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140679 - Wolf v City of Detroit

Laurence G. Wolf, d/b/a Laurence Wolf Properties,
Gregory D. Hanley
Timothy O. Mcahon
(Original Action from Ct of Appeals)
City of Detroit,
Joanne D. Stafford


​In this original action in the Court of Appeals, a commercial property owner, Laurence Wolf, challenged the city of Detroit’s Solid Waste Inspection Fee. The SWIF was authorized by § 22-2-56 of the City Code and inaugurated by the city on May 23, 2007. Wolf claimed that, under the standards set forth in Bolt v City of Lansing, 459 Mich 152 (1998), the SWIF is a tax, rather than a fee, and that it violates the Headlee Amendment, Const 1963, art 9, § 31: “Units of Local Government are hereby prohibited from levying any tax not authorized by law or charter when this section is ratified or from increasing the rate of an existing tax above the rate authorized by law or charter when this section is ratified, without the approval of a majority of the qualified electors of that unit of Local Government voting thereon.” Wolf moved for summary disposition, arguing that there is no genuine issue of material fact that the SWIF is anything other than a tax. Wolf also sought class certification and filed a motion for sanctions. The city argued that the SWIF is a fee for a regulatory purpose, not a disguised tax.

After considering the evidence and briefs presented by the parties, the Court of Appeals held in a published opinion that the SWIF is a valid fee and not a hidden tax. The Court of Appeals applied the Bolt standard to conclude: (1) that the SWIF serves a regulatory purpose – “to ensure the efficient removal of solid waste products and to protect the public health by reducing blight and illegal dumping”; (2) that the SWIF is “reasonably proportionate to the direct and indirect costs of providing the service for which the fee is charged”; (3) that the SWIF is voluntary; and (4) that the defendant’s inclusion of the SWIF on the property owner’s tax bill, and the fact that the defendant may place a lien on the parcel in the amount of the fee, does not make the SWIF a tax. In a separate order, the Court of Appeals denied Wolf’s motion for summary disposition and entered summary disposition in the city of Detroit’s favor. The appellate panel also held that the motion for class certification was moot, and the court denied Wolf’s motion for sanctions for vexatious proceedings. Wolf appeals.