mayor, the named defendants in the environmental suit included 900 Monroe LLC, 940 Monroe LLC, Pioneer Inc., Dykema Excavators, Fifth Third Bancorp, Prein & Newhof, Superior Environmental Corp., Dickinson Wright PLLC, Frank D. Marshall, William J. Fisher III, and Thomas Beckering.

Bell awarded the fees because he felt the suit was "clearly frivolous, clearly vexatious and brought primarily for the purposes of harassment." The judge also enjoined the Tingleys from taking any civil action against any defendant until they have paid all the attorney fees and expenses stemming from the case and filed a $25,000 cash bond to cover any costs that may be charged against them in any future litigation.

Tingley has appealed Bell's ruling to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit. In his brief, he claims that Bell was wrong about the soil testing that was conducted, and that he didn't file his suit with Bell in reaction to rulings from state courts, as the judge said.

In the case, Bell said the Tingleys lacked the proper authority to bring an environmental action to his court. Because they were not licensed attorneys, the judge ruled they couldn't pursue a claim on another's behalf and weren't entitled to sanctions.

Bell then denied the motion from the Tingleys, but granted one made by the defendants, a move that dismissed the lawsuit.

Tingley also argued in his brief that Bell didn't give a reason for dismissing the lawsuit and failed to specify any misconduct that warranted the sanctions he imposed on them.

The Tingleys and Daniel Bradley have appealed the other ruling made by Bell to the same court. In that suit, they argue their civil rights were violated when the "legal establishment closed ranks" against them because they sued local attorneys for malfeasance. Bell dismissed that claim, too.

Named as defendants in that suit were the city, the mayor, Dickinson Wright, Fifth Third, Spectrum Health Corp., Warner, Norcross & Judd, Todd R. Dickinson, Fisher, Dennis B. Leiber, Daniel A. Ophoff, H. David Soet and Robert F. Wardrop II.

Leiber and Soet are Kent County Circuit Court judges. Dickinson, Fisher, Ophoff and Wardrop are attorneys.

In their appeal, the plaintiffs argue that Bell misread Supreme Court case law and used the False Claim Act to levy the sanctions. That act, they said, should only be applied to plaintiffs that falsify facts to maintain a suit.

"No one can offer any explanation of why it was necessary to punish us with such sanctions," wrote Tingley. "(Sanctions) are unprecedented, and all we did was file a lawsuit on the facts backed up by piles of evidence."

The lawsuits came from allegations made by the Tingleys that the developers of The Boardwalk illegally removed and transported 21,000 cubic yards of contaminated soil from the construction site to the former Monroe Avenue Water Filtration Plant at 1400 Monroe NW three years ago. The Tingleys accused the other defendants with ordering, aiding and covering up that action.    

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