(Wednesday - April 07, 2021) - It would appear that the City of Iron Mountain has reached a settlement with the plaintiffs, in a suit filed against the City in the U.S. Western District Federal Court in Marquette.

The plaintiffs in this matter, the Anshe Knesseth Israel Congregation, are the owners of a building located at the corner of Kimberly and West "A" Street in Iron Mountain. The congregation, through its attorney Allen Falk, of Okemos, Michigan, are accusing the City of illegally revoking the tax-exempt status of the property.

The plaintiffs are seeking monetary damages; reimbursement for all legal and court fees; and an order restoring the religious exemption from the ad valorem taxes for the property.

The suit names as defendants, the City of Iron Mountain, Michigan, a municipal corporation; Patti Roell, individually and as City Assessor; Isaac Micheau, individually and as City Treasurer, and Dale Alessandrini, individually and as Mayor.

The suit also alleges that the City's Assessor, Roell, illegally entered the property under false pretenses, prior to the exemption revocation, and accuses the City of violating the group's First Amendment rights.

Iron Mountain's City Manager, Jordan Stanchina, told Dickinson County News today (Wednesday) that the City will not have any comment on the matter until after the settlement agreement has been signed.

No details of the potential settlement have been released at this time.

Following is the text of the complaint filed by the plaintiffs against the City:

COME NOW Plaintiffs, ANSHE KNESSETH ISRAEL CONGREGATION, RACHEL SOLOM, SANDRA PELC, JAMES ZACKS and JACK ZACKS, by counsel, and for their Complaint against Defendants, alleges as follows:

PARTIES

1. Plaintiff ANSHE KNESSETH ISRAEL CONGREGATION ("the Congregation") is an unincorporated religious association capable of suing and being sued in its own name, MCL 600.2051, and successor to Anshe Knesseth Israel Congregation, Inc., a Michigan ecclesiastical corporation.
2. Plaintiff RACHEL SOLOM is the President, a member of the Board of Directors, and a member of Anshe Knesseth Israel congregation.
3. Plaintiff SANDRA PELC is the Vice-President, a member of the Board of Directors, and a member of Anshe Knesseth Israel Congregation.
4. Plaintiff JAMES ZACKS is the Secretary and Litigation Coordinator, a member of the Board of Directors, and a member of Anshe Knesseth Israel Congregation.
5. Plaintiff JACK ZACKS is the Treasurer, a member of the Board of Directors, and a member of Anshe Knesseth Israel Congregation.
6. Defendant City of Iron Mountain is a Michigan municipal corporation.
7. Defendant Patti Roell, who is sued in her individual capacity, is the City Assessor of the City of Iron Mountain, and also, on information and belief, an independent contractor for other Michigan municipalities.
8. Defendant Isaac Micheau, who is sued in his individual and official capacities, is the City Clerk/Treasurer of the City of Iron Mountain.
9. Defendant Dale Alessandrini, who is sued in his individual and official capacities, is the Mayor of the City of Iron Mountain.

JURISDICTION and VENUE

10. This Court has subject matter jurisdiction on the following bases:
A. this Court has jurisdiction over claims based on federal law under 28 U.S.C. 1331, such as the 1871 Civil Rights Act, 42 U.S.C. 1983 et seq.;
B. the Court has supplemental jurisdiction over state law claims in accordance with 28 Case 2:20-cv-00164-RJJ-MV ECF No. 15 filed 10/22/20
11. Venue is proper in this Court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. 1391(b)(2) as plaintiffs Congregation and Solom are domiciled in the City of Iron Mountain, County of Dickinson, State of Michigan, plaintiff Sandra Pelc is domiciled in the City of Madison, State of Wisconsin, plaintiff James Zacks is domiciled in the Charter Township of Meridian, County of Ingham, State of Michigan, and plaintiff Jack Zacks is domiciled in the City of Coral Gables, Florida. 12. Defendant City is also situated in Dickinson County, individual defendants are
domiciliaries of Dickinson County, Michigan, and defendants' tortious actions occurred in Dickinson County, Michigan, in the Western District of Michigan.

