June 28, 2008

Judge Throws Out Lawsuit Against Leelanau

By Art Bukowski, The Record-Eagle, Traverse City, Mich.

Jun. 28--SUTTONS BAY -- A judge threw out a lawsuit filed by a former Leelanau County department head who said his termination violated the state Whistleblowers' Protection Act.

Thirteenth Circuit Judge Thomas G. Power dismissed a lawsuit filed by Robert VanDyke, who helmed the county's building inspection department from 1993 until his termination in June 2007.

The suit named the county and Administrator David Gill, and alleged they fired VanDyke because he reported code violations and substandard work performed by a county mechanical inspector, among other matters.

Power wouldn't comment on his decision, but an attorney for the county said VanDyke and his attorney couldn't prove he was fired because of the reasons he alleged.

"They were unable to show any connection whatsoever between those activities and his dismissal," attorney John R. McGlinchey said.

McGlinchey's motion for dismissal also states that some of the activities VanDyke alleges prompted his termination aren't covered by the Whistleblowers' Protection Act.

"After taking plaintiff's deposition, it became clear that there is no factual or legal basis for his WPA claim," a brief with the motion reads. "(His) deposition testimony forcefully underscores the fact that his WPA claims are based merely on speculation and conjecture, at best."

VanDyke did not return a call for comment. His attorney, Mark A. Hullman, said he was surprised Power chose to toss the suit.

"I was shocked," Hullman said. "I wasn't expecting it, certainly."

Hullman said VanDyke isn't ready to give up.

"Mr. VanDyke and I have talked, and he definitely wants to appeal the decision," Hullman said.

Gill was pleased with the ruling.

"We're happy to see justice went out here," Gill said.

The county's building inspections department has a new director, and it narrowly avoided being taken over by the state. The county in April reached a settlement to keep control of the department after the state Construction Code Commission in January decided to shift Leelanau building inspection duties to the state.

The decision followed a Bureau of Construction Codes report that concluded the county "failed to adequately protect the health, safety and welfare of the general public in the built environment."


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