Bankruptcy Judge Denies Motion to Suspend Detroit Water Shutoffs

September 29, 2014

DETROIT, MI— Today, the ACLU of Michigan and NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc., a separate entity from the NAACP, expressed deep disappointment with a federal judge’s decision to deny a motion that would have temporarily stopped water service shut-offs to Detroit residents.

Judge Steven W. Rhodes at the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Eastern District of Michigan found he did not have jurisdiction to grant relief to those without water.

“It’s disappointing that Judge Rhodes denied relief to the neediest people, despite recognizing that the City of Detroit has no idea which customers have a long-term inability to afford their water bills,” said Monique Lin-Luse, assistant counsel with the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc.

The decision came as part of the class action lawsuit brought on behalf of Detroit residents and community organizations affected by the mass shut-offs. The lawsuit argues that the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department (DWSD) began water shut-offs without adequate notice and against the most vulnerable residents, while commercial entities with delinquent accounts were left alone. The ACLU of Michigan and NAACP Legal Defense Fund are serving as expert consultants in the case.

While the motion to suspend shut-offs was denied, Judge Rhodes cast doubt over whether DWSD 10 point plan for fixing the city’s water crisis can help those who are living on a fixed income or those who have a long-term inability to pay.

“Thousands of people in Detroit remain without water service, including the elderly, the disabled, and families with small children,” said Kary Moss, ACLU of Michigan executive director. “Without a clear plan for helping people afford their bills or appeal incorrect bills, the water department shouldn’t be in the business of turning off anyone else's water.”

Judge Rhodes also acknowledged that some of the thousands of water shut-offs should have been delayed, particularly for homes with medical needs. He also rejected the argument made by DWSD that people could buy bottled water, which he said is more expensive and difficult for seniors and other vulnerable groups.

The NAACP Legal Defense Fund and ACLU of Michigan continue to call for an end to the mass shutoffs campaign until a comprehensive plan is in place to address the affordability and due process issues plaguing DWSD Customers.

"We have demonstrated, and the judge agreed, that a family without water faces risk of irreparable harm,” said Alice Jennings, Plaintiffs’ counsel and a local attorney. “This fight is not over. We will continue to seek justice for the residents of Detroit.”

In two weeks, an international delegation of United Nations experts will arrive to investigate human rights violations related to water shut-offs and a lack of affordable housing.

To illustrate the problems Detroit residents have faced in attempting to pay their bills, the ACLU of Michigan and NAACP Legal Defense Fund released a six-minute video featuring interviews with residents and activists fighting DWSD’s shut-off campaign.

 

Key News & Documents

Read the motion for a temporary restraining order

Read the lawsuit filed by civil rights groups

Read the letter to Detroit officials urging an immediate moratorium on water shut-offs

Read about the history of water rights over at Michigan Democracy Watch

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