Noisy Steel Company Intimidates Quiet Neighbor with Retaliatory Lawsuit

Affiliate: ACLU of Michigan
April 9, 2001 12:00 am

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DETROIT, MI–At a hearing today in Macomb County’s Circuit Court, the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan was among those asking a judge to dismiss a lawsuit against a local woman who complained about noise from a neighboring steel business and is now being sued in retaliation.

“”This lawsuit was brought by a well-financed neighborhood bully to intimidate a neighbor brave enough to stand up for her rights,” said Michael J. Steinberg, Legal Director of the ACLU of Michigan, which filed a friend-of-court brief in the case.

After Kendor Steel, in Fraser, Michigan, installed a 500-ton stamping press in July 1998, Janet Donahue and her neighbors said that a once-quiet neighborhood began experiencing intolerable pounding and vibrations that has yet to stop.

Donahue and her neighbors complained to the City’s Building Department, the City Manager, the City Council, and the Police Department from the onset of the problem. After Kendor was ticketed for violation of Fraser’s noise ordinance, Ms. Donahue was served with a lawsuit filed by Kendor and its owner, Dale Eltringham, who does not live in Fraser.

“”Obviously, there is an attempt to shut me up,”” Ms. Donahue said, “”but if I step back and allow them to win, I’ll have to pay $25,000 or more in damages and possibly Kendor’s attorney fees, too. More than that, a lovely neighborhood of fine, hard working people will be effectively gagged for all time.””

The SLAPP suit, (“Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation,”) is the name given to legal actions brought to chill people from exercising their freedom of speech on matters of public concern. According to the ACLU, Ms. Donahue’s conduct is protected activity under the First Amendment’s guarantee to free speech and to petition the government.

In the legal brief filed by Steinberg and ACLU cooperating attorney, Daniel D. Quick, the ACLU said that “”Ms. Donahue has every right — constitutionally, legally, and morally under considerations of good public policy — to protest what she feels is a public nuisance, and a duty to inform governmental officials of a problem in her neighborhood.””

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