Justia Michigan Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

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Defendant Genesee County served as an administrator for certain employee health insurance plans. Plaintiff Genesee County Drain Commissioner Jeffrey Wright participated in this plan even though the office of drain commissioner had statutory autonomy from the county. The parties’ insurer, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan (BCBSM), conducted a multi-year audit that revealed that the county’s collective insurance premiums, including those paid by the plaintiff, significantly exceeded the amount that should have been charged. The county held a public meeting about the overpayment -allegedly totaling millions of dollars - during which it accepted a refund from BCBSM. The county deposited the refund into its general fund. The plaintiff demanded a proportionate share of the refund; the county denied his request, and this lawsuit followed. The issue plaintiff’s case raised for the Michigan Supreme Court’s review reduced to whether a claim for unjust enrichment was barred by the governmental tort liability act (GTLA). The Court determined a claim for unjust enrichment was neither a tort nor a contract but rather an independent cause of action. And the remedy for unjust enrichment was restitution, not compensatory damages, the remedy for tort. For both reasons, the GTLA did not bar an unjust-enrichment claim. View "Genesee County Drain Commissioner v. Genesee County" on Justia Law

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Kareem Swilley, Jr. was convicted by jury of first-degree premeditated murder; conspiracy to commit murder; three counts of assault with intent to commit murder; carrying a dangerous weapon with unlawful intent; and six counts of possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony. These charges arose in connection with the drive-by shooting death of DaVarion Galvin. Defendant asserted an alibi defense, stating that he was at city hall at the time of the shooting with his grandmother Alesha Lee, Lee’s fiancé Philip Taylor, and defendant’s sister. Taylor and Lee corroborated defendant’s testimony at trial, and texts between defendant and one of his codefendants around the time Galvin was shot appeared to suggest that defendant was not with the codefendant at that time. Over defense objection, the trial court extensively questioned Taylor, Lee, and Joshua Colley (a witness who was present when Galvin was shot). The jury found defendant guilty of all charges. The Court of Appeals affirmed defendant’s convictions but remanded the case for correction of defendant’s sentence for conspiracy to commit murder. The Michigan Supreme Court concluded the trial court pierced the veil of judicial impartiality, depriving defendant of a fair trial. "Considering the totality of the circumstances, we conclude that it was reasonably likely that the judge’s questioning of defendant’s alibi witness improperly influenced the jury by creating an appearance of advocacy or partiality against defendant, in violation of our decision in Michigan v Stevens, 498 Mich 162; 869 NW2d 233 (2015). Accordingly, we reverse the judgment of the Court of Appeals and remand this case for a new trial." View "Michigan v. Swilley" on Justia Law

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Dwayne Wigfall brought an action against the city of Detroit for injuries he sustained in a motorcycle accident allegedly caused when he hit a pothole on a city street. On advice from the city’s Law Department, Wigfall sent a notice via certified mail addressed to the Law Department that included a description of the pothole, its location, and a description of plaintiff’s injuries. An adjuster from the Law Department acknowledged receipt of Wigfall’s claim. After Wigfall filed his complaint, the city moved for summary judgment, arguing that Wigfall’s claim was barred by governmental immunity because Wigfall failed to serve notice of his claim on the mayor, the city clerk, or the city attorney as required by MCL 691.1404(2) and MCR 2.105(G)(2). The court denied the city’s motion, and the city appealed. Faytreon West brought an action against the city of Detroit, for injuries she allegedly suffered when she tripped on a pothole and fell while walking on a city street. West’s counsel sent notice of the injury and highway defect to the city’s Law Department via certified mail, instructing the city to immediately contact West’s counsel if it believed that the notice did not comply with any applicable notice requirements. The Law Department received the letter, and an adjuster from the Law Department acknowledged receipt of West’s claim. After West filed her complaint, the city moved for summary judgment, also arguing West had failed to comply with the notice requirement in MCL 691.1404(2) because she had not served an individual who may lawfully be served with civil process. The trial court granted the motion in favor of the city and denied West’s motion for reconsideration. In both cases, the Michigan Supreme Court reversed the grant of summary judgment in favor of the city: Plaintiffs complied with the requirements of MCL 691.1404(2) by serving their notices on the city’s Law Department. The Supreme Court found the Law Department was an agent of defendant’s city attorney (also known as the Corporation Counsel) and was charged with receiving notice under the city’s charter and ordinances. View "Wigfall v. City of Detroit" on Justia Law