COMMON ALLEGATIONS

13. This lawsuit arises from an initial illegal search by Patti Roell, City Assessor of the City of Iron Mountain, of plaintiff Anshe Knesseth Israel Congregation's building located at the corner of Kimberly and West A Streets in the City of Iron Mountain, followed by a secret, illegal, and unilateral revocation of tax exempt status, which illegal conduct has been ratified by the City of Iron Mountain and Dale Alessandrini, its current Mayor and Isaac Micheau, its current Treasurer.
14. Until selling the properties in February, 2020, plaintiff Anshe Knesseth Israel Congregation, or its predecessor corporation, at all relevant times owned two parcels of real property within the City of Iron Mountain, (i) Parcel 22051-101-851-00 (401 S. Kimberly Ave.), "IM-851, the South of lots 5 & 6, block 16, Kimberly's Addition"; (ii) Parcel 22051-101-896-00 (also 401 S. Kimberly Ave.), "IM-896, the South of lot 1, block 25, Kimberly's 2nd Addition".

(Exhibit A - deed, property records).

15. Plaintiff Anshe Knesseth Israel Congregation, or its corporate predecessor, continuously owned and occupied the subject premises and building from 1909 until February, 2020 as a house of public worship - a synagogue - associated with the Jewish faith.
16. The building itself was moved to its present location in 1908, prior to which it was a Swedish Methodist church.
17. From March 31, 1909 through 2018, the premises and building were recognized as exempt from taxation under Michigan's ad valorem General Property Tax Act, or predecessor statutes, as a house of public worship, MCL 211.7s.
18. As noted in W. Russman, The History of the Jewish Community of Iron Mountain (1975), p. 35, from 1948 onwards, the size of the Iron Mountain Jewish community was such that religious services were generally held only on "High Holidays" (Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur), with occasional b'nei mitzvot (coming-of-age rituals for young Jewish adults), a situation initially attributable to the requirement that a traditional Jewish religious worship service requires a quorum of 10 Jewish males ("minyan").
19. Notwithstanding the infrequency of religious services, the subject building and premises continued to be used exclusively as a house of public worship, with members convening a membership meeting in order to elect officers, adopt bylaws, and elect new members of the Board of Directors, and using the building as the site for the conduct of meetings of Board members.
20. On an irregular but continuing basis until its properties were sold in 2020, Anshe Knesseth Israel Congregation's members also led tours of the synagogue to introduce visitors other faiths to Jewish practices and facilities, and to acquaint members of other Jewish organizations with the Congregation's facilities.
21. The Congregation, having affiliated with the Reform movement of Judaism about 3 decades ago, wherein the liberalized quorum requirement permits counting females, held prayer services on multiple occasions in recent years, including one led by a visiting rabbi from Green Bay, WI.
22. Additionally, at all times until sale to a non-profit but religiously unaffiliated entity in February, 2020, the building was used to store the Congregation's two sacred Torah scrolls (sifrei torah) and other ritual objects; the building was never put to a non-religious purpose while owned by the Congregation.
23. On or about December 23, 2018, Patti Roell - who on information and belief both acts as the City Assessor of the City of Iron Mountain and as an independent contractor for other municipalities - without permission from any officer, member, or authorized agent of plaintiff, entered the secured synagogue premises without a search warrant issued by a court of competent jurisdiction on probable cause, and conducted an illegal search of those premises.
24. At the time of Roell's entry into the secured synagogue premises, the building was not open to the public, and the means of ingress were locked; although the synagogue and premises were listed for sale with a local realtor, Maddy Tousignant, who, as a nonmember of the Congregation, was provided with a key to facilitate showing the premises to prospective buyers, Tousignant had no authority to consent to entry, or to transfer the key, to anyone other than a prospective buyer, and Tousignant's lack of authority was, or should have been, obvious to Roell.
25. In order to induce Tousignant to part with the key to the synagogue, Roell represented as a pretext that she needed to evaluate the taxable value of the building to a potential purchaser, but instead Roell used her access as an excuse to put the synagogue property on the tax roll prior to any change in ownership or usage.
26. In late December, 2018, Patti Roell, as City Assessor, having erroneously concluded that the Congregation was no longer using the premises as a house of public worship, and without consulting any knowledgeable person, unilaterally (or in association with Isaac Micheau, City Clerk/Treasurer), and without lawful authority, rescinded the synagogue's tax exemption, placed the synagogue property on the tax rolls, and then failed to provide notice of that action to the Congregation or any authorized agent of the Congregation, and concomitantly denied and/or failed to provide the Congregation with an opportunity for hearing regarding its tax exempt status.
27. Revocation or rescission of plaintiff's tax exemption was unjustified by state law or by the pertinent facts. Institute in Basic Life Principles, Inc v Watersmeet Twp (After Remand), 217 Mich App 7, 19-20, 551 NW2d 199 (1996)
28. Revocation of the Congregation's tax exemption first came to the attention of the Congregation when its current President, Rachel Solom, visited City Hall on January 3, 2020, for an unrelated reason and happened to speak to City Clerk/Treasurer Isaac Micheau,  who brought the matter to Solom's attention, too late for protest to the 2019 Board of Review.
29. By the time the Congregation learned of the purported tax exemption revocation, the Congregation had purportedly become liable to pay property taxes for both 2019 and 2020, and has paid $1,623.97 in consequence.
30. Upon learning of the purported tax exemption revocation, James Zacks, on behalf of the Congregation, had multiple telephone conversations and e-mail exchanges with Assessor Roell, Treasurer Micheau, and the City Manager concerning the matter and was told, each and every time, that there was no available procedure for appealing the revocation or challenging the Assessor's valuation of the property because the deadlines for doing so had expired prior to the Congregation receiving notice of the revocation.
31. By the time Congregation President Rachel Solom, on behalf of the Congregation, appeared personally before the Iron Mountain Board of Review in March, 2020, the properties had been sold, the purchaser had accepted property tax liability from January 1, 2020, and the Board of Review declared it could do nothing to rectify the situation.
32. The Congregation, through counsel, on March 19, 2020, sent a letter (Exhibit B) to the City, Roell and Micheau, reciting the foregoing facts and proposing that the City, on its behalf and on behalf of any other taxing authorities reliant on Roell's unlawful  actions, agree to waive taxes through the date of sale of the premises.
33. When, by the April 2, 2020 deadline in the March 19, 2020 letter, the Congregation and its counsel received no response, President Solom personally spoke with defendant Mayor during a chance encounter, warning that a lawsuit was imminent if the City ignored the issue.
34. In response, the Mayor had the City Attorney contact the Congregation's legal counsel, and ostensibly assure the Congregation's counsel that the City was anxious to settle the matter, and request additional time to prepare a formal response; the Congregation's counsel acceded to that request.
35. Notwithstanding the additional time, no further communication from the City occurred over a more than 4-week period, until the Congregation's counsel inquired of the City Attorney by telephone why no follow up message had been received, and the City Attorney claimed he was awaiting a legal analysis of the City's ability to settle the matter from the Congregation's attorney.
36. On May 15, 2020, the Congregation's counsel furnished a detailed legal analysis of the City's ability to settle the matter on the terms the City Attorney had indicated were acceptable (Exhibit C), and indicated a deadline of May 29, 2020 for acceptance.
37. Again the City ignored the deadline; on Friday, May 29, 2020, the Congregation's counsel telephoned the City Attorney and left a message with his office reminding him of the deadline.
38. On Monday, June 1, 2020, the Congregation's counsel e-mailed the City Attorney in an effort to determine if the City was still desirous of resolving the controversy amicably; the City Attorney disingenuously responded by e-mail as follows:

