Judge dismisses lawsuit against DIA

By: Nico Rubello | Fraser - Clinton Township Chronicle | Published April 10, 2013


A Macomb County Circuit Court judge recently dismissed a lawsuit alleging that the Detroit Institute of Arts is not upholding its promise of unlimited, free admission to Macomb County residents by charging for special exhibits.

Judge John C. Foster, on April 3, granted the DIA’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit, given that the service agreement between the DIA and the Macomb County Art Institute Authority prohibits outside parties from suing to enforce it.

Foster’s order and opinion also denies the plaintiffs the ability to amend the pleadings. The dismissal effectively closes the lawsuit, according to court records.

In August, voters in Macomb, Oakland and Wayne counties approved a 0.2-mill, 10-year property tax levy for the DIA, which in exchange gives residents of the three counties free admission to most exhibits.

The lawsuit was filed in December after the DIA denied three of the plaintiffs free admission to the special exhibit, “Fabergé: The Rise and Fall.” The five plaintiffs contended that the DIA had promised “unlimited” free admission to the museum. It was assumed that special exhibits would be a part of the “unlimited” promise, said Shyler Engel, an attorney representing the plaintiffs.

The DIA, on the other hand, contended that the service agreement did not promise free access to special exhibits, that its intentions were clearly articulated before the vote and that making special exhibits free would put the museum at fiscal risk of losing those exhibits.

In light of the judge’s order, Engel said that the plaintiffs were weighing their legal options going forward.

“Clearly, I’m disappointed with the judge’s decision,” said one of the plaintiffs named in the suit, Clinton Township resident Simon Haddad. “Ultimately, what it boils down to is we just want taxpayers, the people who are paying for (the millage), to have the ability to directly hold the people receiving the money accountable.”

The lawsuit was coordinated by the Michigan Taxpayers Alliance, a group that was previously critical of the DIA millage. The Michigan Taxpayers Alliance is a group that advocates “reduced state spending and a reduced overall tax burden,” according to its website.

Attorneys representing the DIA could not be reached for comment.

A DIA spokeswoman was not available for comment, as of press time, but a statement from the DIA said museum officials were “pleased” with the result of the case.