Hillside Productions, Inc., has won a pivotal ruling in its Federal Court case against the City of Sterling Heights, City Manager Steve Duchane, and the City's attorneys in staging a 2003 concert season at the 7,000-capacity Freedom Hill Amphitheater.
Judge Nancy Edmunds stated in her opinion, "Rarely does one hear such compelling and unrebutted evidence of the vindictive retaliatory action such as that taken by Defendant Duchane and the City of Sterling Heights. The facts in this case establish a relentless pattern of harassment and vindictiveness, starting with the ratcheting up of demands in 2001, the unjustified administrative enforcement hearing and nuisance determination which had to be vacated by the State Circuit Court, the denial of the special liquor license for the 2002 season, the search for irregularities of 'false representations' in the Hillside's documentation for alleged noise and invoice violations and the deliberate distortion of the terms and conditions of the SALU itself and the terms of the settlement of previous litigation in this Court.
"Every time Hillside attempted to protect its operations, the City turned the pressure up higher," she continued. "It is clear that some residents of Sterling Heights were unhappy about Hillside's operation and were vocal about it. It is obvious that Hillside's operation was a thorn in the side of the City Manager. And, it is equally clear and obvious that Plaintiffs are likely to succeed on their claims that the City engaged in selective enforcement and vindictive retaliation."
Hillside had asked the Federal Court for injunctive relief from the December 16, 2002, Sterling Heights Planning Commission vote revoking Hillside's Special Approval Land Use. In granting the injunction, Judge Edmunds also determined that not only did the City deny Hillside its constitutional rights of due process at the Planning Commission proceedings, but further; "Based on the pervasive evidence of harassment and retaliation by Defendant Duchane and the City, Defendants are enjoined from unlawful interference with any of Plaintiffs' other businesses."
Hillside has alleged in that lawsuit that after it filed a State Court action against the City in August 2001, to enforce and protect its rights under the Special Approval Land Use, the City Manager Steve Duchane, City attorneys, and other members of the City Administration unlawfully embarked on a plan to put Hillside out of business. Hillside alleges that the City's request to the Planning Commission for revocation of Hillside's Special Approval Land Use was just the final step in the pattern of harassment and retaliatory conduct. During last week's Federal Court proceeding, the City produced nothing to contradict, or even respond to testimony elicited by Hillside from both current and former City officials, which appears to support Hillside's allegations.
Judge Edmunds further stated, "if the homeowners are upset about the operations of the Freedom Hill Amphitheater, they should be upset with City Manager Steve Duchane, not Hillside." The Judge also observed that the City's actions in attempting to revoke Hillside's Special Approval Land Use for not paying some objectionable invoices was like "taking a sledge hammer to an ant."
Hank Riberas, spokesman for Hillside Productions, stated, "based on the testimony elicited in the State and Federal Court cases, the City Manager Steve Duchane, and other City officials could be held personally liable for damages to Hillside as a result of their behavior. We remain hopeful that the Federal Court decision will send a stern and clear message that Hillside's charges are much more than a 'mythical show,' as described by City Manager Steve Duchane, and that rogue, unlawful behavior on the part of governmental officials will not be tolerated."
Riberas further asserted, "We feel the testimony before the Court confirmed our allegations that the City Manager, City Administration and others did, in fact, conspire to injure and destroy Hillside Productions and the Freedom Hill Amphitheater. We are confident that the taxpayers of the City of Sterling Heights will ultimately demand accountability for these wrongful and unlawful actions on the part of their City leaders."