"Sorry for the late reply. I have not had a chance to look at this in any detail. I will review it this week. Just so we are clear, the city is not concerned over defending its position if necessary. The threat of a lawsuit is a non-factor. As I expressed, the city has an interest in resolving this issue, if possible, informally. Taxation issues, however, are more complex because of certain statutory constraints.
Thanks."


39. On Monday, June 8, 2020, the Congregation's counsel e-mailed the City Attorney, noting that the City Attorney's most recent assurance of a response by the end of the prior week had elapsed with no response from the City, and inquiring if the City actually had any intention of settling the matter without litigation.
40. The City Attorney responded on June 8, 2020 by e-mail as follows:
Sorry. I'm on vacation this week. I was able to discuss this with an attorney that does tax work and have some ideas on resolution.
41. President Solom, thinking perhaps the City Attorney was not following the Mayor's instructions, made further contact with the Mayor in June, 2020, expressing surprise the City was not cooperating with the Congregation's attorney, who had supplied the City Attorney with legal authority demonstrating that a settlement was possible, and noting the City repeatedly had claimed it desire to settle; the Mayor promised to look into the matter.
42. If his false promise to respond by June 5, 2020, knowing he would be on vacation the week of June 8, were not sufficient to demonstrate that the City Attorney was being disingenuous and dishonest (contrary to MRPC 4.2), more than a month after his vacation ended, the City Attorney had still provided no further response, and certainly had not shared his "ideas on resolution".
43. In July, 2020, President Solom again spoke to the Mayor and noted that the City Attorney still had taken no action, which appeared to be contrary to the Mayor's assurances the City wanted to resolve the matter; the Mayor again promised to look into the matter.
44. On July 13, 2020, the City Attorney sent the following e-mail to the Congregation's counsel:

"We are satisfied with the Assessor's evaluation of this property. I did not see how we can simply agree to take this off the certified tax roll. There are other taxing jurisdictions with an interest. The cases you pointed out all appeared to be contested cases."

