Moroun Finds Excuse to Tear Down Windsor Homes

Ambassador Bridge plans to demolish Indian Road homes for emergency repairs


More from Craig Pearson, Windsor Star

Published on: March 17, 2017 | Last Updated: March 17, 2017 8:56 PM EDT

Ambassador Bridge officials intend to tear down vacant homes on the east side of Indian Road soon in order to make emergency repairs demanded by the federal government, the head of the company’s Canadian arm said Friday in court.

And they don’t need the City of Windsor’s approval to do it, Dan Stamper, president of the Canadian Transit Company, testified.

Three emergency repair orders from Transport Canada in less than a year mean the homes must be demolished — something the city has blocked for years — as soon as the bridge company completes an engineering report and purchases the required materials, he said.

“We have the obligation to maintain an 85-year-old bridge,” Stamper said. “The federal government gave us an emergency directive and I have to do the maintenance. And the only way to do the maintenance according to our experts is to remove the homes on the east side of Indian.”

Stamper said Transport Canada has already been informed in writing about the demolition plans and that the city will be notified in advance.

The estate of Stephen Chaborek, who died on the weekend, and five members of the Desando family who also own two homes in Olde Sandwich Towne are suing the Canadian Transit Company for $16.5 million in damages — alleging that boarding up homes and allowing them to decay hurts the neighbourhood.

William Sasso, one of the plaintiffs’ lawyers, expressed surprise Friday over the bridge’s plans and wondered what documentation gives the company authority to demolish homes.

“We’re not talking about the contractors the CTC deals with, we’re talking about the federal government and whether they have given a directive that permits the demolition of these properties,” Sasso said. “That’s news to us. And I haven’t seen such documentation.”

Stamper said the company only requires city approval to demolish homes for construction. It does not need city approval for demolition if it’s required to complete repairs dictated by Transport Canada, because it’s a federal entity, he said.

The Ambassador Bridge originally proposed building a second approach to the span, then closing down the current approach in order to rebuild it, but the federal government nixed the idea. Stamper said short of closing the bridge, there’s no other way to make significant repairs without demolishing homes to allow for needed equipment.

“They don’t need permission if it’s a federal undertaking,” defence lawyer Sheila Block said. “The city will be notified. Maybe they will go and try to get an injunction. But we’re not doing this in the dead of night.”

Earlier in the day, Stamper suggested the city has a conflict of interest when it comes to preventing the Ambassador Bridge from building a second span.

“We have applied for and have been denied the right to demolish the homes because the city is concerned more about litigation than they are about the safety and security of the community,” Stamper testified.

Stamper said the city is the Ambassador Bridge’s No. 1 competitor, since it owns the Windsor-Detroit Tunnel, and therefore has a financial stake in blocking the bridge from expanding. Plus, he said the city sold property for $34 million to the federal government to make way for the proposed Gordie Howe International Bridge to be built just two kilometres east of the Ambassador Bridge.

Sasso asked how much revenue the bridge collected in tolls in 2016. Stamper estimated it was about $40 million on the Canadian side and $40 million on the American side.

Again under cross-examination, Stamper acknowledged that the bridge has partially contributed to the poor state of area homes, though he said it has nevertheless maintained the properties as required by municipal code.

“Do you agree with me, Mr. Stamper, that you have allowed all of the houses that you’ve purchased to fall into a state of extreme disrepair?” Sasso asked.

“I agree that these homes are older homes and some of the effects over the last few years would add to the effects that happened over 50 years,” said Stamper, who noted that the company started buying Windsor property in the early 1990s with the goal of demolishing them.

Sasso also wondered if the company’s property on the west side of Indian Road would ever serve a business function. Stamper said they might be needed to aid in construction of the second span one day.

The cross-examination of Stamper continues Monday in front of Superior Court Justice Thomas Carey.

U.S. slams Ambassador Bridge owners’ ‘monopoly’ claim, moves to dismiss Moroun argument

By Todd Spangler

Detroit Free Press Washington Staff

WASHINGTON — The federal government moved today to dismiss Ambassador Bridge owner Manuel (Matty) Moroun’s arguments that he has an exclusive franchise to operate a span over the Detroit River, calling it an attempt to claim an “unfettered perpetual monopoly” over a sovereign border controlled by the U.S. and Canada.

In a strongly worded response to Moroun’s complaint against several federal officials, as well as a partnership between the nations and agencies in Michigan and Ontario to construct a new publicly owned span, federal lawyers slammed the bridge owner’s claims as “nothing more than an attempt to rewrite the entire history of the Ambassador Bridge.”

