Category Archives: Civil Litigation

Discovery Requests in Litigation

Discovery in Civil Cases

Parties are not expected to know everything when they file or answer a civil complaint. Thanks to Michigan’s court-rules, parties have plenty of opportunities to find out what the other side has prior to proceeding to a trial or summary motion. Discovery requests are a huge in civil cases.

In contrast to cases involving criminal charges, there is no mandatory discovery required on either party. In some situations, neither party may need much discovery at all from the opposing party. Every case is different and tactics vary significantly depending on a litany of factors.

Instead, it is up to the respective parties to pursue their own discovery requests within the confines of court-rules, court-orders, scheduling orders, the restraints of the clients, subject matter, etc. Civil litigation is an adversarial process; the other side may not just hand over stuff that will help you win your case.

Interrogatories, admission-requests, and a request for document production are known as “discovery” requests. With civil litigation, each side can ask the opposing side about their case and ask for documents related to their case. Requests for discovery in some manner are standard in a vast majority of civil cases and these requests are very important with larger, more complicated civil cases filed in Circuit court.

Attorneys have the resources to discover a vast majority of information about their respective case through these methods. Online Forums such as Facebook or other programs are often key targets of information requests. Even deleted texts, messages, or e-mails could possibly be recovered.

These discovery requests may be made in a variety of ways.

Depositions

For more information on Depositions, click here.

Admissions

For more information on Admissions, click here.
Interrogatories

For more information on Interrogatories, click here.

Demand for Production

For more information on Demands for Production, click here.

The rules may be different for family-law cases, criminal cases, or other types of proceedings. Please note these articles and pages focus on the general rules for discovery in general civil litigation filed in Michigan’s District or Circuit courts. Further, the rules and methods may also be impacted by local court-rules and scheduling orders.

Requests for discovery in civil cases may not be allowed in Michigan’s District Courts or in Small-Claims matters without a court-order permitting them. However, these requests are frequently made if a civil-claim is pending in Michigan’s Circuit Courts.

Our experienced trial attorneys fight hard for our Michigan clients. We represent clients statewide. For a free initial consultation, feel free to contact us at (517) 507-5077.

If you need specific legal advice for your particular circumstances, I encourage you to privately consult with a lawyer. Circumstances may vary significantly. If you need specific legal advice, please privately consult with a lawyer.

 

Landlord-Tenant; Notices to Quit/Terminate Tenancy, a necessary first step

Evictions are an unfortunate but necessary legal remedy that may be available to a landlord if their relationship with a tenant starts to break-down.

These breakdowns in the landlord-tenant relationship range from more straightforward matters such as unpaid rent, rules issues, or could be as serious as alleged narcotics activity on the property.

Prior to starting any legal proceedings to reclaim possession of property, landlords are required to provide their tenants adequate “notice” to proceed under the Summary Proceedings Act. See MCL 600.5701 et al.

Landlords are required to include a copy of a notice to quit/terminate tenancy to the tenant if they wish to sue to recover possession under the Summary Proceedings Act.

However, simply because a tenant receives this form from the landlord, the parties are not required to proceed with litigation. This notice period gives both sides a chance to resolve their issues prior to getting the courts involved.

Tenants may elect to move out or stay during the period of time noted on the form. If they stay, the Landlord is allowed to proceed and file a complaint in District Court to attempt to obtain an order from the court evicting the tenant. Landlords are prohibited from using “self help.”

Tenants have varying amounts of time depending upon the reason for the potential eviction. It is imperative that landlords use the correct form so the tenant is provided adequate notice, as explained in the Summary Proceeding Act.

For landlords, using the free forms published by the Supreme Court of Michigan (SCAO) is the best option to ensure that they are providing tenants with the correct notice for the reason they may be seeking an eviction. Be wary of multi-state forms or other free forms; the Michigan Supreme Court’s (SCAO) forms are drafted specifically to comply with the requisite law and many civil district-court clerks will reject pleadings unless they see the SCAO form. Further, a tenant can ask to have a pending case dismissed if the wrong form was used or not served properly.

Please keep in mind that the rules are slightly different for mobile/modular homeowners/renters. If the tenant is in a mobile/modular home park, most landlords will use a DC 100d. Landlords in these situations are required to provide a settlement meeting with a tenant if the tenant makes a timely request prior to the commencement of any eviction proceedings.

Please also note that the rules are very different for land-contract forfeitures. With land-contract forfeitures, the landowner may foreclose on the property or seek an eviction under the Summary Proceedings Act; however, proceeding under the Summary Proceeding Act may limit their potential damage claims. For forfeitures under the Summary Proceedings Act, form DC 101 is usually recommended. Generally speaking, obtaining an eviction after forfeiture of a land-contract is a longer and more complicated process than a traditional eviction.

If a tenant stops paying rent, the DC 100a is the correct form. This provides a tenant with seven days to pay the amount owed prior to the landlord suing to evict. This form should only be used if rent is the exclusive issue.