45. The City Attorney's July 13, 2020 e-mail establishes that the City, Mayor Alessandrini, and Clerk/Treasurer Micheau have ratified the actions of Patti Roell above stated.

COUNT ONE: 42 USC 1983 VIOLATION OF US Constitution, Amendments IV and XIV ("Bivens-type Action")

43. Plaintiffs restate each of the allegations in paragraphs 13-45 as if set forth at length herein.
44. Plaintiff Congregation has a right under the 4th Amendment, applicable to municipal actors by virtue of the 14th Amendment, to be secure in its premises, papers, and property from warrantless searches.
45. The intentional intrusion of Patti Roell, City Assessor, on behalf of the City of Iron Mountain (or any other municipality) into premises owned by the Congregation, without a warrant issued on probable cause by a court of competent jurisdiction, and without the
permission of a Congregational officer or authorized agent, occurred under color of state law.
46. As a proximate result of Roell's illegal search, the City secretly rescinded the Congregation's MCL 211.7s tax exemption, exposing the Congregation and its members to claimed liability for taxes, administrative fees, late fees, and interest, forcing plaintiffs to incur attorney fees to redress their injuries, to suffer anguish, humiliation, and embarrassment, inconvenience, annoyance, sense of outrage, indignity, stress, mental pain, anxiety, emotional distress, mortification, and causing delay and extra work in plaintiffs' efforts to wind up the affairs of the Congregation and to distribute its assets to 501(c)(3) entities.
47. Patti Roell is individually and officially liable for plaintiffs' damages, and the City, as well as the Mayor and the Clerk/Treasurer individually and officially, are jointly and severally liable for plaintiffs' damages due to having ratified Roell's unlawful actions with reckless disregard for plaintiffs' rights. Wherefore plaintiffs seek damages in excess of $75,000.00.

COUNT TWO: 42 USC 1983 VIOLATIONS OF US Constitution, Amendment XIV

48. Plaintiffs restate each of the allegations in paragraphs 13-45 as if set forth at length herein.
49. Plaintiffs, possessing a valuable property right in the Congregation's tax exemption under MCL 211.7s by virtue of MCL 211.125 inter alia, had a constitutional, due process right, as well as a statutory right under MCL 211.24c(1) and/or MCL 211.19(3), to notice and opportunity for hearing before that exemption could be rescinded.
50. Patti Roell, as City Assessor, and Isaac Micheau, as City Treasurer, had a duty to provide the Congregation timely notice and opportunity for hearing regarding rescission of the Congregation's tax exempt status.
51. Roell and Micheau, acting under color of state law, intentionally or recklessly failed to provide the Congregation with timely notice and opportunity for hearing concerning rescission and/or revocation of its tax exemption.
52. As a proximate result of Roell's and Michaeu's failure to furnish proper notice or opportunity for hearing, the City, acting under color of state law, secretly rescinded the Congregation's MCL 211.7s tax exemption, exposing plaintiffs to claimed liability for taxes, administrative fees, late fees, and interest, and forcing plaintiffs to incur attorney fees to redress their injuries, causing anguish, humiliation, and embarrassment, inconvenience, annoyance, sense of outrage, indignity, stress, mental pain, anxiety, emotional distress, mortification, and causing delay and extra work in plaintiffs' efforts to wind up the Congregation's affairs and to distribute its assets to 501(c)(3) entities.
53. Patti Roell and Isaac Micheau are individually and officially liable for plaintiffs' damages, and the City, as well as Mayor Alessandrini individually and officially, all of whom acted under color of state law, are jointly and severally liable for plaintiffs' damages due to having ratified Roell's and/or Micheau's unlawful actions with reckless disregard for plaintiff's rights.

Wherefore plaintiffs seek damages in excess of $75,000.00.