The filing said Moroun wants the court “not only to rewrite the Congressional statutes that authorized the construction and operation of the bridge, but to interfere with the United States’ and Canada’s sovereign powers to establish and maintain border crossings between their two nations.” The filing asks that all the claims be dismissed.

In separate filings, both the State of Michigan and the Canadian government also said any claims against them should be dismissed because they enjoy sovereign immunity and cannot be sued in federal court.

In May, Moroun’s lawyer in Washington asked U.S. District Judge Rosemary Collyer to issue an injunction reversing a U.S. State Department-issued presidential permit for the rival span — the New International Trade Crossing or NITC — which Canada and Gov. Rick Snyder want built two miles downstream from the Ambassador Bridge.

Moroun’s lawyer argued that legislation approved by both Congress and the Canadian Parliament in the 1920s authorizing construction of the Ambassador Bridge gave its owners, then and now, “statutory and contractual franchise rights” to operate the crossing between Detroit and Windsor.

A new bridge — especially one expected to draw traffic away from its span, the busiest border trade crossing in North America — would violate that franchise, the bridge company argued.

But the Justice Department, representing U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and former Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, who were among the defendants named in the complaint, said there was “no mention of exclusivity” in the authorizing acts that the bridge company is attempting to claim now.

“In short, Plaintiffs (or their predecessors) had the right in 1921 to build, operate and maintain a bridge in the vicinity of Detroit, and they continue to have that right today,” the response said. “It is not an unfettered, exclusive right in perpetuity.”

Federal lawyers also brushed off a claim that the procedure by which the State Department issued the presidential permit for the NITC in April was unconstitutional, noting that Congress gave it that authorization in 1972 with the guideline that it take “foreign policy and foreign relations” in consideration when making border decisions.

Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette also filed a response saying the Ambassador Bridge owner has no exclusive right to a bridge over the river at Detroit, adding that the relevant authorization “does not mention a ‘franchise,’ let alone an ‘exclusive’ or ‘perpetual’ one.”

Moroun’s lawyers have been arguing for years that U.S. and Canadian government agencies have been dragging their feet on approvals for a second span Moroun wants to build himself next to the Ambassador Bridge, while aiding the effort to build the NITC. Canada has even promised to pick up Michigan’s $550-million share of the bridge.

Schuette’s office said in its filing that any claims against the so-called partnership created between Canada, Ontario, the federal government and the Michigan Department of Transportation should be dismissed because MDOT, as an arm of the state, enjoys sovereign immunity under the 11th amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Meanwhile, the Canadian government said in its filing that any claim against it should be brought in Canadian courts, not in the U.S. It also maintained that far from giving the Ambassador Bridge’s owners an exclusive franchise, “A nation’s decision to open its borders to an international bridge is an inherently sovereign power” that can be exercised as the nation sees fit.

“This case is just one piece of a much larger effort by Plaintiffs to … preserve their monopoly profits,” the Canadian filing said.

The Canadian filing also said at least 18 court actions have been initiated by the bridge owners against the new span. Last November, voters in Michigan rejected a referendum pushed by the bridge owners to amend the state constitution to require statewide and local votes before state government could spend any money on any new international bridge.

Ambassador Bridge lawsuit adds more plaintiffs

Detroit International Bridge Company owns hundreds of boarded up homes but can’t tear them down

CBC News

More west-end residents of Windsor have joined a lawsuit against the Ambassador Bridge company.

A meeting at Mackenzie Hall on Tuesday night attracted approximately 60 people. Lawyer Harvey Strosberg spoke about a $10-million lawsuit that’s already been filed by two west-end residents.

They claim boarded-up, empty buildings owned by the bridge have decreased the value of their homes.

Strosberg alleged the bridge owners “believe they are above the law.”

“They have to comply with the Windsor minimum housing standards, and they don’t do it. The property owners will make them do it or pay for it,” he said.

“We say they should have taken the steps to keep the properties according to the bylaws while they’re waiting to do whatever they want to do with that [land]. They want to put a bridge? Fine. But until such a time that a bridge is built or not on those properties, they have to keep the properties in a way that complements the neighbourhood,” lawyer Sharon Strosberg added.

The lawyers say residents who’ve signed a form to join the lawsuit will be interviewed to determine if they have a claim.

Dan Stamper, the president of the Detroit International Bridge Company, was at the meeting handing out business cards and asking people to give him a call.

