Last month, Wayne County Circuit Judge Prentiss Edwards imprisoned Manual
“Matty” Moroun and Dan Stamper, the Directors of Detroit International
Bridge Co., for their company’s failure to finish the Gateway Project
on the approaches and ramps to and from the Ambassador Bridge—which
links the United States and Canada. Their failure to finish the project
left them in violation of a court order.
The Michigan Court of Appeals has since ruled that Moroun and Stamper’s
imprisonment was improper. In a majority opinion, Judge Kirsten Frank
Kelly explained that the judge’s order was not specific enough to
warrant the imprisonment of these two men. David Domina presented oral
argument on behalf of Moroun and Stamper last Thursday in an expedited
appeal. Rodger Young also argued for Moroun.
Three separate opinions were delivered from the three-judge panel of Michigan’s
Court of Appeals. One of the issues in this case is the contract between
the privately-owned bridge and the Michigan Department of Transportation.
The Ambassador Bridge currently facilitates more than one-fourth of all
commerce between the U.S. and Canada, serving as a major commercial thoroughfare.
The U.S. portion of the bridge is owned by Detroit International Bridge
Co., while the Canadian portion is owned by Canada Transit Co.—both
of which are owned by the Moroun family’s interests. The private
ownership of the Ambassador Bridge has caused a great deal of controversy
over the years, having been acquired by the Moroun family in the early
1970s from a previous private owner.
In order to approve the purchase, actions by the U.S. Congress, the Parliament
of Canada, and the Queen of England were required. Recently, there have
been talks about adding an additional stretch of the bridge, and even
about a possible new, competing bridge. While the current governor of
Michigan and the Prime Minister of Canada both favor a new bridge, there
may not be a need for it.
Part of the controversy between the Michigan Transportation Department
and Detroit International Bridge Co. is that, if a second span of the
current bridge is built, it will weaken the argument for a new, competing
bridge. The lawsuit before the Michigan courts was most likely triggered
by the Moroun’s decision to start construction on the second span
of the existing Ambassador Bridge.
Michigan’s Transportation Department won a partial victory in February
2010, which is not an order that can be appealed as a matter of right.
The Michigan appellate courts declined to hear a discretionary request
for an immediate appeal, which set the stage for enforcement of the partial
decision. Although the bridge company wants to appeal the ruling, contempt
proceedings were used as a means of forcing them to comply, even without
an appeal, asserting that they have not complied with the order.
The bridge company states that it should not be forced to comply with the
order until their appeal is heard, noting that the lower court’s
decision was based on a single affidavit that they dispute. Ultimately,
the contempt proceedings led to Moroun and Stamper’s imprisonment.
The Court of Appeals then reversed this decision by a narrow ruling, announcing
their opinions on February 6.