The American Freedom Law Center (AFLC) is representing seven private citizens who were issued harassing subpoenas by the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) because they publicly expressed their opposition to the construction of an Islamic center in their neighborhood in Pittsfield Township, Michigan.
In 2012, the Muslim Community Association of Ann Arbor (MCA) requested that the Township rezone a parcel of land to build an Islamic School and community center. The Township denied the request, citing infrastructure and traffic concerns. Nevertheless, CAIR, which bills itself as “America’s largest Muslim civil liberties and advocacy organization,” filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the Township on behalf of the MCA, alleging that the denial of the MCA’s rezoning application violated the Islamic group’s constitutional and statutory rights.
The MCA’s rezoning request was opposed by a group of Township residents who live in the neighborhood of the proposed construction. The residents expressed concerns about the traffic congestion that would be caused by the construction of a school and community center in their neighborhood. Pursuant to their rights protected by the First Amendment, these private citizens circulated and submitted to their elected Township officials a petition expressing their opposition to the rezoning and several of them spoke out at public hearings held by the Township to discuss the matter. As a result, CAIR served harassing subpoenas on a number of these citizens, demanding that they produce private emails and other documents, and in some cases, appear for a deposition.
Indeed, AFLC is representing a husband and wife who came home one day to find several papers jammed in the crack of the front door of their home. The papers included subpoenas demanding the production of personal emails and other documents and a subpoena commanding the wife to appear at a deposition.
In response to CAIR’s discovery requests, AFLC filed a motion to “quash” and for a protective order in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan, arguing that CAIR’s discovery demands were harassing, irrelevant, and oppressive. As stated in AFLC’s memorandum in support of its motion:
As a private citizen and resident of the Township, [AFLC’s client] has a fundamental right to publicly express to her elected officials her opposition to Plaintiff’s proposal, which will personally impact her by increasing traffic in her neighborhood. [AFLC’s client] had no authority whatsoever to either grant or deny Plaintiff’s rezoning application—she is a private citizen, not a public official. Her personal views, whether expressed to the Township, Township officials, or her neighbors, are not remotely relevant in this litigation.
CASE UPDATE (May 9, 2014): AFLC filed its reply in support of its motion to quash and for a protective order on behalf of non-party and AFLC client, Zaba Davis
CASE UPDATE (July 2, 2014): The court granted AFLC’s motion to quash and for a protective order.
CASE UPDATE (July 24, 2014): The court granted AFLC’s motion for reconsideration of a previously-issued order that extended the time for CAIR to file objections to the magistrate judge’s July 2, 2014, order that granted AFLC’s motion to quash and for a protective order.
CASE UPDATE (August 14, 2014): AFLC filed its response to CAIR’s objections to the magistrate judge’s ruling.
CASE UPDATE (April 24, 2015): After the district court judge remanded the case to the magistrate judge to reconsider aspects of his ruling, the parties filed supplemental briefs, and today, the magistrate judge once again ruled in AFLC’s favor, requiring CAIR to pay AFLC’s costs and attorney’s fees for having to seek the protective order.
CASE UPDATE (May 13, 2015): AFLC filed its petition for attorneys fees.
CASE UPDATE (June 1, 2015): The district court judge overruled CAIR’s newly filed objections to the magistrate judge’s supplemental order authorizing attorneys’ fees as an appropriate sanction for CAIR’s discovery abuses.
CASE UPDATE: The subpoena was quashed. CAIR’s client paid AFLC’s attorneys’ fees. Matter closed.