... and civil rights

Family that owned bait shop sues bridge baron for taking 23rd Street

Feb 2, 2011 at 12:00 am
The Aytes family and its lawyers.
The Aytes family and its lawyers.

With Macdonald's verdict due at any time, a new court case involving the DIBC is just gearing up. On Monday, attorneys for Rita and Dean Aytes, owners of the Lafayette Bait and Tackle Shop, filed suit in U.S. District Court.

The suit claims the Aytes' civil rights were violated and their business destroyed when the DIBC illegally closed off a portion of 23rd Street in southwest Detroit. The road closure, done while the company was building a truck plaza containing a duty-free shop and fueling stations, cut off business to the bait shop, which had been operated for nearly 60 years.

"The shop's customers — local fishermen — accessed it from 23rd Street off Fort Street," said attorney Bill Goodman, one of the lawyers representing the Aytes family. Also on the case is John Philo, legal director of the Sugar Law Center of Economic and Social Justice.

Philo called this a David and Goliath fight, and that is certainly true. Even when business was good, the bait shop made only about $100,000 a year. Now the family has no income and faces eviction because the owner of the property where the bait shop is located has sold out to the bridge company, giving the DIBC complete control of all the land in the area where the truck plaza is located.

The Ayteses say that the property owner, the Commodities Export Co., used their business as a pawn in an attempt to squeeze more money out of Moroun. That tactic seems to have worked. Speculation is that the small piece of land sold for as much as $20 million.

But the Aytes family got completely screwed. At a press conference Monday, Rita Aytes fought but failed to hold back tears as she described the toll all this has taken.

"They destroyed my and Dean's lives," she said.

The bridge company had no comment.

The issue here is essentially the same as in the Riverside Park case. Just as it has no legal right to be on the parkland, the company had no legal right to unilaterally barricade 23rd Street.

Recently, Dan Stamper, the president of the bridge company, had cuffs slapped on his wrists and spent a few hours in jail after the DIBC was found to be in contempt of court by Judge Prentis Edwards. That action involved a lawsuit filed by the state, which successfully argued that the company has failed to abide by its contractual obligations in the $230 million Gateway Project.

Edwards made it clear that, in his courtroom at least, a rogue company and its billionaire owner will not be allowed to act with impunity.

The question now, in both the Riverside Park case and now the Aytes case, is whether other judges will demonstrate the same type of integrity and courage in showing that this company truly isn't above the law.