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Michigan fan sues to keep ‘G0BLUE’ license plate after it was reassigned

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Joseph Hardig III and his family were eating at a restaurant in Chicago in the 2000s when they spotted Tommy Amaker, the University of Michigan’s head basketball coach at the time. To demonstrate the family’s credentials as Wolverine fans, they told Amaker that Hardig’s father had a state of Michigan personalized license plate that read “G0BLUE.”

Amaker laughed and told him that his mother had the same license plate in Virginia.

“For those who are big fans, it’s a cherished item,” Hardig told The Washington Post.

After about a quarter-century, it’s one he no longer has after he tried to renew it last month and was told it wasn’t available.

Hardig, 66, is now suing Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson in an effort to keep the plate, alleging that state officials reassigned it prematurely and without notifying him. In his seven-page lawsuit filed Nov. 22 in the Michigan Court of Claims, Hardig requests that a judge order Benson to give it back.

On Nov. 30, Hardig lost his first battle. Judge James Redford denied his motion to issue a temporary restraining order that would have forced state officials to reissue the plate to Hardig while the case works its way through the court. In an order, Redford wrote that Hardig had not shown that he would suffer “an immediate and irreparable injury” without immediate action.

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In an email to The Post, Benson’s spokeswoman Angela Benander said the department has not yet been served with Hardig’s lawsuit and declined to comment on the case. But she included a copy of the renewal notice that she said was sent to Hardig, one that showed that his vehicle registration expired on Oct. 2, more than a month before he tried to renew it.

In his suit, Hardig said he believes he had until this month to renew his plate because state law determines that vehicle registrations expire on owners’ birthdays. The renewal notice for “G0BLUE” lists an expiration date of Oct. 2 — Hardig’s father’s birthday — not Hardig’s, which is in December.

Hardig told The Post he’s not sure how long his father had the “G0BLUE” license plate on his red 1999 Corvette, but it was at least “dozens of years.” The plate transferred to Hardig in 2020 when his father died at the age of 92. He had the plate moved to his 2020 Ford Edge SUV.

It’s part of a multigenerational tradition of attending the university and rooting for Michigan academics, athletics — everything. Hardig’s father graduated from the University of Michigan as an undergraduate and then as a law student. Hardig did the same, earning a bachelor’s before getting a law degree in 1983. Two of Hardig’s daughters went to engineering school at the university.

And generations of Hardigs have grown up watching Michigan football at home and at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor. The Wolverines’ rallying cry “Go Blue!” was a common refrain in the Hardig household, especially from Hardig’s father, Joseph Jr.

“It’s just part of our family,” Hardig said.

But no longer in license plate form, at least for now.

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That’s because the “G0BLUE” now belongs to Jonathan Fine, a 52-year-old software engineer. Fine told The Post that he has checked to see whether the “G0BLUE” license plate was available every year for about two decades. And every time he has done so, it has been out of reach.

Then, on Nov. 4, two days before Hardig tried to renew the plate in person, Fine typed “G0BLUE” into the Department of State’s website and was shocked when it came back as available.

“I just couldn’t believe that it was,” he said.

At first, he tried to get his wife to take the license plate, but when that failed, he claimed it for himself and his 2007 BMW sedan. Fine, who lives in Ann Arbor, graduated from Michigan in 1995 and has been a football season ticket holder since around 2008, first learned of Hardig’s claim on the plate when a reporter from the Detroit News, which was the first to report the story, emailed him about Hardig’s lawsuit.

Fine told The Post that he’s willing to relinquish his claim to the plate if it goes back to Hardig and he can get a different one he likes as much. Hardig said he’s open to working with Fine and state officials, and on Monday night, the two men spoke about striking a deal that would transfer the plate from Fine to Hardig.

It’s unclear whether state officials will allow that.

Fine said he received the plate late last week but hasn’t opened it because of the “uncertainty” surrounding their fate. He said it felt like putting it on his car would be “jinxing” the situation, even though he’s not sure what a happy ending looks like.

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The past two weeks turned a victorious moment into something that feels bittersweet at best. Fine said that even if the courts affirm his claim on the plate, he would always feel bad that he snatched it from a family that had it for decades and across generations.

“I don’t feel as joyous about it,” he said, “because I know I unintentionally took the joy away from someone else.”

Source: Washington Post

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