The owner and operators of Nightingale Services Inc., Shelby Township’s former towing contractor, have filed a federal lawsuit against the township, and five Board of Trustees individually, claiming their contract was cancelled as punishment for the business owners spearheading recall efforts against several township officials.
After more than 50 years of working with the township, a 5-2 vote by the Board of Trustees in December 2011 terminated the Nightingale's contract based on allegations of contract violations and overcharges. , conducted by an independent contractor hired by the township, was presented during a public meeting, and a vote was immediately taken.
Several months later, . Also, the family hired Bloomfield Attorney Deborah Gordon and filed a lawsuit against all five board members who voted in favor of cancelling the contract and the board as a whole.
The lawsuit, which was delivered to the township and the individual plaintiffs earlier this week, demands a trial by jury based on three counts.
Freedom of Speech
The lawsuit states the Nightingale’s First Amendment Rights of Freedom of Speech were violated because they were targeted after participating in “political discourse, which is protected by the First Amendment."
“This is a freedom of speech lawsuit,” said Gordon. “The government cannot retaliate or harm you for exercising your rights of freedom of speech and speak out on public concern.”
In 2011, the Nightingales actively participated in recall efforts against Shelby Township Supervisor Rick Stathakis and Treasurer Paul Viar because of a controversial vote to rezone a parcel at 24 Mile and Schoenherr roads. The due to a lack of valid signatures.
The lawsuit states that Viar told John Nightingale during a 2011 encounter, “You don’t go after the king and only wound him, you make sure to kill him. Otherwise the King comes back to kill you.”
The second charge claims the Nightingale's Fourteenth Amendment was violated when they were not given due process and denied the right to defend the allegations of contract violations in a hearing before the contract was terminated. Also, the lawsuit claims the Board of Trustees refused to participate in a post termination hearing with the Nightingales.
Breach of Contract
The third count against the Township is an alleged breach of contract. The Nightingale contract was expected to expire in 2013. The lawsuit states “plaintiffs have suffered damages as a result of defendant’s breach of employee contract.”
The Nightngales are seeking compensatory and punitive damages, as well as legal fees and a court order preventing further retaliation.
Shelby Township Attorney Rob Huth said he will not be defending the plaintiffs.
“The complaint has allegations that trigger insurance coverage, so therefore the township’s insurance company will hire an attorney,” said Huth.
The township, and each individual plaintiff has between 21 and 28 days to respond to the lawsuit, according to Huth. Stathakis said the township has not yet settled on an attorney.