Appeals court rules against Ambassador Bridge owners in land dispute

Doug Guthrie / The Detroit News
 
DETROIT – The Michigan Court of Appeals today confirmed an earlier Wayne County Circuit Court ruling that the owners of the Ambassador Bridge don't have the power to condemn property for access improvements being undertaken through an agreement with the state.
 
The higher court also cited a rarely heard legal principal, "the Absurd Results Rule," to reverse part of the lower court's ruling, ordering the Detroit International Bridge Company to pay the cost of a decade-long legal fight with the owners of a former duty-free store.
 
Appeals Court panel of judges Patrick Meter, Michael Talbot and Deborah Servitto wrote that the government never intended to extend its powers of condemnation to a private company so the expense the landowner had to bear to fight this unjust action should be born by the bridge company. To force the landowner to pay "would be patently absurd and unthinkable," the judges ruled in citing the Absurd Results Rule, which is applied to avoid results like this that are "manifestly inconsistent with legislative intent."
 
The bridge company had appealed the Wayne County Circuit Court ruling that threw out a condemnation lawsuit the company brought against the Commodities Export Company to obtain land the bridge owner claimed was needed for access improvements under agreement with the Michigan Department of Transportation. The company claimed the state's powers to condemn property came with the state agreement. Both courts said the power belongs solely to the government.
 
"This has been like a fly fighting an elephant. Finally there is justice," said Kenneth Harrison, a lawyer who represents Walter Lubienski and his Commodities Export Company that operated a duty-free store at the Detroit end of the bridge until part of the company's property was condemned almost a decade ago.
 
Harrison said the legal fees are at least in the tens of thousands of dollars, if not more.
 
"They ran a second duty-free store on the site about 10 years ago. This was a competing business with the one that is there now and is operated by the owners of the bridge," Harrison said. "These are old grudges, and it's more about property rights now than about the money."
 
Although the spot where his client's store used to sit was taken through the earlier condemnation and his client was paid for it, Harrison said his Lubienski still owns land that is, "in the middle" of what is now the bridge plaza and was the subject of new condemnation efforts.
 
"I'm not sure what happens next," Harrison said. "I know Walter has negotiated through MDOT (the Michigan Department of Transportation) for an access road to do something with his land."
 
You can reach Doug Guthrie at (313) 222-2548 or dguthrie@detnews.com.
 
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