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Romon McBurrows was charged in the Monroe Circuit Court with one count of delivery of a controlled substance causing death, in connection with the death of Nicholas Abraham. Abraham, a resident of Monroe County, had driven an acquaintance to a house in Wayne County where the acquaintance bought heroin from defendant. Abraham and the acquaintance used some of the heroin in a nearby parking lot and then returned to their homes. Abraham was found unresponsive the next morning and was pronounced dead later that day. An autopsy concluded that Abraham had died from an overdose of fentanyl, which is sometimes mixed with heroin. Defendant filed a motion disputing Monroe County as a proper venue, and the trial court denied the motion. Defendant then applied for leave for interlocutory appeal with the Court of Appeals, which granted leave, stayed the trial court proceedings pending the appeal, and ultimately reversed, finding venue was proper in Wayne County, where defendant allegedly delivered the heroin. The Michigan Supreme Court concluded venue in a case like this, was properly laid in a county if the death, but not the delivery, occurred in that county. Therefore, venue was proper in Wayne County. View "Michigan v. McBurrows" on Justia Law

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In these consolidated cases, the Michigan Supreme Court addressed the propriety and scope of expert testimony in cases alleging child sexual abuse. In Thorpe, the Court addressed the admissibility of testimony from an expert in the area of child sexual abuse and disclosure about the rate of false reports of sexual abuse by children to rebut testimony elicited on cross-examination that children can lie and manipulate. In Harbison, the Court addressed the admissibility of expert testimony from an examining physician that “diagnosed” the complainant with “probable pediatric sexual abuse” despite not having made any physical findings of sexual abuse to support that conclusion. In Thorpe, the Court held expert witnesses may not testify that children overwhelmingly do not lie when reporting sexual abuse because such testimony improperly vouches for the complainant’s veracity. And because Thorpe established that this testimony more likely than not affected the outcome of the case, the Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals and remanded to the circuit court for a new trial. In Harbison, the Supreme Court held that examining physicians could not testify that a complainant has been sexually assaulted or has been diagnosed with sexual abuse without physical evidence that corroborates the complainant’s account of sexual assault or abuse because such testimony vouches for the complainant’s veracity and improperly interferes with the role of the jury. Because the Supreme Court concluded this was plain error, affected Harbison’s substantial rights, and seriously affected the integrity of his trial, it reversed the Court of Appeals and remanded for a new trial. View "Michigan v. Thorpe" on Justia Law

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The question presented in this case was whether the building inspection fees assessed by defendant, the city of Troy (the City), were “intended to bear a reasonable relation to the cost” of acts and services provided by the City’s Building Inspection Department (Building Department) under the Construction Code Act (CCA). The Michigan Supreme Court held the City’s use of the revenue generated by those fees to pay the Building Department’s budgetary shortfalls in previous years violated MCL 125.1522(1). “While fees imposed to satisfy the alleged historical deficit may arguably be for ‘the operation of the enforcing agency or the construction board of appeals,’ this does not mean that such fees ‘bear a reasonable relation’ to the costs of acts and services provided by the Building Department. Here, the Court was satisfied plaintiffs presented sufficient evidence to conclude that the City established fees that were not intended to “bear a reasonable relation” to the costs of acts and services necessary to justify the City’s retention of 25% of all the fees collected. Furthermore, the Supreme Court determined there was no express or implied monetary remedy for a violation of MCL 125.1522(1). Nonetheless, plaintiffs could seek declaratory and injunctive relief to redress present and future violations of MCL 125.1522(1). Because the City has presented evidence to justify the retention of a portion of these fees, the Supreme Court remanded to the trial court for further proceedings. Lastly, the Supreme Court concluded there was no record evidence establishing that plaintiffs were “taxpayer[s]” with standing to file suit pursuant to the Headlee Amendment. On remand, the trial court was mandated to allow plaintiffs’ members an opportunity to establish representational standing on plaintiffs’ behalf. View "Michigan Association of Home Builders v. City of Troy" on Justia Law

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Matthew Dye brought an action against Esurance Property and Casualty Insurance Company and GEICO Indemnity Company, seeking personal protection insurance (PIP) benefits under the no-fault act, MCL 500.3101 et seq., for injuries he sustained in a motor vehicle accident while driving a vehicle he had recently purchased. At plaintiff’s request, plaintiff’s father had registered the vehicle in plaintiff’s name and obtained a no-fault insurance policy from Esurance. The declarations page of the policy identified only plaintiff’s father as the named insured. At the time of the accident, plaintiff was living with his wife, who owned a vehicle that was insured by GEICO. After Esurance and GEICO refused to cover plaintiff’s claim, plaintiff filed a breach-of-contract claim against both insurers along with a declaratory action, alleging that either Esurance or GEICO was obligated to pay his no-fault PIP benefits and requesting that the trial court determine the parties’ respective rights and duties. The issue this case presented for the Michigan Supreme Court’s review centered on whether an owner or registrant of a motor vehicle involved in an accident was excluded from receiving statutory no-fault insurance benefits under the no-fault act when someone other than an owner or registrant purchased no-fault insurance for that vehicle. The Court of Appeals concluded that “[a]t least one owner or registrant must have the insurance required by MCL 500.3101(1), and ‘when none of the owners maintains the requisite coverage, no owner may recover [personal injury protection (PIP)] benefits.’ ” The Supreme Court concluded an owner or registrant of a motor vehicle was not required to personally purchase no-fault insurance for his or her vehicle in order to avoid the statutory bar to PIP benefits. Rather, MCL 500.3101(1) only requires that the owner or registrant “maintain” no-fault insurance. The Court reversed in part the judgment of the Court of Appeals and remanded this case to the circuit court for further proceedings. View "Dye v. Esurance Property & Casualty Ins. Co." on Justia Law