He continues to maintain the residents are pawns in an attempt by the city to handicap the bridge company and prevent it from building a second span next to the existing and aging border crossing.

“We’ve never condemned a piece of property. We’ve never expropriated a piece of property,” Stamper said. “Everything we’ve ever bought was a willing seller, willing buyer.

“We all know why is the city has refused to let them come down, and these people are being pawns in that effort.”

Lawyers say it could take years for the lawsuits to be decided by the courts.

Windsor’s west-end residents consider joining lawsuit against bridge

CTV Windsor

A town hall meeting was held at Mackenzie Hall in Olde Sandwich Towne Tuesday evening to discuss what could become the largest financial lawsuit in Canadian history against the Ambassador Bridge Company.

Lawyer Harvey Strosberg represents two home owners who claim their community is turning into a slum because some homes purchased by the Canadian Transit Company, the bridge company, are rundown. “The C.T.C. will drag it out as long as possible, but sooner or later justice will prevail.”

The company has acquired more than one-hundred properties over the years to make way for a second span.

Strosberg says their seeking $10 million in punitive damages.

Ambassador Bridge president Dan Stamper was in attendance Tuesday night and says he’s willing to talk to anyone who has an issue. “Everything we ever bought was a willing seller willing buyer. The idea that these homes are still up we all know why.”

Stamper says the real reason the houses are still standing is because of the city of Windsor’s refusal to allow the bridge company to tear down the dwellings.

Lawyer assails bridge exec

Claire Brownell | The Windsor Star

About 60 people gathered at Mackenzie Hall Tuesday evening to discuss a lawsuit accusing the Ambassador Bridge company of ruining the neighbourhood to the west of the span – including bridge company president Dan Stamper himself.

Stamper made himself comfortable in the centre of the front row as lawyer Harvey Strosberg explained the suit and answered questions from residents. He chose a seat next to 91-year-old Steve Chaborek, one of the few remaining homeowners living on Indian Road among the boarded-up houses owned by the bridge company.

The lawsuit claims Chaborek’s home is one of many that have lost value over the past decade because of the neighbouring homes that the bridge company bought up and left unoccupied. The company bought 112 homes – mostly on Indian Road, Rosedale Avenue and Edison Street – with the intention of demolishing them to build a twin span next to the Ambassador Bridge, despite the opposition of various levels of government including the City of Windsor.

Strosberg took the opportunity to chastise Stamper and blame the bridge company for the declining state of the neighbourhood.

“They’ve turned it into a slum,” Strosberg said. “He has the nerve to sit here. You can stay, but you can’t speak.”

Stamper spoke to residents and passed out business cards after the meeting. He said the bridge company is more than happy to demolish the homes and would even consider fixing up some of the ones that are still in habitable condition, but needs permission from the city first.

Stamper said the city shares the blame for the state of the neighbourhood because it has blocked the demolition of the homes. “They’re using the community as pawns in a fight with me,” he said.

Residents stories of how their lives have been affected by the deteriorating conditions in Sandwich. Many landlords said they’ve had difficulty renting their properties because no one wants to live next to blighted homes and can’t sell them because they’ve lost so much value.

Mike May said he’s owned a home on Edison Street for 17 years. He currently has longterm renters, but said he worries about what would happen if they decided to move out.

May said he hopes the lawsuit finally prompts the bridge company to do something. “The value of the home is nothing. We can’t sell it. We’re lucky we still have renters,” he said.

The bridge has yet to file a statement of defence. Strosberg invited residents in attendance to fill out forms detailing their personal situations and invited more people to join the suit.

West Windsor Court Battle

Written by Mike Vlasveld

Henry Strosberg of Sutts Strosberg, LLP, is getting set to interview each west Windsor property owner who thinks they’ve got a case against the Ambassador Bridge company.

A public meeting was held last night at MacKenzie Hall, where many residents voiced displeasure about living amongst abandoned homes in their neighborhoods that were bought by the bridge company hoping to build a twin span.

Strosberg says the problem is that the Canadian Transit Company, which owns the bridge company, think they’re above the law. “They have to comply with the Windsor minimum housing standards, and if they don’t do it, the property owners will make them do it, or pay for it.” The lawyer says it could be years before any of these personal lawsuits come before a court.

