By BREANNA SHEPHERD
Capital News Service
LANSING — While driving home from Lansing, Terry Reisch called his wife to tell her he’d been awarded $5,000 in his nearly two – year court battle against the Michigan Department of Transportation.
“Forget it, I’m holding a letter from the judge,” he said she told him. “He dismissed the case.”
Reisch, a Hillsdale resident and German professor at Hillsdale College, filed suit against MDOT in March 2001 after rainwater flooded his basement, causing more than $7,000 in structural and personal property damage to his Broad Street (M-99) home.
On Oct. 24 an alternative dispute resolution panel, consisting of three lawyers, reviewed his case and awarded him the money in a nonbinding decision, he said.
The order to dismiss Reisch’s case had already been made the day before by Ingham County Circuit Judge William Collette and overruled the ADR panel’s opinion. The case was heard in Ingham County because it involved the state. Reisch sued MDOT after the city of Hillsdale told him that MDOT was ultimately responsible for the drains and roads that may have caused the water problems.
“I don’t know exactly what caused the problem and under the law, I don’t have to prove it,” Reisch said. ” The drains are directly in front of my property and back up repeatedly and that particular day they backed up more, so that could’ve been the cause.”
Reisch said that according to Collette’s letter, the case was dismissed based on lack of evidence.
“They said my evidence consisted of allegations,” Reisch said. “As a non-lawyer, I wrongly assumed my word would be worth more than allegations.”
He represented himself in court to avoid paying lawyer’s fees.
“Having to do all my own research is disrupting and very straining,” Reisch said. “I don’t think the state should be able to put someone through this.” Reisch said that since the case was filed, he has had flooding to his home three more times, without additional damage. His neighbor has experienced water backup as well, he said.
He added that he has asked the city at three council meetings to take a stand for him, “and the issue wasn’t even discussed.”
Hillsdale City Manager Tim Vagle said that the city simply is under contract to maintain the roads so that is why the suit is against MDOT.
“We’re concerned about [Reisch] as a resident but it’s tough for us to help him because there is ongoing litigation,” Vagle said. “If there’s anything we could do, we would, but the state said the best thing to do is to refer all concerns to them.”
Although the case has taken its toll on Reisch’s life, he said he’s not done fighting yet.
Reisch said he filed affidavits attesting to the flooding signed by his neighbor and himself. He filed a motion on Nov. 7 to reconsider the case based on the affidavits and the ADR panel’s decision. Judge Collette hasn’t received the motion yet, so no decision has been made on whether to reconsider the case, said Shawn Collins, judicial assistant.
Kari Debnar, MDOT communications representative, said that MDOT stands behind the judge’s ruling that there was a lack of evidence to support Reisch’s case.
Debnar added that she wasn’t aware of Reisch’s motion for reconsideration but will continue to follow the process if the case is reopened.
In the meantime, Reisch said he would continue to represent himself in court and fight to win his case.
© 2002, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism
By BREANNA SHEPHERD