EagleHerald Staff Writer
MENOMINEE—An attorney at the Petoskey law firm Plunkett Cooney said marijuana company Highwire Farms failed to make a compelling case in its lawsuit against the City of Menominee, and he is asking the 41st Circuit Court to dismiss the suit.
Plunkett Cooney attorney Matthew Cross, who is defending the City of Menominee and the city council, prepared a Nov. 23 answer to Highwire Farms’ legal complaint. Highwire’s attorney Tamaris Henagan of Adrian asserted the city violated the Open Meetings Act in August through secret deliberations and failure to provide sufficient public participation.
Highwire’s Oct. 15 legal filing asked the court to invalidate the Menominee Marijuana Rubric Scoring Committee’s decisions because of the Open Meetings Act violations. The city council approved the scoring committee’s recommendations at its Sept. 20 meeting.
Cross disputed many of Highwire’s assertions point by point and concluded Highwire failed to present a “genuine issue.”
Highwire is one of four marijuana companies suing the City of Menominee and the city council, while the two marijuana companies granted adult-use recreational marijuana retail license have filed to intervene in one or more suits.
While their arguments differ, most companies suing the city say it violated the Open Meetings Act and Michigan’s Regulation and Taxation of Marijuana Act (MRTMA) during the process for reviewing applications and approving retail marijuana licenses.
Cross is expected to defend the city and say it corrected earlier flaws in the application screening process when it re-did the application scoring process in August. But Highwire and several other suing companies dispute this.
Highwire’s complaint stated the city was in direct violation of the Open Meetings Act during an Aug. 26 meeting, despite knowledge of a similar, earlier violation. “The Scoring Committee again failed to deliberate in the public meeting (i.e. whispering to one another at the dais), and not allowing the public to hear any deliberation over the applicant scoring and reconsideration,” the complaint said.
In a one word response to this allegation, Cross’s answer was “Denied.” Cross delivered most of the city’s answers to Highwire’s allegations in short phrases or one-word answers, such as “admitted,” “denied” or “neither admit nor deny.”
In some answers to Highwire’s allegations about Open Meetings Act (OMA) violations, Cross wrote, “The OMA speaks for itself and no answer is necessary.” He said an exemption to the Open Meetings Act applies.
Cross, who apparently was named to defend the city and the city council shortly before he filed the response with the court, also stated, “Defense reserves the right to assert additional affirmative defenses as they may become known through the discovery process.”
The discovery process is the work attorneys and their clients perform to support the statements they’ll make as the case continues. Where the legal document stated, “neither admit nor deny,” Cross provided this explanation: “Defendants … lack knowledge or information sufficient to form a belief about the truth of this allegation.” The city’s answers could change as it uncovers new information during the discovery process.
The city is expected to say it corrected earlier issues in August when a scoring committee reviewed applications from marijuana companies seeking licenses, after it had noted a problem with the selection process performed earlier in the year when Tony Graff was the city manager.