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  • By Lisa Brody

Residents receive class action rate case letter

All Bloomfield Township residents who are water and sewer customers at any time since April 21, 2010, received a letter from the Kickham Hanley law firm in the last week, notifying them that a class action begun by Jamila Youmans against the township has commenced in Oakland County Circuit Court, and they are a member of the class action.

The law firm, Kickham Hanley of Royal Oak, has been suing municipalities over water and sewer fees, asserting that rates have been an effort on the part of the municipalities to raise revenue in violation of the Headlee amendment. They sued Bloomfield Township in a class action suit on April 21, 2016, with Bloomfield Township attorney Jamila Youmans as the face of the lawsuit, individually and as the representative of the class.

Bloomfield Township residents who have paid the township for water and sewer services since March 31, 2010, have been included in an Oakland County Circuit County suit, Youmans v. Charter Township Bloomfield, which challenges Bloomfield Township's imposition of water and sewer charges as a tax in excess of rates imposed by Southeast Oakland County Water Authority (SOCWA), which resells water to Bloomfield Township from the city of Detroit, and Oakland County Water Resources Commission, which provides sewer services for the township.

The letter informed residents they are part of the class action lawsuit, that will be heard before Oakland County Circuit Court Judge Daniel O’Brien.

Bloomfield Township Attorney Bill Hampton addressed the issue at the township board of trustees meeting on Monday, October 9, informing residents, “If you are a customer of water and sewer, because of the lawsuit filed a year-and-a-half ago, all of the users are part of the class action lawsuit. If you do nothing, you’ll be bound by the decision of it.” He said residents can opt out.

Addressing the merits of the lawsuit, Hampton said, “We continue to believe the case is frivolous, and completely without merit.”

It will be heard on Wednesday, November 17.

The law firm has sued several other municipalities, with mixed results, on the same issue. They settled with Birmingham, Royal Oak, Ferndale and Waterford, and have pending suits against Oak Park and Holly.

The Headlee Amendment, enacted by Michigan voters in 1978, limits the amount of tax money local governments can increase without a vote of the people. In Bloomfield Township's suit, the firm states that “Michigan state law prohibits a municipality that purchases its water from an authority which purchases its water from the city of Detroit from charging a retail rate that exceeds the 'actual cost of providing the service.'”

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