Meanwhile, CTC President Dan Stamper was also at last night’s meeting. He says residents who have an issue can call him directly and he’d be glad to help. “We’ve never condemned a piece of property and we’ve never expropriated a piece of property. Everything we’ve ever bought was a willing-seller-willing-buyer. The idea that these homes are still up, we all know why, is the city has refused to let them come down.” Stamper claims the City of Windsor has by-laws in place that have kept the homes from being demolished.

Vander Doelen: Battle of the Titans

The Windsor Star

By Chris Vander Doelen

I hope I can score a seat in Ontario Superior Court to hear the lawsuit filed against the Ambassador Bridge by two Windsor homeowners this week.

Scalpers would be able to make a fortune on this showdown: a battle of titans, one American, one Canadian.

On the U.S. side is billionaire bridge owner Matty Moroun, possibly the most ferocious legal combatant and filer of lawsuits in the region. Moroun has been known to fight a single case for more than 30 years rather than give up against overwhelming odds.

Moroun has defeated governments and even buried judges in the midst of some actions by simply outlasting them. He’s known to have dozens of lawsuits going at once on both sides of the border, against anyone who defies him. Fearless, relentless, loathed.

On the Canadian side, representing the little guy, is legendary Harvey Strosberg, one of the heaviest of legal heavyweights in Canadian law. A Windsor native, his firm spans the country, as does his reach and reputation.

It’s about time Moroun and his Ambassador Bridge group of companies faced a worthy opponent in their long-running war of attrition against the City of Windsor and its citizens – and they’ve finally got one.

No offense to the many other lawyers who have faced down the bridge and won. But Moroun may not have faced one of Strosberg’s calibre yet. A lot of readers probably joined me in cheering this week when we read about the civil lawsuit Sutts, Strosberg LLP have filed on behalf of two families who own badly devalued homes in Olde Sandwich Towne near the bridge.

The property owners are seeking the largest punitive damages in Canadian history – $10 million worth – from the bridge and its owners for allegedly turning their neighbourhood into a slum and destroying their property values.

As nearly everyone who lives in Windsor is aware of and a previous court has already determined (Hilary Payne et al vs. The City of Windsor et al, 2011), that the “dereliction” the Ambassador Bridge showed the 112 homes it bought in Olde Sandwich Towne turned the neighbourhood on Indian Road into a rotting eyesore.

In the previous lawsuit, justice Richard Gates was scathing in his dissection of what the Ambassador Bridge and its agents have done to Windsor’s West end, and why.

So this is going to be good: put me down now for a seat in court because it will be both entertaining and instructive to listen to Strosberg wield his own scalpel with that ruling already on the record.

If he’s on your side, Strosberg is one of the most charming, gifted and successful figures in Canadian law. But if he’s representing the other side he’s downright scary.

Windsor lawyers I talked to this week said they look forward to the showdown with interest. The bridge pretty much declared open war on the city years ago in its push to add a second span to their old crossing.

Specifically, they’ve fought homeowners, individual city councillors and the mayor, the city corporation itself, the province, the federal government, and a dozen or so ministries and agencies in between.

The bridge side of the battle keeps losing – most notably in the 2011 suit against the City of Windsor and in its repeated attempts to block the federal government’s plans to build a competing bridge over the Detroit River.

As an example of the bridge’s breathtaking chutzpah, its lawyers once spent years telling Ottawa that the company’s powers outranked those of the federal government on the Detroit and St. Clair Rivers. It claimed to own the franchise on all forms of vehicle traffic crossing in the region. Nice try, boys, but no.

Strosberg specialize in class action suits, among other things. He is not known for long-shot legal jousts, Don Quixote style. I heard Wednesday that if Strosberg takes a case it’s usually because he’s weighed the risks and concluded he can win.

The bridge issued a rather lame rebuttal to the lawsuit filing, accusing the City of Windsor of being the culprit in its dispute with the residents of Olde Sandwich Towne.

If only the city had allowed it to “safely demolish” the homes, the press release says, the bridge could have proceeded with its “improvements” to the neighborhood.

The main improvement the Ambassador Bridge envisages is building that second span that few on the Canadian side want. That would require a new 150-acre customs plaza which would pretty much obliterate the surrounding neighbourhood.

Other than that, Olde Sandwich will be much “improved” if it agrees to stop fighting the bridge’s plans.

“It is time to put down the swords and accomplish good things,” the statement concludes. That means giving up trying to protect a neighbourhood its residents overwhelmingly say they want preserved.

In other words, Windsor is again being advised to capitulate to a legal bully. Well, Mr. Bully, meet Mr. Strosberg. May the best man win.