Significant Cases

United States, et al. v. Michigan, et al.,

W.D. Mich. File No. 2:73-CV-26 [M 26-73]. As counsel for the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians, successfully defended State’s writ of certiorari to the United States Supreme Court and appeals to the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, resulting in final declaration of the existence of treaty-fishing rights in the Great Lakes for the Ottawa and Chippewa signatories to the 1836 Treaty of Washington. 

A twenty-year allocation agreement was entered in 2000 that likewise provides an exclusive fishing area for the Grand Traverse Band. 

Continue to serve as lead counsel for Grand Traverse Band in separate phase involving state’s counterclaim that usufruct rights in inland areas have been extinguished.  Case was covered in the New York Times, Detroit Free Fress, Detroit News and elsewhere.  

Friends of the Crystal River, et al. v. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, et al.,

794 F.Supp. 674 (W.D. Mich. 1992), aff’d. 35 F.3d 1073 (6th Cir. 1994). Civil actions against Environmental Protection Agency, State of Michigan and resort developer in state and federal courts. 

Federal case challenged EPA’s decision to withdraw objections to the State’s issuing a permit to construct a golf course at the Homestead Resort on the Crystal River adjacent to the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. In 1992 the Court granted final judgment in favor of the plaintiffs.  State litigation went to Michigan Supreme Court.  See 456 Mich. 950 (1998); recons’d 459 Mich. 899 (1999); appl dism’d 465 Mich. 899 (2001). 

After denial of federal permits, negotiated purchase of part of property by environmental group.  In 2005 Congress authorized purchase of remainder of property for inclusion into National Lakeshore.  Case was covered in the Chicago Tribune and elsewhere.

Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation v. Nestle Waters, et al.,

269 Mich App 25; 709 NW2d 174 (2005); aff’d in part, rev’d in part 479 Mich 280; 737 NW2d 447 (2007). Water rights case against world’s largest food conglomerate challenging groundwater withdrawal and location of Ice Mountain brand spring water bottling operation. 

After a month-long trial, Circuit Court ruled that pumping of water from shallow aquifer violated nearby residents’ riparian rights and state environmental laws, and ordered entire operation shut down.  Trial judge called case, “the most significant case in the history of the 49th circuit.” 

Michigan Court of Appeals modified the decision but ruled that a reduction in pumping was required. 

The Michigan Supreme Court modified the decision in regard to citizen-standing to bring actions under the Michigan Environmental Protection Act, but left the basic rulings intact.


Campaign for Family Farms v. Secretary of Agriculture & National Pork Producers Council,

229 F.Supp. 2d 772 (W.D. Mich. 1992), aff’d 348 F.3d 157 (6th Cir. 2003), vacated and remanded, 125 S Ct 2511 (2005).  Co-counsel (with Farmers Legal Action Group) for coalition of family farm groups in litigation to end mandatory pork assessments under Pork  Production, Research & Consumer Education Act, 7 U.S.C. § 4801, et seq.  District Court’s overturning of Act as unconstitutional form of compelled speech was affirmed by Sixth Circuit.  U.S. Supreme Court vacated decision and remanded the case.  Case has been covered in the New York Timesand elsewhere.


Glen Lake-Crystal River Watershed Riparians v. Glen Lake Ass’n,

264 Mich App 523; 695 NW2d 508 (2004).  Brought suit against lake association regarding practice of constricting water flows over dam during drought periods, resulting in severe loss of flow in river.  Circuit Court ordered implementation of plaintiffs’ requested management plan for balancing ecological water needs of lake and river. 

Court of Appeals affirmed, stating:  “We recognize that this case presents environmental and ecological issues of great effect and sensitivity. We commend all parties, as well as the trial court, for the manner in which these issues have been addressed...[W]e appreciate that all involved here have responsibly been seeking an overall approach that will best serve the entire Glen Lake and Crystal River water system.”


Manistee Saltworks Development Corp v. City of Manistee, Little River Band of Ottawa Indians & Manistee Citizens for Responsible Development,

___ F Supp 2d ___, 2005 WL 2600428 (WD Mich 2005).  Represented Indian Tribe and community group who successfully intervened in $100 million federal suit by proponent of new coal-fired power plant against the City of Manistee.  Summary judgment granted in favor of City, Tribe, and community group.   


