Civil rights attorneys urge judge to restore water services until litigation is resolved

 In a court appearance scheduled for Tuesday morning, September 2nd, at the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Eastern District of Michigan (231 West Lafayette Blvd), civil rights lawyers argued that a moratorium that had prevented water shutoffs to thousands of Detroit residents and families should be continued until procedures are in place to protect residents from arbitrary shutoffs. The moratorium that had been in place had prevented water shutoffs to over 17,000 residences ended this past Monday. 


In one egregious example, the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department (DWSD) threatened to shut off the water to an elderly, bedridden woman for whom water was necessary to ensure that her feeding tube performed its function. When the resident’s daughter called to inform DWSD that she would be unable to pay the bill before the shut-off date, she was not told that she could apply for an emergency medical postponement and was not given the opportunity to enter into a payment plan she could afford.

The attorneys for the plaintiffs in the litigation, led by Detroit attorney Alice Jennings, filed court documents this week asking a judge to immediately block the DWSD from terminating water service to any occupied residence and to order the restoration of service to occupied residences without water.  The American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan and NAACP Legal Defense Fund are serving as expert consultants in the case, and previously submitted a letter to DWSD expressing concerns about the manner of the shutoffs.  

According to court documents, water shutoffs should not take place without procedures in place that meet the requirements of the Constitution.  Such procedures include proper notice that a shutoff will occur, an opportunity to present information about why the shutoff should not take place, and an opportunity to appeal any adverse determinations.

The argument on Tuesday is part of a lawsuit brought by a coalition of attorneys on behalf of residents and civil rights organizations of Detroit, which asserts that the water shutoffs violate residents' due process and equal protection rights and create a public health hazard. Judge Stephen Rhodes, of the U.S Bankruptcy Court in the Eastern District of Michigan was scheduled to preside over the hearing on the moratorium as part of Detroit's bankruptcy proceedings. 

The motion for a restraining order can be found at www.aclumich.org/sites/default/files/DetroitWaterTRO.pdf; and the lawsuit filed by civil rights groups and plaintiffs is available at www.aclumich.org/sites/default/files/DetroitWater
-Lawsuit.pdf