Matty’s Choice: Ambassador Bridge owner can complete Gateway or martyr himself in fight against contract law

By Jeff T. Wattrick |

No one will confuse Michigan Court of Appeals Judge Kirsten Frank Kelly with Chief Justice John Marshall, but there is a kind of elegance to her Ambassador Bridge Gateway decision.

Writing the lead opinion for a divided court, Kelly declared the Detroit International Bridge Company was in fact in contempt of court, that DIBC owner Matty Moroun and DIBC President Dan Stamper are the chief decision makers for DIBC and subject to contempt sanctions, and finally that Wayne County Circuit Judge Prentis Edwards must be more specific as to what actions Messrs. Moroun and Stamper must complete to purge contempt before (presumably) sending the two back to the clink.

On Thursday, the Gateway will again be a topic of conversation in Edwards’ courtroom. It’s entirely possible that Moroun and Stamper could be back eating DAC cheeseburgers out of a styrofoam box soon enough.

As much as some Ambassador Bridge critics might enjoy watching Moroun don an orange jumpsuit, the billionaire bridge owner has about 48 hours to put together a better proposition for all parties—a clear plan to finish the Gateway Project.

For all of DIBC’s protestations that they just plain don’t know what they’re supposed to do to finish the $230-million public-private highway project, the work DIBC must undertake to finally honor their contract isn’t any great mystery. MDOT laid it out in their response to DIBC’s appeal.

MDOT Appellee’s Brief: In addition, Judge Edwards reiterated in his November 3, 2011 order that compliance with the February 1, 2010 order includes rectifying the following issues:

1. The location of pier 19 interferes with the path of the truck road required by the Performance Bond and Maintenance Agreement.

2. DIBC has not constructed the two-lane truck road from the truck plaza so S02.

3. DIBC has not submitted construction plans to re-align the three piers of SO1 [Piers 11, 12, 13] that were constructed in conflict with the four-lane road.

4. DIBC‘s plans for the Access Road do not conform to the requirements of the February 1, 2010 Order of this Court.

5. DIBC has not constructed the north or south special return routes required by the Maintenance Agreement.

6. The design of 21st Street does not satisfy the requirements of the Plans attached to the Performance Bond.

7. DIBC has not conveyed the customary easement for highway purposes as required by the August 11, 2011 Order of this Court.

If Moroun and Stamper show up in court Thursday with a sheath of contracts and work orders to complete those tasks on a reasonable timeline, and perhaps are willing to establish an escrow account to pay for the work they promised to complete in 2004, then it will be difficult for Edwards to send them back to jail—at least so long as the work continues.

The other option is for Moroun and Stamper to seek martyrdom in a noble struggle against the unjust tyranny of basic contract law.

DIBC loves to complain how Gateway isn’t their fault or that no one told them what to do, but their explanations resemble equine excrement. It’s been 24 months since Edwards ruled they were in violation of the Gateway contract. In that time, they’ve lost every appeal. Edwards’ order has never been so much as stayed by a higher court.

It’s one thing to assert that Governor Rick Snyder is pulling Prentis Edwards’ strings, but to believe the Gateway order is unjust requires one to assume the entire system of American jurisprudence is part of a nefarious conspiracy against the Moroun organization. Those named in Matty Moroun’s will excepted, only a clinically-diagnosed moron (cough state Sen. Roger Kahn cough) could believe something that far-fetched.

Despite centuries of tradition and Anglo-American legal precedents, the entire DIBC case rests on the idea that “a man of [Moroun’s] age and stature” shouldn’t have to honor his legal commitments if he can make more money doing something else.

If Moroun wants to go down with that sinking ship, well, at least it will make for good theater.