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At issue in this case is whether the trial court committed error requiring reversal when it gave an ad-lib deadlocked-jury instruction. The Michigan Supreme Court conclude that it did: the instruction given by the trial court lacked constructive advice to encourage further deliberation, omitted important safeguards of jurors’ honest convictions, included coercive language, and was delivered in a coercive atmosphere. The Court determined the instruction crossed the line from “appropriately encouraging deliberation and candid consideration to impermissibly coercing jurors to surrender their honestly held beliefs for the sake of reaching a verdict.” The error was plain, affected defendant’s substantial rights, and affected the fairness, integrity, and public reputation of the judicial proceeding. Accordingly, the Court reversed the Court of Appeals and remanded to the circuit court for a new trial. View "Michigan v. Walker" on Justia Law

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Ali A. El-Khalil sue his former employer and several individuals (collectively, defendants): Oakwood Healthcare, Inc.; Oakwood Hospital–Southshore; Oakwood Hospital–Dearborn; Dr. Roderick Boyes, M.D.; and Dr. Iqbal Nasir, M.D.. Plaintiff alleged breach of contract based on an alleged breach of medical staff bylaws that were part of plaintiff’s employment agreement. Plaintiff amended the complaint, adding a claim of unlawful retaliation in violation of the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act (ELCRA). Plaintiff alleged defendants unlawfully retaliated against him by failing to renew his hospital privileges because of a previous lawsuit that plaintiff brought in August 2014 in which plaintiff had alleged racial discrimination on the basis of his Arabic ethnicity in violation of the ELCRA, tortious interference with an advantageous business relationship, and defamation. Defendants moved for summary judgment, and the trial court granted it without specifically identifying which rule supported its decision. Plaintiff appealed, and the Court of Appeals affirmed in an unpublished per curiam opinion. The Court of Appeals determined that the trial court reviewed the summary disposition motion under MCR 2.116(C)(10), affirmed the decision under that subrule, and found it unnecessary to reach the issues of immunity or release under Subrule (C)(7). Plaintiff appealed again, and the Michigan Supreme Court vacated the appellate court's opinion and remanded for review under MCR 2.116(C)(7) and (C)(8). On remand, the Court of Appeals held in an unpublished per curiam opinion that summary disposition of plaintiff’s ELCRA-retaliation and breach-of-contract claims was appropriate under MCR 2.116(C)(8) and found it unnecessary to address whether summary disposition of either claim was appropriate under MCR 2.116(C)(7) based on immunity or release. Plaintiff again sought review from the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court emphasized that a motion for summary judgment under MCR 2.116(C)(8) had to be decided "on the pleadings alone and that all factual allegations must be taken as true." In this case, the Court of Appeals erroneously conducted an MCR 2.116(C)(10) analysis instead of a (C)(8) analysis because it considered evidence beyond the pleadings and required evidentiary support for plaintiff’s allegations rather than accepting them as true. The Court therefore reversed the Court of Appeals, which had affirmed under MCR 2.116(C)(8) the trial court’s order granting summary disposition of plaintiff’s Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act (ELCRA) and breach-of-contract claims, and remanded to that Court for consideration of those claims under MCR 2.116(C)(7). View "El-Khalil v. Oakwood Health Care, Inc." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Fred Paquin served the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians (the Tribe), a federally recognized Indian tribe whose territory was located within the geographic boundaries of Michigan, in two capacities: as the chief of police for the tribal police department and as an elected member of the board of directors, the governing body of the Tribe. In 2010, plaintiff pleaded guilty to a single count of conspiracy to defraud the United States by dishonest means in violation of 18 USC 371, for which he was sentenced to a year and a day in prison. The underlying conduct involved the misuse of federal funds granted to the tribal police department. In both 2013 and 2015, plaintiff sought to run for a position on defendant’s city council in the November general election. Plaintiff was rebuffed each time by defendant’s city manager, who denied plaintiff’s request to be placed on the ballot. In each instance, defendant’s city manager relied on Const 1963, art 11, sec. 8 to conclude that plaintiff’s prior felony conviction barred him from running for city council. Plaintiff brought the underlying declaratory action in the Mackinac Circuit Court, seeking a ruling that his position in tribal government did not constitute employment in “local, state, or federal government” under Const 1963, art 11, sec. 8. The Michigan Supreme Court determined that tribal government did not constitute "local...government." Accordingly, the Court reversed the Court of Appeals and remanded this matter back to the circuit court for further proceedings. View "Paquin v. City of St. Ignace" on Justia Law