If a tenant is “doing extensive and continuing damage to the rental property, or a serious and continuing health hazard to the rental property,” the DC 100b is the correct form. “This notice must be given within 90 days of discovering the damage” and the tenant will be provided seven days to fix the issue prior to starting any legal proceedings.

DC 100c is a catchall type of form. Landlords may use this if tenants are not following rules in the leases, if the tenancy has ended due to expiration of time, or other factors. This notice provides thirty-days notice, so it should not be used if a tenant is failing to pay rent.

If a tenant is allegedly dealing narcotics; landlords, if they have a police report, can seek an eviction after only twenty-four hours  if they provide a DC 100e.

These notices are vital step in the process. They provide both sides an opportunity to resolve their differences prior to filing of complaints. It is imperative that landlords use the correct form.

Our experienced trial attorneys fight hard for our Michigan clients. We represent clients statewide. For a free initial consultation, feel free to contact us at (517) 507-5077.
For information on the Summary Proceedings Act, under Michigan Law, click here.

For information on the new ways to deliver notices to quit/termination of tenancy notices, click here.

For information on the differences between month-to-month versus fixed term leases, please click here.

If you need specific legal advice for your particular circumstances, I encourage you to privately consult with a lawyer. Circumstances may vary significantly. If you need specific legal advice, please privately consult with a lawyer.

Collections Litigation

At Crowley, Cornish, Rockafellow & Sartz, we represent clients regarding a variety of civil claims; notably collections disputes.

Collections is a complicated area of law and there are many dangers for the untrained and unwary in this field. Persons attempting to collect a debt should be familiar with and aware that certain types of debt collections subject you to the Federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act and / or Michigan Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. Failure to follow one or both of these Acts could result in you owing more money than you are trying to collect to the other party.

Even if you follow the proper steps and receive your judgment you are really only halfway to meeting your goal: collecting the debt owed you! Satisfying a judgment against a debtor is an ongoing process that can be complicated and time consuming to the untrained individual.

It is true that everyone is entitled to represent themselves in court. However, it is highly encouraged that you seek out professional legal advice from an experience collections attorney. If you need professional legal assistance in this or one of our other areas of practice please Crowley, Cornish, Rockafellow, & Sartz, PLLC. for a free initial consultation at 517.507.5077

Squatting Update

Squatters Update

While there are important protections for tenants, not all alleged tenants have the same rights. Michigan’s Legislature, in an effort to crack down on alleged “squatters,” passed a series of laws that made “squatting” illegal and removed certain protections which “squatters” had previously enjoyed. For a summary of the legislation, click here.

First, though, it is important to define the term “squatter.” The term “squatter” only refers to individuals who use “forcible entry,” take “possession by force” or who take possession “by trespass without color of title or other possessory interests.” See MCL 600.2918 (5).
This is a narrow definition. If a tenant stays after their lease expires, for example, they are not “squatters.” People in these situations had legal rights to the property. The term “squatter” is narrowly applied and usually used to describe individuals who break into houses or apartments and try to take possession by force.
Among other reforms, the legislature gave landlords protections to recover their property. “Squatters” cannot sue for damages for forcible entry, MCL 600.2918 (5). Under MCL 600.5711, landlords can use forceful entry to enter the property, as long as their efforts do not include assaultive behavior (or worse, i.e., violations of Michigan’s penal-code MCL 750.81-750.90h.).
The Legislature also made “squatting” illegal and possibly grounds for either a misdemeanor (for first-time alleged offenders, see MCL 750.553); or a felony charge punishable up to two years in prison for alleged repeat-offenders. Id.

These reforms were substantial. Previously, “squatters” had significant protections. These new changes have made it easier for landlords evict squatters and take their property back. Further, the fact it can be a criminal charge now should be a significant deterrent. However, squatting remains and will remain a significant potential issue in the future, especially with the large stock of properties that are still being sold off after the real-estate market crash.

Our experienced trial attorneys fight hard for our Michigan clients. We represent clients statewide. For a free initial consultation, feel free to contact us at (517) 507-5077.
For information on the Summary Proceedings Act, under Michigan Law, click here.

For information on the new ways to deliver notices to quit/termination of tenancy notices, click here.

For information on the differences between month-to-month versus fixed term leases, please click here.

If you need specific legal advice for your particular circumstances, I encourage you to privately consult with a lawyer. Circumstances may vary significantly. If you need specific legal advice, please privately consult with a lawyer.

Tips for Homeowners considering remodeling projects….

Homeowners, for a litany of potential reasons, may need to remodel or 38286807_7bcf7bb83c_zreconstruct portions of their home. Unfortunately, things do not always turn out well and litigation may ultimately be necessary.

However, prior to starting any remodeling projects, there are a few basic questions and things a homeowner can do to help avoid some significant issues in the future. This is not an exhaustive list, by any means. These are just some general observations based on my years of litigating these types of cases. These projects are often much more legally complicated than they appear.

