Susan K. DeClercq
U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan. Confirmed on October 4, 2023.
On May 3, 2023, President Joe Biden nominated Susan K. DeClercq to the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan. Currently an executive at Ford Motor Company in charge of special investigations, Ms. DeClercq spent 18 years at the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Michigan. When confirmed, Ms. DeClercq will be the first federal judge of East Asian descent in Michigan.
Ms. DeClercq was born in Seoul, South Korea, in 1974. She earned her B.A. from the University of Michigan in 1995 and graduated magna cum laude from Wayne State University School of Law in 1999.
After law school, Ms. DeClercq clerked for Judge Avern Cohn on the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan. From 2001 to 2004, Ms. DeClercq served as an associate at Skadden, Arps, Slate, and Meagher & Flom in Washington, D.C., working primarily on white collar defense and commercial litigation matters.
Ms. DeClercq returned to the Eastern District of Michigan in 2004 to serve as an Assistant U.S. Attorney. In that capacity, Ms. DeClercq handled hundreds of cases, including defense and civil rights enforcement work. From 2014 to 2021, she served as the Chief of the Civil Rights Unit, supervising the work of other attorneys and leading community outreach. In 2021, she became the Chief of the Civil Division, overseeing approximately 20 attorneys and 10 support staff.
In 2022, she left that position to serve as counsel with Ford Motor Company in Dearborn, Michigan. At Ford, she directs internal investigations into complaints of employee misconduct, potential violations of law or the company’s code of conduct, and other ethical concerns.
The following cases are representative of Ms. DeClercq’s legal career:
United States v. City of Troy, Michigan concerned an Islamic community center which claimed that the City of Troy violated its rights under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 (RLUIPA), as well as the First, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendments, by imposing a land use regulation that burdened its religious exercise and treated it differently than similar secular institutions. The United States brought a case against Troy, co-led by Ms. DeClercq, alleging that the city had improperly denied the community center’s attempt to establish a place of worship in a building previously used as a restaurant and banquet hall. The United States prevailed, with the court holding that Troy imposed a substantial burden on the community center’s exercise of religion, violating RLUIPA’s prohibition against imposing more onerous restrictions on places of worship than comparable places of assembly.
In United States v. University of Michigan, Case No. 2: 15-cv-12582 (E.D. Mich.), a maintenance employee at the University of Michigan alleged that the school violated the Americans with Disabilities Act after refusing to re-assign her to a vacant position she was qualified for after her disability prevented her from performing the essential functions of her original job. Ms. DeClercq and her co-counsel conducted an additional investigation and found evidence of a pattern or practice of discrimination by denying reassignments as reasonable accommodations. Shortly after the suit was filed, the University agreed to settle the case. The district court entered a consent decree, in which the University agreed to pay damages to the original plaintiff as well as other similarly situated employees. The University also pledged to change its policies and train staff to avoid future violations.
In Baetz v. City of Highland Park, a firefighter who was also a member of the U.S. Army Reserve sued the City of Highland Park after being denied a promotion that he would have attained if he had not been called to active-duty military service, a violation of the Uniformed Services Employment and Re-employment Rights Act of 1994 (USERRA). Ms. DeClercq represented the firefighter, who returned from deployment in Afghanistan to find that three firefighters with less seniority had been promoted over him. Highland Park eventually agreed to settle the case. The district court approved a consent judgment, in which the city agreed to promote the plaintiff and retroactively adjust his promotion date to the date of his return from active-duty service as well as pay him the backpay and union benefits he would have received.
In United States v. Tel-Clinton Trailer Courts, Inc, Ms. DeClercq sued a trailer park for violating the Fair Housing Act by blocking families with more than one child from residing in the park. Along with co-counsel from the Civil Rights Division, Ms. DeClercq conducted a supplemental investigation into the facts of the case, which had been referred to them by a local fair housing agency. The trailer park settled the case, and a consent decree was entered barring the park from continuing to engage in discriminatory conduct.
In Estate of Berrien v. United States, Case No. 2:08-cv-13359 (E.D. Mich. Jan. 13, 2012) (Roberts, J.), rev ‘d, 711 F.3d 654 (6th Cir. 2013), Mr. Barrien, a civilian contractor, was killed on a military base by a gutter that fell from a liquor store. Ms. DeClercq represented the United States in the case. The district court awarded the decedent’s estate $1.18 million in damages for the military’s alleged negligence. The federal government appealed and ultimately prevailed in the Sixth Circuit. The court held that there was no evidence that government employees actually knew of the dangerous condition of the liquor store and reversed the district court’s verdict.
In Huling v. United States, Case No. 2:06-cv-14924 (E.D. Mich.), a plaintiff sued the United States under the Federal Tort Claims Act after an automobile collision caused by a United States Postal Service employee. The government in the case contested the nature and extent of the injuries claimed by the plaintiff. The plaintiff claimed that prior to the car accident, she had been in good health and worked part-time. However, based on records Ms. DeClercq uncovered from the Social Security Administration and the Internal Revenue Service, the plaintiff had been using a different social security number to collect benefits for a decade prior to the accident for injuries and symptoms identical to those she claimed were caused by the accident. Ms. DeClercq presented this evidence to the plaintiff’s attorney, who promptly withdrew as counsel. The case was eventually dismissed, with Ms. DeClercq notifying the Social Security Administration and referring the case to the Criminal Division of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for a fraud prosecution.
Professional Activities and Accolades
Ms. DeClercq has been recognized for her commitment to public service and litigation record. She received the United States Department of Justice Civil Rights Division Commendation Award multiple times from 2010 to 2022. She also received the United States Attorney’s Award in 2016. Ms. DeClercq also is an active member of the Eastern District of Michigan’s Federal Bar Association. She has served as an Executive Board Member since 2014, co-chairing the Civil Rights section from 2014 to 2021 and the Pro Bono Section from 2021 to 2022.