Ahmed, et al v. Severstal North America.,

Wayne County Circuit Court No. 04-438968-CE.  Sued Russian owner of the Rouge steel mill to abate air pollution in South Dearborn, Michigan.  In 2006 steel-maker agreed to install bag houses on all major furnaces that it would continue to operate, at a cost of more than $40 million.  Case was covered in the Detroit Newsand Sierra magazine.  


Ecology Center, et al. v. State of Michigan & Dow Chemical Co.,

Ingham County Circuit Court No. 02-1905-CE.  Filed suit to block execution of agreement that would have raised actionable clean-up level for dioxin in Midland-Saginaw area roughly 900% during waning days of previous gubernatorial administration.  Agreement was not executed, and state reversed course after inauguration of new governor.  Case was covered in the Washington Postand elsewhere.    


Filer Charter Township v. Michigan Production Co, et al,

Manistee County Circuit Court No. 97-8384-CE.  Suit brought to enjoin production of natural gas well containing lethal concentrations of hydrogen sulfide.  Circuit Court ordered well shut down until state filled gap in health and safety regulation of oil and gas facilities.  First time in Michigan that an oil and gas well was shut down to protect public health.


Nemeth v. Abonmarche Development Co., 457 Mich 16 (1998). 

Michigan Supreme Court case that created new cause of action under Michigan Environmental Protection Act, MCL 324.1701, et seq.  Court ruled that violations of other environmental statutes or regulations could be used to prove prima facie case of environmental harm entitling plaintiffs to injunctive relief under MEPA.  Michigan Lawyers Weeklynamed James Olson one of 1998's “Lawyers of the Year” for case. 


Northern Michigan Environmental Action Council & City of Traverse City v. Textron, Inc & Michigan Department of Environmental Quality,

Grand Traverse County Circuit Court No. 01-21854-CE.  Citizen suit against Fortune 500 company for 30 years of lake contamination through venting of polluted groundwater.  Settlement involved installation of plaintiffs’ requested clean-up system, which stopped contamination, plus penalties (negotiated in conjunction with Attorney General’s office), donation to local watershed fund, and attorney fees, expert witness fees, and litigation costs.


Burt Township v. Department of Natural Resources, 459 Mich. 659 (1999). 

Represented amicus curiae organization in trial and appellate courts in case deciding that state-owned public access sites are subject to local zoning regulation.  Both Court of Appeals and Supreme Court adopted legal theory advanced in amicus briefs in ruling in favor of township.


The Archaeological Conservancy v. Whitewater Township,

Michigan Tax Tribunal No. 0275187.  Successfully represented national non-profit land trust in case of first impression that held archaeological preserves are exempt from state property taxes.  


Elmwood Citizens for Sensible Growth v. ElmwoodTownship,

Leelanau County Circuit Court Nos. 01 -5451-CE, 01-5710-CE, and 02-5921-CE; Michigan Court of Appeals Nos. 246393 and 249777.  Brought three successful zoning lawsuits to reverse approvals of controversial development project in township’s agricultural district.  Circuit Court enjoined project based on conflict of interest claim in first suit, and found Township in contempt of court in third suit, awarding plaintiffs’ attorney fees.  All decisions affirmed on appeal.


Friends of the Cedar River Watershed v. Shanty Creek Resort,

Antrim County Circuit Court Nos.  97-7425-CE and 98-7552-CE.  Two lawsuits against golf and ski resort over use of blue-ribbon trout stream.  First case resulted in injunction against increased water withdrawals from river for snow-making and ruling that use of river as golf course water hazard was subject to public trust doctrine.  Second case resulted in resort’s agreement to pay for river restoration after catastrophic soil erosion event, as well as plaintiffs’ attorney fees.  American Bar Association’s water newsletter called first case “a smaller, Eastern version of Mono Lake.”


Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians v. Director, Michigan Department of Natural Resources, et al.,

W.D. Mich. File No. 1:94-CV-707.  Tribe filed suit to establish that treaty-reserved fishing rights include right to access fishing grounds traditionally used by tribal ancestors from public marinas operated by local municipalities pursuant to agreements with the State of Michigan.  Court granted summary judgment and declared that tribal vessels were entitled to use the public marinas both by virtue of fishing rights reserved under the 1836 Treaty and also to fulfill opportunities assured by the 1985 consent decree in the United States v. Michiganlitigation.  [See 971 F.Supp. 282 (1995), aff'd. 141 F.3d 635 (6th Cir. 1998), cert. denied 454 U.S. 1124, 102 S.Ct. 971 (1998).]  Attorney's fees also were awarded by the District Court and upheld on appeal.

Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians v. U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Michigan and State of Michigan, W.D. Mich. File No. 1:96-CV-466. 

Case over legality of a casino opened on lands acquired in trust after the operative date specified in the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA), Tribe filed suit in 1996 requesting Court to declare that casino gaming was lawful under exception(s) specified in the IGRA.  Court granted summary judgment and declared that the Turtle Creek Casino was in compliance with federal law and the tribal-state compact entered into with the State of Michigan.  [See 198 F.Supp.2d 920 (2002), and 46 F.Supp.2d 689 (1999).]


K & K Construction Co v. Department of Natural Resources, 456 Mich 570 (1998).

Represented  more than 20 environmental organizations as amicus curiae in landmark state takings case.  Michigan Supreme Court reversed Court of Appeals decision in favor of land owner, and incorporated significant portions of  our brief in its opinion.

Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians v. Leelanau County and Leelanau Indians, Inc.

(W.D. Mich. File No. G 83-834).  Lawsuit involving tribal land base originally deeded in 1944 by the State to Leelanau County in trust for the Tribe.  Court ruled that the Grand Traverse Band was the only legitimate government of the descendants of the Ottawas and Chippewas who received allotments to land in Leelanau County pursuant to the Treaty of 1855; and the County subsequently deeded the lands to the United States in trust for the Tribe.



Kate Redman Discusses Crowd-Funding Rules in TC's Record-Eagle

“Investment crowdfunding has been leading the industry globally, but we should see a really startling growth in the U.S. once these new rules are effective,” said Kate Redman, attorney with Olson, Bzdok & Howard PC in Traverse City. Redman will offer training “labs” starting in May for businesses and nonprofits interested in investment crowdfunding. Contact her at for more information.

Traverse City Record-Eagle (01-24-16) 

The Traverse City law firms, Olson, Bzdok & Howard, P.C. and Sondee, Racine & Doren, PLC, are pleased to announce our formal affiliation as of January 1, 2016. Our firms will be working together closely to represent clients as a team, and provide our clients with a greater variety and depth of legal services.

Each firm will retain its own identity, but Sondee, Racine & Doren will be “of counsel” to Olson Bzdok & Howard. This means that all of our attorneys will have a close, continuous and regular professional relationship and that we all will work together for you.

Each firm will be maintaining its own office and staff, and all attorney contact information will remain the same.


Public Trust Framework Recommended for Great Lakes

The International Joint Commission (IJC) of the United States & Canada has issued a report recommending the application of a bi-national Public Trust framework to help fill regulatory gaps and guide decision-making that will ensure the protection of the long-term ecological integrity, economic stability, and the many public and private uses of the Great Lakes.

Firm founder Jim Olson has advocated for the active implementation of Public Trust principles in Great Lakes decision-making for decades, so this recommendation is both a welcome development, and a tremendous accomplishment. Congratulations Jim!

Full Report (pdf): Protection of the Waters of the Great Lakes 

Kate Redman is one of TC's 40 under 40!

Kate Redman, Community Enterprise Attorney and Partner at Olson, Bzdok & Howard, has been selected as one of Traverse City's Most Influential Professionals under 40 for 2015. This is the second year in a row Kate has been selected by the TC Business News as part of TC's "40 under 40." Congrats Kate!

Sept. 1, 2015 

Partnership Announcement

Olson, Bzdok & Howard is pleased to announce that Ross A. Hammersley and Kate E. Redman became shareholders with the firm. Please take a look at their attorney profiles to learn more about these young legal trailblazers.

March 20, 2015