A Lapeer lawyer and his law firm have been ordered to pay a $1,000 sanction to a resident of Tuscola County’s Dayton Township after a federal judge found they filed a “frivolous” lawsuit against the man.
Dr. Richard Horsch, 81, was awarded the sanction in an order this week from U.S. District Judge Sean F. Cox. Cox ordered sanctions in October against attorney Brian Garner and Garner’s law firm, Taylor, Butterfield, Howell, Churchill & Garner P.C.
Cox wrote that “this was one of those relatively rare instances where a monetary sanction, made payable to (Horsch), is necessary for effective deterrence” to deter repetition of the conduct by other lawyers.
The judge ordered Horsch to submit an itemized statement of attorney fees he incurred in connection with two motions submitted on Horsch’s behalf in the civil-rights lawsuit filed in April of 2016 by former Dayton Township Trustee James Satchel and two other residents who claim they suffered four years of discrimination, harassment and humiliation.
Cox wrote that Horsch’s statement indicates Horsch incurred $6,596 in connection with filing of the two motions. Though Horsch wasn’t awarded that amount by the judge, he expressed satisfaction with Cox’s determination that the lawsuit against him was frivoulous.
“Although I respectfully question if a $1,000 sanction is an ‘effective deterrent,’ the court has established that the claims against me were ‘clearly without factual or legal support’ and that plaintiff’s counsel (Brian Garner) and his law firm (Taylor, Butterfield, Howell, Churchill, Jarvis and Garner, P.C.) have been sanctioned by Federal District Court for filing a ‘frivolous’ lawsuit!” Horsch stated in a written document given to The Advertiser.
Horsch spoke out against Satchel, then a Dayton Township trustee, at a public meeting. The suit later was filed on behalf of Satchel – who resigned from the board and didn’t seek re-election last year – and township residents Robert Adams and Rod Merten.
The trio sought an injunction to stop the defendants from engaging in what they view as unlawful disruption along with $1 million in damages resulting from “emotional distress,” among other things.
Horsch’s attorney filed motions in connection with the lawsuit. The court set a date of Nov. 3, 2016 for the motions to be heard, but Cox’s order essentially states that Garner and the law firm simply ignored court orders to show cause why Horsch’s motions shouldn’t be granted.
The Lapeer-based firm typically is on the other side of things, representing many communities throughout Michigan’s Thumb region, including several in Tuscola County such as Almer, Columbia, and Ellington townships, just to name a few.
“Plaintiffs’ Counsel filed a litany of claims against Defendant Horsch – a private citizen – after he spoke out at a public meeting about an elected official, and (after Horsch) filed two proposed recall petitions (against Satchel),” Cox wrote. “The claims asserts against him were clearly without factual or legal support from the onset.”
Cox goes on to state that the firm failed “to dismiss the frivolous claims asserted against Horsch, even when faced with a properly supported Motion to Dismiss.”
“Mr. Garner failed to file any response to the Motion to Dismiss and completely ignored” the motion related to sanctions, Cox said.
Horsch’s motion to be dismissed from the case also was granted.
Garner told The Advertiser in October that he hadn’t filed anything with regard to Horsch’s motions because he expected Horsch to be dropped from the case.
“We had already been negotiating with Horsch’s attorney to let Horsch out,” Garner said. “We thought there was more of a connection at first with Horsch and (Dayton Township Supervisor Robert Cook).
“So when they filed the motion, we didn’t respond because we were negotiating already to let him out,” Garner said.
The suit lists 12 counts related to what the plaintiffs allege are violations of First and Fourteenth Amendment rights. Allegations run the gamut, from a racist sign the plaintiffs say was meant to intimidate to ignoring Freedom of Information Act requests and even a calculated plan to oust a board member who threatened “to reveal the public corruption.”
In addition to Dayton Township, the suit also names several current and former township officials. Horsch also was named as a defendant for speaking more than the allotted time during public comment time and leading recall efforts against Satchel, with the suit essentially claiming Horsch was working with elected officials.
“The Board allowed Richard Horsch, a resident, to give a five (5) minute presentation, which is more than the normal amount allotted for public comment, where Horsch claimed Mr. Satchel didn’t treat another resident, Joe Peet, fairly,” states the complaint, which also alludes to Horsch’s efforts to recall Satchel.
Joe Peet, who wrote a letter of complaint to the township about Satchel, is the son of the late Jack Peet, who lived in a mobile home on Shay Lake Road east of Plain Road. Satchel and Merten have alleged township Supervisor and Zoning Administrator Cook broke the law by allowing the elder Peet to reside in the mobile home without a building permit, and by not requiring skirting around the base of the dwelling, among other alleged violations.
Horsch described Jack Peet as “a 97-year-old World War II veteran.”
“A tree fell on (Peet’s) trailer and demolished it, and the whole community got together and donated everything, and brought him in a new trailer and hooked it up,” Horsch said.
Tom Gilchrist is a reporter for The Advertiser and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org