COUNT THREE: 42 USC 1983 VIOLATION OF US Constitution, Amendment I

54. Plaintiffs restate each of the allegations in paragraphs 13-45 as if set forth at length herein.
55. As a proximate result of Roell's unlawful actions under color of state law, the City under color of state law secretly rescinded the Congregation's MCL 211.7s tax exemption, exposing plaintiffs to claimed liability for taxes, administrative fees, late fees, and interest, causing anguish, humiliation, and embarrassment, inconvenience, annoyance, sense of outrage, indignity, stress, mental pain, anxiety, emotional distress, mortification, forcing plaintiffs to incur attorney fees to redress their injuries, and causing delay and extra work in plaintiffs' efforts to wind up the Congregation's affairs and to distribute its assets to 501(c)(3) entities, thereby interfering with plaintiffs' free exercise of religion.
56. Patti Roell is individually and officially liable for plaintiffs' damages, and the City, as well as Mayor Alessandrini and Treasurer Micheau individually and officially, all of whom acted under color of state law, are jointly and severally liable for plaintiffs' damages due to having ratified or aided and abetted Roell's unlawful actions with reckless disregard for plaintiffs' rights under the First Amendment to the free exercise of religion.

Wherefore plaintiffs seek damages in excess of $75,000.00.

COUNT FOUR: Trespass (Michigan common law - pendent jurisdiction)

57. Plaintiffs restate each of the allegations in paragraphs 13-45 as if set forth at length herein.
58. Under Michigan common law, plaintiffs had a property right by virtue of which persons such as Patti Roell could not, without permission from the Congregation's officers or authorized agents, enter upon the Congregation's secured premises during hours those premises were not open to the public.
59. Patti Roell's intentional entry upon the Congregation's secured premises without permission from the Congregation's officers or authorized agents, during hours those premises were not open to the public, was a trespass.
60. As a proximate result of Roell's illegal and trespassory entry onto the Congregation's premises, the City secretly rescinded the Congregation's MCL 211.7s tax exemption, exposing plaintiffs to claimed liability for taxes, administrative fees, late fees, and interest, causing anguish, humiliation, and embarrassment, forcing plaintiffs to incur attorney fees to redress their injuries, and causing delay and extra work in plaintiffs' efforts to wind up the Congregation's affairs and to distribute its assets to 501(c)(3) entities.
61. Patti Roell is individually liable for plaintiffs' damages, and the City, as well as Mayor Alessandrini and Treasurer Micheau, individually and officially, are jointly and severally liable for plaintiffs' damages due to having ratified Roell's unlawful actions with
reckless disregard for plaintiffs' rights.

Wherefore plaintiffs seek damages in excess of $75,000.00.

COUNT FIVE: Deprivation of Property without Due Process of Law (Michigan law - pendent jurisdiction)

62. Plaintiffs restate each of the allegations in paragraphs 13-45 as if set forth at length herein.
63. Under Michigan law, Mich Const. 1963, art. 1, 17, plaintiffs had a property right by virtue of which persons such as Patti Roell could not, without permission from the Congregation's officers or authorized agents, enter into the Congregation's secured premises during hours those premises were not open to the public.
64. Patti Roell's intentional entry upon the Congregation's secured premises without permission from the Congregation's officers or authorized agents, during hours those premises were not open to the public, was a violation of plaintiffs' right not to be deprived of property without due process of law, and resulted in compensable damages under Michigan law.
65. As a proximate result of Roell's illegal and trespassory entry onto the Congregation's premises, the City secretly rescinded the Congregation's MCL 211.7s tax exemption, exposing plaintiffs to claimed liability for taxes, administrative fees, late fees, and interest, causing anguish, humiliation, and embarrassment, forcing plaintiffs to incur attorney fees to redress their injuries, and causing delay and extra work in plaintiffs' efforts to wind up the Congregation's affairs and to distribute its assets to 501(c)(3) entities.
66. Patti Roell is individually liable for plaintiffs' damages, and the City, as well as Mayor Alessandrini and Treasurer Micheau, individually and officially, are jointly and severally liable for plaintiffs' damages due to having ratified Roell's unlawful actions with
reckless disregard for plaintiffs' property rights.

Wherefore plaintiffs seek damages in excess of $75,000.00.

PRAYER FOR RELIEF

Plaintiffs request that the Court enter judgment in their favor against Defendants, jointly and severally, and as to individual Defendants in both their official and individual capacities:
A. For damages in excess of $75,000.00;
B. For costs and attorney fees under 42 USC 1988;
C. For such other or further relief as the Court deems proper in law or equity.

TRIAL BY JURY OF ALL ISSUES SO TRIABLE IS DEMANDED







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