    • First, if you have a project in mind, check your local rules.
      • Your local ordinances and building codes, for example, should be available online or at the city/town hall. If you want a bigger garage, for example, you may need a variance or approval for any sort of expansion from local authorities. Zoning may be an issue as well. Building codes vary significantly depending on where you live. Some cities, for example, are very restrictive. You may need to pull permits and get approval from multiple levels of the government, all the way up to the Feds, depending on where your property is located.
      • You may be restricted by privately negotiated rules as part of a subdivision or local association. These restrictions will often be considerably tougher than local building codes and you risk litigation if you do not comply with them.
      • Certain projects just cannot be built, legally, or may be far too expensive to get all the necessary permits and approvals, especially for people living near environmentally sensitive areas.
    • What’s your budget?
      • Will you need financing?
        • Rates and terms for home-equity lines are different than rates for purchases. Equity lines may add a significant additional monthly payment so factor that in as well.
      • Plan on cost-overruns and try to under-budget these projects.
        • Things will happen which will probably drive up the costs. If everything works out, great; you have a surplus.
    • Check with your property insurer.
      • Remodeling or additions to a house or condo may impact your homeowner’s policy. Further, you will need to know whether damages may be covered under your policy.
    • Check your mortgage and note.
      • Depending on the type of project, you may need to consult with your lender or anyone else with a legal interest in the property. In the fine-print of a mortgage, there may be language which would require the lien-holder’s approval because significant remodels may impact their property interest.
        • A mechanics lien, for example, has important legal ramifications in terms of who has priority to the proceeds of the house if it is sold or foreclosed upon.
    • Are you planning on hiring anyone or doing it yourself?
      • I recommend properly insured and licensed professionals for a vast majority of the work, given the potential risks; however, the legal liabilities and responsibilities are very different depending on whom is doing the work.
      • There are less legal protections available and greater potential liability risks if a homeowner attempts to do the work on their own. However, for a highly skilled and resourceful homeowner who can navigate the permitting process, it may be a way to save money.
      • It may be legally easier for a homeowner to pull a building permit, for example; however, I urge caution if a contractor is asking the homeowner to do this in the homeowner’s name.
        • Some less reputable builders and contractors may hide behind owner-permits to complete jobs which legally, they would not be permitted to do otherwise.
    • What type of professionals will you potentially need?
      • While most general contractors will know what a project requires, different types of professionals charge different rates.
        • Disputes over pay and working conditions between a general contractor and sub-contractors may stall your project, cause significant cost-overruns, or cause other significant headaches.
      • If you do your research in advance, you can anticipate and estimate these costs and build it into your budget.
      • If you are interested in hiring someone, prior to meeting with them, make sure they are properly licensed prior to discussing any terms.
      • Are they insured or bonded? In a vast majority of professions, there is some type of insurance or bonding available for practitioners.
        • It is good to know this information. This will be a big issue if something goes wrong. It is usually acceptable to ask.

 

  • If you decide to hire someone and start the project, make sure you have a written contract and use written agreements.
  • Make sure all the parties sign the agreement.
  • Make sure all the parties carefully review the agreement.
  • Be aware of the fine print…all the language in that contract is in there for a reason.
  • If litigation is ultimately necessary, the written contract will be a key issue. The written contract is the first place the lawyers and court will look at when examining a dispute over terms.
  • If you have concerns, make sure you put those concerns in writing, send the other party a letter informing th7594030640_91d17e5b9b_zem of your concerns, ask them to fix the issues, and save a copy.
    • Do not just rely on texts or calls. Even an e-mail is better than just a phone-call since it creates documentation with a date and time-stamp that could be used later.
    • It is vitally important to document your concerns and make sure the other party has time to address your concerns, i.e., give the person you hired a chance to fix or address your concerns.
    • Put any amendments to the contract in writing. Oral amendments to a contract, for example, are much harder to enforce. If you agree to change something, make sure it is in writing and preferably signed or initialized by the parties.
  • Do not play games with payments and keep clear records of payments and receipts.
    • Make sure the parties are in agreement about how and when payments will be made.
    • You may be better off suing afterwards rather than breaching a contract by just stopping payments.
    • If litigation is ultimately necessary, it is often better to go into the litigation with “clean hands.”  A bounced or stopped check, for example, may have significant ramifications which are not readily apparent.
    • Book-keeping is a big issue if the matter ends up in litigation; especially if insurance payments are involved.
  • Be clear about deadlines and advise the other party of future issues in advance.
    • Communication issues over dates is a key dispute in many of cases if they end up in litigation.
  • Keep the lines of communication open.
    • So many potential disputes may be resolved through simple and direct communication.
  • Give yourself an extra cushion of time for the work to be done. Delays may happen for a variety of reasons (weather, for example) beyond anybody’s control.

Even with all the best preparation, delays and cost-overruns should still be planned for. Ultimately, though, most people are reasonable and will be able to work through any issues they may have.

If you need specific legal advice for your particular circumstances, we encourage you to privately consult with a lawyer. Our office frequently handles this types of matters. For a free initial consultation, please contact us at (517) 507-5077.

For information on Deeds under Michigan Law, click here.
For information on Nuisance claims under Michigan law, click here.
For information on the Summary Proceedings Act, under Michigan Law, click here.
For information on real-estate litigation, notably lawsuits involving homeowners and builders, click here.