Litigation looms after deal to end dispensary lawsuits denied

By: Brian Louwers | Warren Weekly | Published February 17, 2021

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WARREN — Warren is now facing a deluge of litigation related to its handling of the city’s medical marijuana dispensary licensing process after the City Council’s decision to reject a blanket deal that would have ended a myriad of lawsuits.

That really comes as no surprise.  

According to attorney Andrea Pike, representing the city in the Macomb County Circuit Court cases, 12 of the 15 entities that were originally awarded medical marijuana dispensary licenses in September 2019 have sued for damages so far.

Their licenses were invalidated last year by Macomb County Circuit Court Judge Carl Marlinga, who ruled that the city’s Medical Marihuana Review Committee had violated the Open Meetings Act. The committee was originally tasked with processing more than 60 applications and awarding 10 licenses. That number was later increased to 15, and would have swelled to 28 under the terms of the blanket settlement, brokered by attorneys representing the city, 16 plaintiff entities that were originally denied licenses and the 15 original license holders that were allowed to enter the lawsuit as intervening parties. Former Macomb County Circuit Court Judge Peter Maceroni facilitated the deal. He cautioned council members that the city would risk further litigation and legal costs that could “skyrocket” if the settlement was not accepted.

The City Council voted 5-2 to deny settlement of what was known as the Pinebrook lawsuit on Nov. 24. Council President Pat Green and Council Secretary Mindy Moore voted against the motion to deny.

After the denial, the city filed with the Michigan Court of Appeals seeking to overturn Marlinga’s ruling.

“And hopefully avoid 12-15 damage claims,” Pike said on Feb. 4.

Beyond the city’s appeal, the Pinebrook interveners have also filed with Michigan Court of Appeals, seeking to have their licenses reinstated.

Last month, the City Council voted to hire the Kirk, Huth, Lange, & Badalamenti law firm to represent the city at the appellate level. Initial appearances on behalf of the city were filed by attorneys with the Berry Moorman law firm, according to the online docket that includes seven appellate cases with 42 listed parties, including the city, members of the Medical Marihuana Review Committee and the former Warren City Council.  

“We hope to see some progress in all the cases and once everybody is at the table, hopefully, we can continue our conversations,” Green said. “This council is dealing with difficulties presented to us by the previous council and the city attorney’s office. We are trying to clean it up, and right now the only way we can see to clean it is to take a couple of steps back.”

The pending lawsuits and appeals deal only with medical marijuana dispensary licensing in Warren.

In December, the City Council voted to at least temporarily opt out of recreational marijuana until an ordinance governing it can be solidified.