The city and Detroit’s Downtown Development Authority are asking a federal judge to deny the voluntary dismissal of a case against them over taxpayer-backed bonds that will help the Detroit Pistons move downtown into the Little Caesar’s Arena.
Calling it a “cynical attempt” to put the project at risk, the defendants argue in a Wednesday filing in U.S. District Court that the plaintiffs haven’t met the standard for a voluntary dismissal and the request should not be granted.
A hearing is expected Thursday morning before U.S. District Judge Mark Goldsmith in Detroit federal court.
The last-minute federal lawsuit challenging the deal was filed June 1 by activists D. Etta Wilcoxon, who is running for Detroit clerk, and Highland Park resident Robert Davis.
The pair filed a motion Saturday to drop the suit without prejudice. Davis said the plaintiffs instead were focused on a separate case they filed against Detroit’s school district and its board that he said will ultimately decide whether voters should have a say in the bonds being used for modifications to the arena.
But any litigation, no matter how frivolous, threatens to interfere with the timely funding of the project and creates the “very real possibility” that the Pistons could cancel their planned move from Auburn Hills to Detroit, attorneys for the defendants argued in a court filing Wednesday.
The NBA Board of Governors is holding its quarterly meeting on July 11, when the Pistons hope to obtain approval for the move, the filing notes.
“The bad faith dismissal here was an improper ploy to delay a ruling on their claims until it is too late,” the filing contends. “Plaintiffs are well-aware of the havoc they can cause, if, on July 11, 2017, there is pending litigation (irrespective of its merits) challenging the capture of tax increment revenue.”
“If this court does not reject this attempt to dismiss their claims without prejudice, plaintiffs will be rewarded for their abuse of this Court’s rules,” the defendants allege.
Attorneys for the city, DDA and other entities targeted in the lawsuit are also seeking to intervene in the DPS action and obtain an expedited motion to dismiss, according to the Wednesday filing.
Davis and Wilcoxon have argued $34.5 million in bonds to make modifications to the arena shouldn’t be used without voter approval. The pair contend the tax revenues are intended for public school students and Wayne County parks.
Detroit’s City Council approved the bonds by a 7-2 vote last month.
Davis has said the federal lawsuit filed last week against the school district should determine whether the school board needs to put the measure on the ballot. The Revised School Code requires a vote if using tax revenue generated for a school millage for a different purpose, he has argued.
The Pistons aim to play next season at the new arena on the northern edge of downtown Detroit.