Traverse City Record-Eagle

August 10, 2010

Meijer wants lid on case pleadings

Action revolves around insurance company dispute

BY BRIAN McGILLIVARY
bmcgillivary@record-eagle.com

TRAVERSE CITY — Meijer Inc. wants a judge to close the lid on information filtering out about its confidential lawsuit settlements with Acme Township officials.

Meijer's attorneys filed a motion that asked 13th Circuit Court Judge Philip Rodgers to seal all pleadings in a legal dispute with the retailer's insurance company.

New York-based American Home Assurance Company sued Meijer in June and contends it's not responsible for coverage of $2.2 million in payouts Meijer made to six township officials to settle a 2008 lawsuit.

Meijer responded to its insurer's suit in a document it requested to be held under seal, or exempt from public review. Meijer then counter-sued American Home, and that document also was filed under seal.

"It is imperative that the answers be filed under seal to protect Meijer's interests ... ," Meijer wrote in its request to Rodgers. "Meijer will suffer even further irreparable harm by the further disclosure of confidential information."

American Home holds that it doesn't have to pay Meijer's $1.5 million settlement with five township trustees and planning commissioners because Meijer publicized "known false information" about the officials, failed to share information about the case, and didn't exhaust its underlying insurance coverage.

The dispute over insurance claims effectively solved two mysteries in the lengthy Acme-Meijer saga. Based on American Home court filings, Meijer's confidential 2007 settlement with former township Treasurer Bill Boltres came in at $2 million, and Meijer also quietly paid an unnamed township official, believed to be former Acme Supervisor Bill Kurtz, $700,000. Kurtz' name was mentioned in documents filed with American Home's original suit

Neither settlement figure had been publicly reported prior to American Home's lawsuit.

Meijer alleged in its counter-suit that American Home's court filings breached its confidentiality with Boltres.

American Home attorney Joseph Quandt of Traverse City called Meijer's claim "without merit" in papers filed with the court.

"The information in American Home's complaint is available via third parties, public documents, and sources," Quandt wrote.

Boltres' suit filed in 2007 uncovered Meijer's efforts to create and fund a citizens front group, as well as its attempts to illegally manipulate a 2005 township referendum and a 2007 recall attempt.

Meijer later paid $190,000 in civil fines for violating campaign finance laws. Grand Traverse County Prosecutor Alan Schneider awaits a state Supreme Court decision to see if he can prosecute the unknown individuals at Meijer who authorized the illegal campaign activity.

In its motion to seal the pleadings, Meijer doesn't say what information may have been exposed by American Home's suit, nor the nature of what interests or "highly sensitive" information it wishes to protect. Meijer did say it provided American Home "details pertaining to confidential settlements" known to the court.

Rodgers handled Boltres' original suit and a second suit he filed against Meijer's development partner, The Village at Grand Traverse.

Boltres settled with The Village after Meijer threatened to invoke a clause that called for him to pay Meijer a substantial sum if he disclosed their settlement. It is not known if the disclosure penalty would also apply to Meijer.

Meijer's attorneys had no comment, said Sarah Wohlford, one of three attorneys from the Lansing law firm Honigman Miller Schwartz and Cohn that represents the Grand Rapids-area retailer.

Boltres' attorney, Grant Parsons, declined comment.

Quandt said American Home has not decided if it will oppose Meijer's request to seal the case. He declined further comment.

Rodgers scheduled a public hearing Aug. 23 at 8 a.m. on Meijer's motion to seal the case.